When I ask my friends what artists come to mind when they think of gay, lesbian and transgendered musicians, the answers are always the same few names: K.D. Lang. Melissa Etheridge. Rob Halford. Ani Difranco (who I might add is happily married to a man!). Rupaul. It surprises me that as our culture becomes more liberal, open-minded and diverse we don’t see a corresponding increase in representation of the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities in music. Some mainstream bands, such as Marilyn Manson and Mindless Self Indulgence, bring some attention to these issues with openly bisexual antics and genderbending, but both artists come off as being more about shock value than legitimate and honest emotion. Sweden’s Turbo Negro received some much overdo media attention when they supported Queens of the Stone Age on their most recent tour. And while these denim clad rockers brought a whole lot more homoeroticism on the road with them than most American audiences were used to, with songs like “Sailor Man” and “Midnight NAMBLA” they too seem more about humor than anything else.However, there is a thriving scene of gay, lesbian, and transgendered artists who want to be taken at face value – people writing songs and playing music. The Pacific Northwest is kind of a fertile crescent of bands with openly gay and lesbian members. Kaia Wilson, a singer/songwriter who has also performed in fem-friendly bands such as Team Dresch and The Butchies, is just one musician who consistently puts out amazing albums and yet never really receives the attention that a songwriter of her caliber deserves. Her story-like lyrics transcend all labels and cut right to the essence of human emotion with her descriptions of love, friendship, hurt and betrayal. She has also proven that she is a talented songwriter with the broad range of music that backs up her honest words. From the raging experimental rock of Team Dresch and The Butchies to her more subdued acoustic solo work, Kaia Wilson has proven that she is flexible, even adding the occasional synthpop dance track on her albums.
Another band with members originating from the northwest that is starting to receive some much due attention is New York’s Le Tigre, who are quite open about their sexuality but don’t see it as a major selling point of their music. Founding member Kathleen Hanna is best known for her riot grrrl rock pioneering with Bikini Kill. Now she has traded in her rage and angst for completely danceable riot disco, guaranteed to get straight, gay, and bi-curious booties all shaking together.
And just when you thought you couldn’t handle any more pop punk bands singing songs about picking up girls, here comes Pansy Division to the rescue! These punks from San Francisco having been writing songs about picking up boys since 1991 and are arguably one of the bands that have paved the way for more gay musicians to follow. Their silly lyrics about relationships, drugs and boredom; their album covers featuring scantily clad boys and sexual innuendos galore; their perfect mix of 70’s punk edge with 60’s pop sensibility are all things that have attracted this band much attention, including that of Green Day who asked Pansy Division to open for them during their 1994 tour.