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Glitter, Guitars, & Gender: An Illustrated Podcast

A conversation about music and gender identity — with illustrations!

By and Entertainment, Featured

Listen here, and/or read along below, with illustrations by Teddie and Elton!

 

T: I’m Teddie Bernard, I’m a sophomore at SAIC, I use they/them pronouns. I feel like I’m introducing myself for a Zoom class, but yeah — so that’s me!

E: I am Elton Amadou-Connell, I am also a sophomore at SAIC and I use mostly they. So we’re here to talk about how certain bands have influenced how we dress but also like, how we think about gender stuff.

T: Music and gender identity!

E: Music and gender identity!

T: I think that was part of something — when we first met that was something where I was like, “Oh my god this is really funny because both of us listen to similar music that helped us figure out our gender identity and presentation in similar ways” that was like “What? another person who is kind of is on the same page as me about this?” So this is a collection of those stories from both of us, talking through how that happened, how we got to where we are now.

Pete Shelley, circa 1981

E: Yeah! So the first person I wanted to talk about is Pete Shelley, who was the lead singer and guitarist and songwriter for Buzzcocks which was a pretty seminal early punk band in England founded in 1976. And Pete Shelly is largely known for writing very, very earnestly about human connection and like, unrequited love… and they also wrote “Orgasm Addict.” And then they — Buzzcocks — broke up in 1981. And Pete Shelley had a solo career after that and wrote “Homosapien” which was a very synth-pop-y song about being gay that was banned by the BBC for having too explicit of a reference to gay sex, which I believe he denied, for the line “homosuperior/in my interior.” And so it was a big hit in the club circuit. 

T: How could it not be?

E: Yeah, it’s a classic. Yeah and he was openly bi for a very long time and lots of rumors have it that a lot of his songs for Buzzcocks were about his bandmate Steve Diggle, cannot confirm! But yeah and then he unfortunately died 2 years — or 3 years ago now in 2018. 

E: And so, his personal presentation was never really that important for me, he never had very flamboyant stage costumes or anything like that. But his singing voice has always… I don’t know, it hit me very very close to home; because it’s kind of shrill at times and very oddly at the top of his range and it sounds like a dear friend singing along to Ronnie Spector. 

E: I got into the Buzzcocks pretty early in high school when I was starting to figure out my own gender stuff, his singing voice just gave me gender dysphoria very hard. And I don’t really know why and I don’t completely understand it but that high singing with like — high singing at the top of a person’s range always makes me feel lots of gender things that I don’t really have a good articulation of. “Lipstick” and “Ever Fallen In Love” I think are very good examples of his songwriting. But really everything that I listened to of the Buzzcocks, especially when I was in high school, was off of Singles Going Steady which is a 1978 album. That I would say has a lot of their more well-known songs on it and yeah, it was very influential for me and it’s very good for instilling like… nervous confidence. It’s good to listen to when you’re walking around and on public transit. I’ll turn it over to you Teddie!

Japan, circa 1980

T: Ok well thank you for sharing that! I’m going to be talking a little bit about Japan the band — not the country — which, I feel very unfortunate in doing so because I have complicated feelings about them as a band but it’s undeniable the influence they had on me as a young genderqueer kid so I’m just going to do it. They were a glam rock then into New Wave band from the late ’70s/early ’80s, they were very stylish; they were kind of a gateway drug into glam rock in general for me so that’s how I ended up getting into New York Dolls, T-Rex, that whole scene. You know in the ’70s they had that very stereotypical glam look, giant hair, too much makeup, outfits that just were terrible but it was very androgynous in a way that was an over performance of both masculinity and femininity that I hadn’t really seen before and I was really into the idea that androgyny wasn’t just trying to reduce as much gender expression as possible, but instead try to over perform gender on both sides of the spectrum and so that was super interesting to me. 

T: A little bit about the history, they formed with three initial members: brothers Steven Batt and David Batt, and their friend from high school Andonis Michaelides. The three of them later took on stage names that being Steve Jansen, David Sylvian, and Mick Karn respectively, two of those names being taken as pseudo references to the New York Dolls. So then their other school friend Richard Barbieri was added to the band and a guitarist, Rob Dean, were eventually contracted by Simon Napier Bell, who had also been the manager of T-Rex. 

