To the Editor,
I’m often nervous to express my dissent with people I think are doing important work but after I read Zac Lomas’ last post on Punk Out, I felt a lot of really confusing feelings.
Before I delve into those complicated responses, allow me to me first communicate that this dissent is not a call out. In his opine, Lomas bravely opened up a much-needed conversation in a community that often alienates people who disrupt what is comfortable. My intention is only to challenge him to take it a little farther.
I recognize that Lomas’ main thesis is aligned with much of what I also believe. I agree that it is nothing short of imperative to promote LGBTQ visibility in music communities—and that small, mindful changes often propel important movements forward.
However, I’ve never been very shy so here is my dissent, boiled down into a few words:
It’s kind of condescending.
Before you fly off the handle, let me elaborate a little further. The post didn’t feel condescending towards me (straight, makes music). The post felt condescending towards LGBTQ music consumers.
When we talk about things like “catharsis” or, really, any kind of emotional response to expressions of love and art, we’re really discussing a common human experience. A sad song will likely make most people feel sad. A happy one, happy. A lusty one, lusty. A love-struck one, love-struck. These are themes.
That’s the point of art. It transcends the confines of social construct and gives you a moment to experience something. Anything. You can literally experience anything you want or need to. It’s your art now. Someone else made it so that you can have it.
“LGBTQ music lovers, like all music lovers, want something they can identify with, which begs the question: why must heterosexual pop-punk bands rely so heavily on gendered pronouns?”
Lomas’ summation of the LGBTQ narrative does one thing: it robs LGBTQ music consumers of a full and complex emotional capacity to process music and experience the commonality of human expression. Verbiage like this applies limitations on how the LGBTQ music consumer is capable of consuming music.
It also seems a little hyperbolic to accuse musicians of relying on gendered pronouns. The use of these pronouns is a typically a use of narrative, not of sociologically preferred orientations.
To continue using pop-punk as an example, we could also examine gender-specific recurring themes like brotherhood. Following the logic of Lomas’ post, I shouldn’t be able to positively consume that art. I identify as a woman. I have never been a brother. I’ve never sought out a brother outside of my family. But, I’ve stood on a fold-out chair in a sweaty VFW to watch a pit open up and it made me feel good.
This logic places a focus on accommodation and assimilation instead of visibility. My dissent begins and ends with his lack of focus on equal inclusion of LGBTQ artists and music consumers as valuable, participating community members in punk music.
With that in mind, I would also like to address Lomas’ application of the word “heteronormative” in the pop-punk scene, as well as his proposition for musicians to adopt gender-neutral pronouns.
“Notice that boy-meets-girl trope? It’s pretty common to pop-punk and it’s also incredibly heteronormative. It’s easy to just write this off as a result of the fact that most pop-punk bands consist of heterosexual guys still navigating the maze of early adulthood. As a cis-gendered, heterosexual male I can attest to the ease of this assumption, but it’s wrong.”
Lomas uses heteronormativity to describe both a common theme in pop-punk music, as well as to describe an oppressive social construct. For the sake of this argument, I think that the two need to be separated.
While it would probably be accurate to call the pop-punk scene heteronormative, it would be simply inaccurate to use the word heteronormative when talking about the content of art. (Please bear in mind, I mean all of that within reason. We’re not talking about use of derogatory slurs or general ignorance here.)
To apply the label of “heteronormative” to a piece of music, we would have to separate artist intention from community reception—or, at the very least, creation (music) from the community (consumers and artists, their collective social tendencies). It is challenging to identify where common threads end and heteronormativity begins, but it’s important to meet that challenge with mindfulness.
Singing a song about a falling in love with a girl at the rock show doesn’t deny the existence of any other form of love. It’s one singular narrative.
“... but we can question how this genre became so heteronormative, and more importantly, how we can work to reclaim it as a safe space for the LGBTQ community.”
It goes without saying that many singular narratives in a controlled system can oversaturate a community. That’s homogeneity. That’s where I can agree to apply the label of heteronormative to the punk scene.
There is substantial work to be done in punk communities, especially when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion. I can also plainly agree that it’s incredibly important to discuss and explore how those shared values came to be.
To draw from my own experiences, I’ve spent a long time around pop-punk. I did my time at the table in crowded YMCAs, badgering entitled suburban brats to pay the $5 cover. I’ve watched scene veterans call each other out over a microphone, using every homophobic slur imaginable. Worse yet, I’ve seen those reactions disturbingly accepted as normal or even deserved.
The long, hard hetero truth of the matter is that some people are shitty people. [a]
“The punk community was (supposedly) founded on the premise of inclusion for the misfits of society and so often we fail that guiding principle in regard to anything from race to sexuality. The pop-punk scene needs to make a stand and support pop-punk bands that openly identify as LGBTQ and whose songs give the LGBTQ community something to identify with.”
I want to return to Lomas’ citation of Laura Jane Grace to finally illustrate the difference between accommodation and acceptance/inclusion. I am a cisgender female and when I listen to Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I can hardly contain millions of feelings. I well up. I pound my fists—and that’s because when I listen to Against Me! I am not seeking out an exact reflection of myself and my experiences, I’m looking for her voice and her unique experiences to wash over me.
I don’t presume to know what is in the best interest of LGTBQ artists or consumers but I don’t think that involves inserting small pieces of that narrative into a straight narrative. Real visibility and inclusion require a complete narrative, which means demanding more LGBTQ artists on show bills telling their unique story in their unique voice.
* Very special thanks goes out to an unnamed editor for parsing through and challenging the maze of this op-ed.
[a]I absolutely will not budge on the inclusion of this fantastic pun.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.