Tuesday, June 23, 2015

PRIDE WEEK: On Allies and Music

I totally missed doing Pride-related stuff last year and I know I'm juuuuuuust narrowly avoiding doing the same things this year. What can I say? These papers don't grade themselves.

I almost wasn't going to do anything at all until Rachel Potter's video landed in my Inbox about a month ago.


I was also reluctant to write about her song because I'm not going to say the nicest things about it, even though I am fully aware that writing a song and putting it out in the world is pants-shittingly terrifying.  The song admonishes people who call themselves Christians but continue to gaybash -- figuratively and literally. It's based on her own experience with one of her friends. So don't get me wrong -- the song itself is solid. If the album is to my liking, I'll write a review once I get a chance to listen to it. The video is a little too Zooey Deschanel-esque twee for my taste, but there is very little that warms the cockles of my jaded New Yorker heart.

The thing is, by the time I got to the end of the video, I was pissed off and I wasn't sure why. It's a well-meaning song, and who am I to be annoyed by someone's expression of solidarity? That Macklemore song didn't bother me at all, and Two Cow Garage and Shane Sweeney both have vocal expressions of support for the LGBTQ community on their new albums. So what do I care?

To be clear, this entry isn't meant to be a take-down of the song or of Ms. Potter. It's more about my reaction to it. I admire Ms. Potter for taking a stance that few in the country music world are willing to take. However, I still have Feelings about it.

As anyone who's paying attention saw with the Black Lives Matter movement (or any other equality movement, for that matter), there's lots of tension and discomfort when the majority group seeks to take up "the cause" of those to whom they owe their privilege. There's suspicion. Why do you care so much? Don't you know you directly benefit from keeping us down? Do you think you can absolve your guilt just by holding up a sign? Do you think you're actually committing to the cause just because you're holding up a sign?

On the one hand, these questions aren't totally fair to ask. No revolution has been won in a vacuum. Activists cannot make change without sympathetic people -- if not supporters -- who are already entrenched in the system. Whatever Selma portrayed or left out, the fact of the matter is that we would have no Civil Rights Act if LBJ hadn't signed off on it...even if the protests gently guided his hand. There's no point questioning somebody's motive as long as their actions get you to where you need to be. On the other hand, protests movements are always always always co-opted/undermined/resolved (whichever word you want to use) by moderates within the movement. We will most likely be celebrating a huge win for marriage equality next week, but the needs of trans* people and our working-class LGBTQ siblings have been continuously shunted aside to make it happen.

And once it does happen, the wealthy, white, cis-gay male base will be unlikely to roust themselves for other concerns within the community, even though they drive the agenda. And moderate segments of the movement always always always always act that way in order to make the cause more palatable to the majority who holds the power. That's the whole Malcolm vs. Martin debate in a nutshell, after all.

In other words, I don't want somebody else speaking for me and my needs, even if their heart is in the right place. Even if it's a fairly universal message, and a common theme in country music: religious people be hypocrites.

The difference between "Jesus and Jezebel" and the Macklemore song is I didn't watch the video. I don't even know the name of the song. But the difference between "Jesus and Jezebel" and Two Cow Garage's "Let the Boys Be Girls" is that LGBTQ rights isn't the focus of the song. Instead, it's part of a multifaceted critique of American society. TCG is expressing their own frustration with the System. Including their analysis of LGBTQ disenfranchisement as part of a larger scheme of oppression allows Micah to acknowledge where our causes are united, but he does not seek to make it his Cause with a capital C. Also, the real pain and isolation caused by rejection from a vital community isn't illustrated with shadow puppets. "Jesus and Jezebel" isn't angry or strident enough to convince me that Potter's motivation is anything other than writing a topical song. She's too emotionally distant.


ON THE OTHER HAND, this song wasn't written for me. I already know the moral of the story and buy the message. I'm also not the person who's going to listen to Top 40 country. Remember, my dyke heart has been hardened by the godless streets of New York City. Nobody actually enjoys being yelled at. You have to use honey to catch flies, after all, and "Jesus and Jezebel" is nothing if not sweet. So with all that being said, I hope this song has the power to change some minds and reach as many ears as possible.

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