Teddie, circa 2017

T: David Sylvian was pretty inspirational to me in high school, I tried to look like him a lot, you know, very much trying to do the sort of overperforming of both feminine and masculine qualities, you know, wearing these really tight suits but also giant hair and lots of lip-gloss which was something they kept from the ’70s into the ’80s — a lot of ’80s bands started to fade into “let’s wear less makeup,” they were still doing full blush even when they were having those suit and tie looks. I was very much into reading band interviews at the time and there was an interview with one of the members, Steve, in which he says that he didn’t feel like a man or a woman, and I remember at the time I was like “oh, sick, me neither like, I can connect to this person who I look up to.” He went back on that statement a few years ago on a blog where essentially someone asked him like “hey can you clarify what you meant here” and he was like “oh, that’s just something I said because I was tired of the interviewer asking me all of these silly questions” but not in a way that I think necessarily puts down genderqueer people. Anyways, I still think that was an important moment for me because I didn’t have the full context, and just the fact that they weren’t considering themselves actively feeling a gender way. 

T: I was very influenced by Japan for a long time and then from that got into glam rock a lot. New York Dolls, who were also very much over performing femininity and masculinity in very weird ways and also, onto the next thing we wanted to talk about, T-Rex! Who I think we both have feelings about. About them! 

T: Before becoming T-Rex, Marc Bolan was the frontman of Tyrannosaurus Rex, a ’60s psychedelic folk band with fellow bandmate Steve Peregrin Took. Ultimately, Steve Peregrin Took left the band and Mickey Finn was invited to join and it was renamed T-Rex. So they started moving into the direction of rock, building the fundamentals of the glam rock genre, the band expanded to include other instrumentalists as well as backing vocals from a few musicians, notably Gloria Jones. As T-Rex they released eight albums from 1970 to 1977 before Bolan’s untimely death, including Tyrannosaurus Rex they released twelve albums from 1968 to 1977, which is a truly astounding amount of music. I would say probably the most notable T-Rex album is Electric Warrior. I’m going to open the floor to just talking about them, Elton? Opinions? Thoughts?

T. Rex, circa 1973

E: Yeah, well, Marc Bolan singing definitely has like a similar place in my heart to Pete Shelley singing. It’s a little bit more like, comfortable sounding. For me I like, I really love T-Rex and Marc Bolan because for me it feels like he — is not like outside of gender and sex norms or the current constructs but like, prior to it? It feels like he is operating from this primordial pit of pure vibes and even when he’s singing about having sex with women it doesn’t really feel super straight. 

[laughter]

T: Yeah, yeah, I actually made a note about this, there’s some men who sing about their love of women and their masculinity and then it like — it’s hard for me to necessarily identify as that as someone who’s not a cis man. But when it’s for Marc Bolan, it’s different, there’s something about it that’s distinctly different, that’s distinctly queer in the way he just speaks about his love, it’s more about the essence of love and less about the physicality of it. Not that there aren’t some sexy vibes going on but it’s — 

E: Yeah, it’s definitely horny but it never feels like it’s tied up in anything he’s trying to project about himself. I think a lot of the time it is like, very horny, but it’s usually horniness for the person and there’s not — I mean especially if we’re talking about ’70s bands, a lot of it is very conquest-y.

T: Not that it maybe doesn’t have a few moments of being ’70s-band-esque but like — 

E: Oh for sure — it definitely does, yeah, but I think he’s being conquered as much as he’s conquering. Do you know what I mean? 

T: Oh definitely. I think part of the thing that’s interesting about the way T-Rex is horny, which, this has gotten in a weird discussion, but I’m gonna go there, part of the reason of what makes T-Rex’s horniness interesting is that he can write a song that’s super horny without mentioning sex once. It can be about magic fairy elf wizards and you’re like, “Why is this song so horny you’re literally not talking about, like, touching or kissing anyone,” and it’s just, the vibe is just soooo… I don’t know. He’s able to exert vibes without saying it.

E: Yeah, it always feels like it’s coming from a gut instinct kind of thing and not super structured or super conscious of — not that he’s not thinking about what he’s writing, but, it feels very like, stream of consciousness often. This might be kind of a tangent, but I wanted to read some like, quotes that I had saved from an interview. With Jan Iles at the Pop and Record Swap Mirror, it’s an interviewer from 1975, so the interviewer asked: 

Are you heterosexual?” 

E: And Marc Bolan said: 

“No, bisexual, but I believe I’m more heterosexual ’cos I definitely like boobs. I always wished that I was 100 per cent gay, it’s much easier…” 

E: And then the interviewer followed it up with: 

“Yeah, but not much fun, eh?” 

