Metal, Leather, and LA&M

Metal, Leather, and the LA&M
Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Ph.D.

This article was submitted to the Leather Archives and Museum for publication in their newsletter and on their Facebook page.  You can also find it here:  http://www.leatherarchives.org/resources/LAMSummary.pdf

We’re all familiar, even colloquially, with the popular image of heavy metal.  The stereotypical young man in leather and studs, surrounded by other men in similar dress, hair flying and hands in the air, while the air is filled with screaming guitars.  The problem with this stereotype, however, is the problem of all such images: they are practically myopic in their understanding of a subculture.  As a lifelong metal fan and a lesbian, I’ve always found that stereotype of metal annoying and incredibly heterosexist.  For the last few years, I have conducted research on queer fans of heavy metal, and the ways in which heavy metal fandom provides queer fans with a visual and visceral conduit for their marginalization.

When I arrived at LA&M in September, I was looking for all the hidden connections between the metal community and the leather community: two misunderstood and poorly characterized groups.  During the week I spent in residence at the LA&M, I went through entire collections: t-shirts, jackets, posters and photographs, playlists and periodicals, trying to figure out how metal and leather were imbricated.  I found many examples of the ways in which metal and leather collide.  For example, Rob Halford introduced the leather and studs style identified with heavy metal in 1979 and “came out” in a 1996 interview where he stated that he borrowed the look from leather clubs in California.  Interestingly, after Halford’s interview images in the leather community took a decidedly heavy metal turn.  For example, the 1995 International Mr. Leather official branding closely resembled Halford, as seen in this image of Halford from 1980.

Halford in 1980mr leather 95

Another example is this image of Doro Pesch, one of the originators of women in heavy metal, compared here with a leather poster entitled “Black Magic.”  The images have much in common: pose, clothing, even the fact that each woman holds a “weapon” of some kind.  Doro’s album cover, however, is supposedly intended for a male audience, while the Black Magic poster is supposedly intended for leather women.  The two images could just as easily be reversed, and for the queer female metal fan, both images communicate a similar message: women, leather, and pleasure.

Doro20120919_111131

One final example is a cartoon published in the spring 1994 of the women’s BDSM journal Venus Infers.  In this edition cartoonist Terry Sapp portrayed the debate between leather dykes and the discriminatory politics of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.   In one frame, three leather dykes stand along the Michfest fences, lamenting the music played at the festival.   For these three dykes, no rock and metal was one more reason the Michfest was not part of their community.

sapp cartoon

These are just a few examples of the wealth of information I gathered during my week in residence at the Leather Archives and Museum.  I continue to research and write about the connections between metal and leather communities, and look forward to publishing that work next year.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas as well, please email me via Clifford@ucmo.edu.  An important part of my research is a survey of queer metal fans, so if you are a metal fan and identify as GLBTTQQIA+, please consider taking my survey online:  http://www.ucmo.edu/surveys/?formID=4140.  My thanks to Rick Storer and the staff at the Leather Archives and Museum for their kind assistance, and to the Board for the opportunity to work at LA&M as the 2012-13 Visiting Scholar.

“I’m a feminist, and I …

Quote

“I’m a feminist, and I love Butcher Babies. I love burlesque. Not because I think someone like the Butcher Babies is a paragon of heavy metal sonicsphere either. But they are “hot.” As a lesbian fan of metal, I gain a great deal of pleasure from seeing them and watching them perform. The cover story in Decibel that featured Marissa Martinez among others is one of a few the Decibel has run featuring non-normative gendered performers. Martinez has been in another cover story for Decibel, and a story called “A Rainbow in the Dark” discussed glbtq performers a few years ago. Interestingly, however, those articles are infamous among queer fans for being so bad. They make it sound like queer fans and performers are rare, unknown, hidden, scared and secretive. It is just not that simple. If I derive pleasure from my “Hottest Chicks in Metal” issue, does that make me sexist? If we go by the definition that sexism is about power, and we decide that as a lesbian metal fan I wield little power, can that act even be sexist? And what about Revolver’s “Hottest Men In Metal” article and poll? Is that sexist too, or are we leaving that one out?

