I never knew music had a sexual preference. I don't sing about love or sex but they say my music is 'gay.' It's not exactly a taunt, not quite the slur hurled at me as a child but like then, it misses the mark. More than gay I'm different, independent, a complexity summarized simply as 'gay.' This has become both a genre and a limitation in a culture that often divides and diminishes its artists and audience.
Let me be blunt: I made music long before I could get an erection. A speech impediment made me shy and insecure so I disappeared in the realm of sound, developing my own way to communicate. After 26 years of searching, I found my voice and released The Dissonance.
The press release I sent out about the album included everything about the record: how it sounded, who influenced it, where I'm from and even how I couldn't talk so I learned to sing instead.
What it didn't say is the man who wrote the music and played the instruments is gay. Because my songs have neither genitals nor desire, no gender is implied and to be honest, though it's illegal to discriminate in hiring, artistic discrimination is just as pervasive, subtler and far more socially permissible.
I'm gay. Just like I'm male or Caucasian. A quick Google search would tell any listener these things. But first I want them to hear the music, to interpret the lyrics through their personal experiences and make the songs their own. This is what I wanted.
Though not overwhelming, my debut received a good deal of attention. I got some nice quotes for my website and press kit, a few publications to mail to Mom but nothing that really resonated, drew what makes an artist's career and feeds their fire, fans.
That was until Logo picked up my first video 'I Am Not' and viewers made it number one. Did they like the murder mystery we made behind my Grandma's farm? Did they identify with the theme of overcoming repression to celebrate strength, the repeated chant of 'I am not afraid, I am not ashamed' goading them to belief? Perhaps.
According to my YouTube analytics however, it was when I stood naked in the forest, facing the camera like a cornered criminal, the backlighting causing a natural shadow over my penis, prompting folks to pause and rewind, pause and rewind. In Logo's defense, they had me distort the image for broadcast but it seemed only to draw more attention, daring viewers to the Internet for the 'uncensored' version to see if they could find what the moderators had not.
With little hesitation I embraced the momentum. I performed at every event, did a backflip at The Gay Life Expo, wore leather pants for Folsom Street East and took my shirt off at the flimsiest of excuses.
But I also wrote back every person on Facebook, returned the follows of every real account on Twitter. Abandoning my fear of offending everyone and failing to engage anyone I began to open up, not just about being gay but also bipolar. People started to pay attention, a few could strongly relate but as feared, not everyone liked what they saw.
After aligning myself with gay culture, the 'indie' media seemed to lose interest. Blogs stopped responding, reviews came to a halt. My music didn't change but the outlets that shared it did, a few doors creaked open but far more slammed shut. I knew it was a risky venture to be so brazen but didn't expect such a polarized response. It's since become obvious to me why though there are brave, out artists far more are paralyzed by the fear of being 'too gay', too sexual, of crossing a line we've been warned not to straddle. I don't advocate universal objectification but would like to see an atmosphere where gay artists can address the themes of sex and love with as much relevance as any straight voice.
As I've come to learn, a gay, sexualized image can be a double-edged sword that both intrigues and repels but if the artist is sincere, I believe they will find their audience. It's easy to be silent but when we don't speak our minds we risk speaking for nobody, ourselves included. I may have unintentionally been labeled a 'gay' musician but I credit this distinction as the first shared intimacy of many, helping me develop a deeper relationship with the listeners who may never have noticed me as just another moody guy making music in Brooklyn. Some may avert their eyes but with every email I get from a young man doesn't identify with the homogenous, castrated version of gay culture acceptable to mass media, I worry less and less.