E: And [Bolan] said: 

“That’s true ’cos you have the best of both worlds. But I think if you’re gay or whatever, you have just so much fun. Anyway, as I say I’ve checked It all out, and I prefer chicks.”

Elton, circa 2013

T: It’s amazing, it’s just an amazing interview clip. I mean I was not aware at all that he was bisexual until a few months ago, I’ve been into the band for maybe a year, year and a half, and when I get into bands I get really into bands, I read interviews, all that stuff. And I wasn’t necessarily shocked to find out he was bisexual just because I do think there’s a certain aura you get from his music that you’re like, “ok,” but at the same time I was like, “oh, that’s really cool!”

E: Yeah, especially in this era, and this genre in particular, there’s a lot of outward posing and like, “suggesting that you might not be 1000% straight and like, straight-laced” without a lot of talk to back it up. Like with David Bowie, not to get into that whole can of worms, but I just always think of how his public image [or maybe more accurately, career] benefited from a lot of outward expression of androgyny that he later in life like went back on for the most part. I was thinking about that with what you said about Japan too, that even though they later gave more context that they weren’t speaking to how they felt exactly. I feel like it’s rare to see performers from this era who were outwardly like, limp-wristed actually talk about it.

T: Yeah, using a label and standing by it. There’s a few other circumstances with Japan too of people suggesting or implying that and then going back on it later with sexuality and what-not. Which, again, gets to a point where it’s like, “Were you again just trying to further a career and a public image and then going back on it when homophobia was becoming more rampant and biphobia,” which, that’s an entirely different podcast episode.

E: Yeah, especially if somebody’s in the public eye and considering the very very conservative turn the ’80s took — not to say that there wasn’t conservatism in the ’70s but — it’s hard to draw a super clean line between talking about something and then going back on it for publicity purposes versus personal safety or not having the time or space to really work something out and it being safer to just be like “nope.” And language and what it means has changed so much in the past [few] decades but, in general [is in flux].

Teddie, circa 2019

T: Right. Just like on another note about T-Rex and gender, I related to what you said earlier about Marc Bolan’s voice. The way he styles his voice and the way he sings is something that definitely has given me — not only gender envy but also while singing with him I feel like I am able to project a kind of masculinity that I am able to envision for myself more than other projections of masculinity. Again not to say that it necessarily is masculinity, I wrote this in my notes, debating whether it’s feminine masculinity, or non-toxic, or not masculinity at all. It’s not really something you can label, especially with a band like T-Rex where it didn’t really feel like anyone in the band was necessarily trying to form those boundaries or lines which is part of what makes them so good.

E: Yeah! Yeah it doesn’t really feel like something that has to be categorized in a firm way which is, yeah, rad.

T: Not even just their musical stylings but also the fashion sense, which is ridiculous, oh my god! Any last thoughts on T-Rex?

E: Not really, I think we covered all of it. Yeah, I can go into talking about Brian Molko. We are now in like, the late ’9os [laughter] kind of far ahead. So, Brian Molko was the vocalist and guitarist and co-songwriter in Placebo which he founded with bassist and guitarist Stefan Olsdal in 1994, and they have had three drummers and I’m sure more [while] touring. They actually starred as an unnamed analogue for T-Rex (I would argue) and visually a similar band to T-Rex in Velvet Goldmine which was a 1998 film by Todd Haynes, which was essentially an unauthorized David Bowie biopic so it has many many characters based off of key players in this era of British glam and glam-adjacent music. They do a cover of “20th Century Boy,” I believe that’s the only T-Rex song in the movie and Brian Molko is like, top-hatted throughout. So they were in this movie that came out at a peak moment in their career about these bands and they also — again, I’m not really gonna get into David Bowie, but they did at points work very closely with him and toured with him at one point, and he’s someone Brian Molko cites as an influence, so definitely being influenced by T-Rex and all the bands that surrounded them.

