…is a statement guaranteed to trigger apoplexy in not a few rockers of the old school, not to say bafflement amongst some only passingly familiar with the genre. But bear with Tom Dare, writing over at Terrorizer.com about homophobia in the rock and metal world:
‘…metal is totally gay. It’s a predominantly male audience watching predominantly male bands act as butch and masculine as possible. It’s leather, denim, tight trousers … and a bunch of other shit that has more to do with 1970s San Francisco gay clubs than anything vaguely hetero. It’s all phallic metaphors, homoerotic imagery and sweaty (frequently topless) men grappling each other in a dark room.’
He’s got a point: consider the ‘classic metal’ look, as exemplified by Rob Halford of Black Country metal stalwarts, Judas Priest, amongst others from that New Wave Of British Heavy Metal era. That leather and stud look is still popular within certain of gay clubbing circles: and whilst Halford IS gay – now openly so – he’s very much the exception. German industrial metallers, Rammstein, took that camp/macho, homoerotic look to its natural conclusion more so than many latterday exponents of the genre, as seen here on Bück Dich (Bend Down):
Clearly a band comfortable enough with their sexuality to play around with it as camp, vulgar exhibitionism (mind you, this was their first album cover 😉 )
As Dare writes, though; such is not the norm. Homophobia in metal circles, as elsewhere, is undoubtedly an issue. Back in 1984, Queen lost a lot of fans Statesside with their cross-dressing video clip for I Want To Break Free. (OK, Queen aren’t a metal band per se, but they’ve flirted with the genre on many occasions and count not a few metal aficionados amongst their fan base). It would be heartening to think we’d moved on from there.
Homophobia, at its root isn’t a fear of male-on-male sex as such; so much as a fear of men not being seen to perform their proper gender rôle (i.e. fucking – and putatively impregnating – a bunch of women). As such, it’s rooted in misogyny – a fact that can be inferred in the colloquial use of gay to mean worthless or inferior. The best critical analysis of homophobia I’ve read is by American feminist writer and activist Andrea Dworkin in the ‘Law’ chapter of her classic Intercourse text.
What homophobia within subcultures such as metal tells us is that men still yearn for ‘safe spaces’ to indulge their homophobic – and thus, misogynistic – feelings without admitting it to themselves.
So I beg to differ with Dare when he writes
‘(When) Oli Sykes …screams about the girls he’s read about on the back of toilet doors (which paints a rather grim view of Sheffield, if that kind of misogyny is commonplace …) that’s a separate issue…’
But agree wholeheartedly with the following
‘…it brings love and shagging into metal. And that makes some people – particularly young people less likely to realise that phrases like “fuck this gay shit” or “faggot metal queers” cause real harm to real people – uncomfortable, and lash out.’
Metallers often adopt a posture of aloofness and superiority with regard to the ‘mainstream’ pop industry: I know I sure did back in the day – and that’s bullshit for any number of reasons, not least because much metal, as much punk, is really cranked-up, distorted pop – most often in the claim that for them it’s ‘all about the music; divorced from popular, consumerist trends; glossy, sexually-explicit marketing. It should be all about the music; and would be in a world less prejudiced.
Dare‘s call for metal fans to confront homophobia is, at heart, a call for them to know themselves better.