Brian Molko’s Haircuts, 1997-2004

E: Placebo is a screech-y — I wanna say goth-y but I’m honestly not sure if that is even an accurate word to use, the fans are definitely goth-y — and largely a reaction to britpop in that era, a lot of the coverage was comparing them to that. Lots of their music is about sex and drugs and mental illness. Brian Molko — in particular in the ’90s, he’s kind of gotten less androgynous in his stage appearance in more recent years — was very known for being very androgynous, if not overtly feminine on-stage, wore makeup and dresses pretty frequently and had a range of haircuts! A wide range of haircuts, varying in successfulness. Especially in early years [he] had a very distinctive middle-part black bob that was very androgynous and very influential to me in high school, and I had that haircut for many years [like, 18 months]. Yeah, very much known for being androgynous and also has a very nasal, high pitched singing voice. In a Kerrang interview from 2006 he said about “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes: 

“I was listening to this when I first realised I could sing. I put it on in my Mum’s car on the way home from the supermarket when I was 13 and I was singing along to it. When I was 13, my voice sounded exactly like Gordon Gano’s.”

Placebo, circa 1998

E: I would say I kind of had a similar moment with Placebo, not with realizing I could sing cuz I still can’t, but in a moment I had very early on in realizing that I was trans, when I was probably like 15, and realizing kind of how — at least at that point how difficult it was to get hormones if you were nonbinary, especially if you were not prepated to present how cis doctors expect [you to]. My understanding was that it was almost impossible to get hormones if you were nonbinary unless you paid out of pocket for it and just did informed consent. At that point that was something I really wanted to do… and especially would be helpful in not being read as a woman in public, which, I didn’t particularly want to be read as a man but I didn’t enjoy being read as a woman. So I came to this realization of like, “Oh, I’m not really going to be able to pass in any kind of way any time soon” and so I just resolved to be like, really obnoxious and confusing. In particular I found this way of being feminine in a very obnoxious and uninviting way that was very influenced by Brian Molko and that he led me to because he was very feminine but also super angry and cranky, and yelling about stuff, playing loud guitar riffs. So he helped me find this antagonistic version of androgyny that felt very achievable for me that wasn’t trying to pass as anything but just — I don’t know, try to avert peoples eyes away from you, or punish people for trying to interrogate your appearance. For several years in high school — not several years because that’s not how time works — but a long period in high school I would put eyeliner on at night so I could wake up with it smeary to look like Brian Molko. If it’s alright I’ll read a quote from an interview from 2017, The Independent, interviewed by Remfry Dedman. So this is Brian Molko talking about how he dressed: 

“I wanted to challenge the homophobia that I was witnessing in the music scene…I wanted anybody who was slightly homophobic to show up at our gigs and think ‘Oh, I really fancy the singer. She’s hot!’ only to find out later that the singer was called Brian, which would hopefully lead them to go home and ask themselves a few questions. Of course the cross-dressing was an aesthetic choice but for us, it was also a political act.”

Elton, circa 2018

E: I encountered that quote in high school, but that philosophy of dressing in a way that makes you feel good but also is designed to be antagonistic to the people around you very much impressed on me, and felt achievable in a way that the — traditional is not quite the right word, but the — like you were talking about, the very neutered, lack of gender expression kind of androgyny that I think especially when I was younger was the only way that I saw represented to be androgynous, and then not that frequently. So, yeah, it was very major for me. [In terms of songs] with Placebo, “Nancy Boy,” kinda obvious, I think one of their biggest early hits to the point where they won’t play it live anymore. “Burger Queen” was one that really resonated for me at that age. And I will say, for me the fondness I have for Placebo comes as much from gender stuff as it does from just like, being emo.

T: Yeah, yeah. There’s overlap! It’s not just the gender stuff, there’s other reasons.

E: Yeah, most definitely. That’s kind of all I can say about Brian Molko. Also — somebody who has been very openly bi I think basically his whole career, and Stefan Olsdal who he founded the band with is gay, so, yeah!

T: That’s fantastic! I guess I’m going to talk about the Human League. So, the Human League, they’re an ’80s band. They actually formed with 4 members — 2 of them went on to form Heaven 17, and the other 2, Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright, went on to form the Human League — or continue the Human League. [They] added in a variety of members across the years, the 3 most notable members and the current lineup is Phil Oakey, Susan Ann Sulley, and Joanne Catherall. They’re the 3 singers, the 3 main members. In the ’80s the most iconic line up would have been the 3 of them, Adrian Wright, Ian Burden, and Jo Callis — they were the lineup that released the album[s] Dare and Hysteria. Dare is the album “Don’t You Want Me” is on which of course everyone knows them for and everyone cares about very much, because working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. 

The Human League, circa 1982

T: So they are a band that I got into pretty early on so you know, that is important, but it’s maybe not at all about their music as much as it’s about one certain music video that changed a lot of my ideas about gender and presentation, and that was the video for “Keep Feeling Fascination.” For people who haven’t seen it, essentially there’s a giant red building, and you zoom in on the building and all of the members are there playing instruments and wearing these black outfits in this monochrome grey room. So the girls are in dresses, Phil’s in this suit, the other guys are in leather jackets or whatever shirt they picked up off their bedroom floor, and I hadn’t been exposed to many examples of androgyny or gender non conforming-ness at all at this age. 

T: So it zooms in on the band and no one has started singing yet and Phil, Susan, and Joanne all have the exact same makeup, in a way that made me — a very naive like 14 or 15-year-old who hadn’t really seen someone who was presenting in a way that wasn’t standard — think “oh they’re 3 women” and then Phil sings in this wonderful baritone and it’s like, “Oh! no! that’s not what’s going on here at all” and it was really exciting for me. I was hit with the realization that someone could wear makeup and not be a woman. I had had a really hard time even approaching the idea of makeup until then, because I associated it so deeply with womanhood and femininity and I wasn’t interested in those things and I didn’t want people to think I was interested in those things. So I remember watching this video and being like, “Oh, I can wear makeup and not be a woman or even be interpreted as female” and so I [laughter] after I watched that video I immediately ran to my room, I pulled out my outfit that was closest to the outfit he’s wearing in the video, which was this like, terrible brown blazer and pajama shirt, and did makeup for the first time in my life. There’s this photo I took where my hair is poorly slicked back and I have just not very good makeup on. But it was so exciting to me at the time. I still thought I was cis, I thought I was cis for a few months after that, but I knew that I wanted — 

E: That’s not very long! 

[laughter]

T: Yeah well, not very long, but also, considering the fact that I was like, “I don’t want to be seen or thought of as a woman but I want to do makeup” and still thought I was cis is just… interesting. 

[laughter]

Teddie, circa 2015

T: But that’s another thing about all of the members of the Human League, their fashion sense was across the board bulky jewelry, colorful outfits, skirts, makeup, for all of the members really. Ian Burden and Adrien Wright not so much, but Joanne, Susan, Phil, and Jo all experimented with fashion and femininity and androgyny in a way that was pretty influential to me at the time. I have a quote actually from an article called “Human League: New Romantics’ rightful heirs” by Jenny Valentish: 

“Oakey’s old aesthetic – asymmetrical haircut, makeup, diamante earrings – owed more to Brian Eno and showbiz than gender politics, but he does note that he and his peers were pro-equality, on every front.”

T: Then there’s a quote from Oakey: 

“The last guy we had playing guitar had a very androgynous look, and we went out one night and some people started throwing punches at him,” he says. “I thought we’d beaten that.”

T: Which is a depressing quote to include, now that I’m thinking about it, but I like that because it reflects how the band was doing it maybe just for style but then it ended up influencing how they thought about each other and gender and that sort of stuff. And I love the Human League. They’re cheesy but without Phil Oakey I would maybe not — not that I do wear makeup but I would still be like, “I’m not gonna do that, that’s not for me’ (person who just doesn’t want to be seen as female but is definitely cis) so thanks Phil! I figured some shit out! Really impactful for me, on a kind of understanding of not only gender presentation but my ability to reformat how I thought about presenting myself. That’s kind of my rant about them.

E: Yeah, thank you. After I got dumped for the first time I got real into Depeche Mode.

[laughter] 

Depeche Mode, circa 1986

E: Yeah, so, Depeche Mode was named after Dave Gahan saw a French fashion magazine. It means like, Fashion Dispatch, or like Fashion Update — 

T: Fast Fashion

E: Yeah, Fast Fashion — yeah, I think you’re right.

T: Mmhmm, Depeche means like quickly or fast or something like that.

E: You’re right [laughter] you’re right, you got me.

T: I just took like 2 levels of french, it’s ok.

E: Good for you! So they were formed in 1980 with Martin Gore and Dave Gahan and Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher. Vince Clarke left in 1981 and then they were joined by Alan Wilder, who then left in 1985. They were pioneers in electronic music, I would say, and put out a lot of fucking albums, and are still together and putting out new music — I think just Dave Gahan and Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher now — but have put out new albums fairly recently.

T: Where’s the revolutiooooon

E: Yeah, thank you! And had a very great confrontation with somebody [who] said that Depeche Mode was official music of the alt-right, and they very hardly repudiated it in the media, as they should

T: Well the music video for “Where’s the Revolution” is literally the 3 of them dressed up as —  

[laughter]

Elton, circa 2017

E: Dressed up as Karl Marx, yeah. I would also say pioneers in singing about BDSM, I don’t think I really need to say how influential Depeche Mode has been. Anything that you wanna add?

T: The only notable thing might be that very early on when they formed they still had that family friendly new wave-y pop-y sound, right? Hey you’re such a pretty boy, and then Vince Clarke left and they dropped that and got very dark very quickly. They did have a phase briefly that was a little generic and then just immediately pivoted from that in a way that really has shaped music as you talked about. 

E: Thank you, yeah. It’s probably also worth mentioning that they’ve always been to some degree pop darlings in England which isn’t really how they’re perceived here. Their first album is definitely a very very different vibe but also the song that you quoted from — “What’s your name?” off of Speak and Spell. I think that still is popular with gays, I know it was covered by Pansy Division.

T: That’s the other thing too, their first album, despite the fact that it’s very different, a lot of people who really like their darker stuff, for lack of a better word, still enjoy that. And I do think the foundations for the sound they took on are there, I think it’s just kind of funny to listen to the musical difference.

E: I’ll open with this quote from Dave Gahan in an interview with Johnny Davis for the Guardian from 2007: 

“We used to look pretty gay. It wasn’t so much the miniskirt over the leather pants with boots – that had a punky thing about it. But when Martin wore the full-length maxi with the cowboy hat — that was beyond gay.”

E: So! [laughter] Yeah Martin Gore’s fashions were pretty influential for me figuring out how to be androgynous as a young person who was still very weird looking.

Teddie, circa 2016

T: I would definitely say that’s something about Martin Gore’s looks is, he champions the androgyny that’s so confusing that even though I’m weird looking it’s kind of hot that’s definitely — definitely their look has a very androgynous feel to it. I mean obviously Martin’s but the other band members as well, I would argue. Some of Dave’s styles and looks throughout the years, even if no one was as extreme as Martin in any given circumstance about anything, I think we can all agree on that. But certainly there’s lots of fashion adventures they’ve gotten up to across the years.

E: Yeah, most definitely. I really enjoyed how it felt very like… real? That’s a weak word to use, but never felt sterile or weird and editorial and careful. Their androgyny was always kind of messy, kind of awkward, in a way that made it feel like a real person. 

T: You also kind of talked about this before [with] Brian Molko’s stuff, that it’s not the kind of androgyny you had seen which was editorialized and sterilized, “We are combining a little bit of feminine, a little bit of masculine, toning them both down and being like this is an androgynous person.” That’s not what’s happening, Martin Gore’s like, “yeah I just found a bunch of flapper pearls and I’m gonna put them on with this weird dress and then grab a giant hammer and that’s androgyny!” Like, ok great!

[laughter] 

E: I think it’s a lot more similar to how the nonbinary and gender nonconforming people I know now dress, which is usually much louder and weirder and goofier than what we’re probably both coming from which is that mid-2010s, white, thin, conventionally attractive.

T: Shaved head

E: Yeah like short hair, or like a shaved head, and like yeah toned down not just in a gender way but in an everything way fashions, the classic “nonbinary” fashion collection of like, grey bags. I think that was and to some extent still is the dominating image.

T: Yeah, instead of being like “lets tone it down” they’re toning it up, and so everything is toned up right? Their look is toned up, their style is toned up, the…. — all the other elements of their band is toned up. 

[laughter]

E: I think a lot of their stuff is kind of — I want to say especially when Martin Gore is singing — very theatrical I think, a lot of the time. Singing along to Martin Gore and trying to sing along to Dave Gahan was very affirming for me in a gender way, in high school.

Martin Gore, circa 1986

T: The thing for me that is affirming about Martin Gore’s voice in contrast to Dave Gahan’s voice. He’s got this very weirdly sweet upper range tenor voice and Gahan has this deeper bass, baritone, kind of aggressive voice. The clash of the two of them [means] myself having a higher range, you can feel like, “Oh I’m singing next to Dave Gahan instead of way above.” It’s part of the song, it fits in. 

E: That’s a really good point. Yeah, their voices are very different and a lot of their stuff just feels really good to sing along to, there’s so many songs that are kind of ballad-y. The instrumentals are sometimes — not always — sometimes kind of goofy and always just very fun! I’m just thinking the whip sounds on “Master and Servant, which in the studio was actually somebody spitting. 

[laughter]

T: Really? That’s amazing, I mean you hear stories about them in the studio just sampling anything they can get their hands on and messing with it, right? 

E: Yeah, definitely. It’s very fun a lot of the time even when it’s like, severe.

E: Final thoughts! Turning to older bands was really helpful for me when I was figuring shit out. Feeling like there was some level of precedence for what I was trying to be. When I was in 9th-10th grade, when I was figuring stuff out, the discourse around being trans, and especially around being nonbinary, that I was exposed to was 2016 tumblr. Which was not super helpful for figuring out what felt good, and what I enjoyed in terms of gender expression. How I experienced it, it was very geared towards very particular delineations of identity that… were hard to approach! Having stuff that was older and in no way involved in that and usually very nebulously androgynous and queer, especially in terms of gender stuff. It was just helpful for me, helped me have a sense of precedence and a mirror for my feelings! Which is always helpful when you’re a teen, and in particular was helpful for dealing with that era of trans discourse. 

T: Yeah, I want to second that. I feel like when I was trying to figure out my own gender identity, the discussions around being nonbinary were still very much — not that they maybe aren’t, I just no longer am figuring that out so I’m not in those spaces — but they were very much you should try to look like this if you want to be androgynous, if you want to pass even as a nonbinary person you need to be doing these things and acting like this and doing this and that, and that really wasn’t something I was interested in, so having different outlets to discover and invent the way I was going to present and think about my gender was very helpful to me as well. And I think music was a good outlet for that. I also agree, it sets a precedent for how to look and think about those things without it necessarily having to be directly genderqueer in a way that is actually weirdly in itself helpful, like that it’s not being labeled by those people as being genderqueer allows someone who’s genderqueer to be like, “Ok but that is maybe what feels good to me and so I don’t care what people are telling me I need to be doing, this is what I want to be doing.”

E: It makes a little bit more space to project your own stuff onto it.

T: I guess also for me, being nonbinary has been a very individual experience — not that I don’t relate to other nonbinary people because I really do and I’m very fortunate to have a lot of nonbinary or gender nonconforming people in my life — but each person I know who’s nonbinary experiences and thinks about and talks about their gender in a very different way, so having influences who I could look on to be my guides in that and building that myself instead of looking to other nonbinary people who were my peers was pretty helpful for me.

E: Yeah totally. It’s very helpful to see gender explicitly performed. I think that’s part of what’s helpful about — for example Marc Bolan — getting to see gender expression where you know it’s a performance because you kind of have an understanding of where that person’s actually coming from or how they fit into gender expectations offstage. It makes it easier to be like, “I don’t have to articulate anything to just try stuff out and see what is fun.” I think also because a lot of it is — like we were talking about with Depeche Mode or Brian Molko — it’s so messy and not trying to create a super specific perception of yourself but usually more antagonistic or just wanting to dress up for the fun of dressing up. It takes the pressure off of experimenting with your gender presentation. I think for me opened up more space for it to be a fun thing which I think is productive.

T: Yeah, to connect to something I talked about earlier, the member of Japan who was like “I don’t feel like a man I don’t feel like a woman” and then years later “Oh I’m cis that was just something I said.” I’m like, but it makes me think about the presentation of the band members at that time and how it was something where they were performing a certain kind of gender and it was hyperbolic in a way, where it’s not necessarily about if you feel like a man or you feel like a woman, it’s about just trying what feels good, making your hair big, cutting your hair, who cares.

E: Yeah. And it’s fun and exciting to break from how people are expecting you to present no matter what I think, like regardless of identity. Very powerful thing. 

[laughter]

T: Right, right! I think that’s another thing too, yes this was helpful to me as a nonbinary teenager, but even if I were cis I think it would be helpful to me, just on a sheer level of understanding that gender nonconformity isn’t what we’re taught it is and also doesn’t have to be something that is only accessible to trans people.

E: Absolutely, and it’s available to anybody and everybody because it is fun and like, enriches life. 

T: Yes! Yes!

E: Yeah! Totally! I think that’s a good note to end on.

T: I agree, I agree. I’ve been Teddie…

E: I’ve been Elton, thank you for having this talk with me!

T: Oh yes, thank you for having this talk with me, this has been wonderful.

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