I guess what I’m trying to say, and what my work is focused on, is that the problem is not just sexism in metal. The problem is that we all continue to compare everything to masculinity. Metal, it is frequently presumed, has one standard: cock rock, straight white men with a growl and an axe (both literal and figurative) to grind. The consummate outsider that everyone follows- but is that person an outsider? If we continue to hold up the cock rock standard, then we compare everything to that standard. We compare the female performers, the queer fans, the trans singers (think about all the press about Laura Grace from Against Me!) to this single standard. We need to get about the work of questioning cock rock, about the work of seeing metal not as a great masculine monolith, but as the transitory space it is. That’s why we end up with the idea that when Dee Snider puts on makeup and women’s lingerie he’s really just so feminine he’s masculine, when perhaps we should think about what Dee was emulating in the first place. I think it vitally important, as metal studies grows and develops, that we work hard to avoid reductionary thinking about a genre/sound/community/space/place that we all know isn’t as reductive as outsiders consider it to be.”

From a reply I made to a discussion on Metpol about sexism in metal.

Metal Homophobia and the Queer Fan

“There are no women metalheads, either as performers or fans.  Unless you count fugly dyke mongoloids.”  That’s what I read in an online forum for metal fans the first time I searched “lesbian heavy metal.”  I thought over myriad replies, everything from an academic “your definition of metalheads is too narrow” to the more metal appropriate “fuck you.”  In the end, it was this comment that started me on a path to study queer metal fans.  As a queer metal fan, I’d never experienced homophobia in club shows or concerts.  In fact, most of my experiences were positive: a fan yelling homophobic slurs carried out of the venue by other fans at an Ozzfest stop, genderqueer fans populating KMFDM and Rammstein concerts, bands fronted by trans singers opening for Ministry.  But this quote always stuck in my mind.  As I wondered if I was the “fugly dyke mongoloid” referenced (after all, maybe this was that guy who got carried out of Ozzfest!), I also wondered what metal performers, incidences or stories queer fans remembered as explicitly homophobic.

My survey “Queer Fans of HM” asks who the most homophobic performer, band, or metal event they know of is, and what they remember about that choice.  Here are the top three Most Homophobic in Heavy Metal, as defined by the surveyed queer fans.

3.  Rock Against Homosexuality
In 2008, the album “Smashing Rainbows: Rock Against Homosexuality” was released by Fetch the Rope records.  Though not well known in most metal circles, this album was a collection of songs advocating violence against queer folks and racial minorities, featuring slurs and threats.  The album’s producers categorized the songs featured as hardcore, black and death metal.  Created by supporters of the White Power movement in the United States, “Smashing Rainbows” remains for sale through White Power online sales.  After protests from the GLBTQ community in the United States, the album was pulled from Amazon sales in September 2011.  Songs on the album include People Haters “Smear the Queer,” The Raunchous Brothers “Dying In Pain,” and a song entitled “Kill the Faggots” by Evil Incarnate, featuring these lyrics:

Ni**er lovers and fa**ots
Bullets in your head
Ni**er lovers and fa**ots
Now your [sic] dead

Bombing the fa**ots into oblivion
Bombing the ni**ers into oblivion

This album also features the song “Ghosts of Flossenberg” by Arghoslent.  Flossenberg, one of the most violent and horrific concentration camps of Nazi Germany, operated from 1938 to 1945; nearly 100,000 people were imprisoned there, and 30,000 were murdered at the camp.  In this song by Arghoslent, the songwriters link Judaism with sodomy and homosexuality, and suggest that the deaths at Flossenberg were just.  “May homophobia outlive us all,” is the last line of the song.  With the recent hate crime against Sikh faithful in Wisconsin, the old debate about perceived connections between hate and heavy metal has resurfaced.  How should we metal fans respond to that debate?  Should we, given recordings such as “Smashing Rainbows,” be more critical of the connections between metal and hate?

2.            Varg Vikernes and Faust
Varg Vikernes, who performed in the Norwegian metal bands Mayhem and Burzum, was sentenced to prison in 1993 for the murder of fellow Mayhem member Euronymous and the destruction of four historic churches by arson.  He’s been discussed, criticized, vilified and otherwise featured in several books (including the influential Lords of Chaos), and may be best known to mainstream America for his appearance in the Sam Dunn documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.   While Vikernes is well known for his outspokenness about the Christian church, he is not as well-known for homophobic comments or actions.  So why is Varg considered one of the most homophobic metal performers by queer fans?

There appear to be two causes for this apparent confusion.  First, from prison Vikernes suggested that Euronymous was gay (and a Communist) and that was one of the reasons Vikernes killed him.  As other scholars have pointed out, however, Norwegian black metal bands are dependent upon their pose as ultra-right, eviler-than-thou performers.  Euronymous never “came out” or otherwise suggested he was gay- the only evidence seems to be Vikernes’ word.  In fact, several interviews and scholars have suggested that the killing was more than likely over band decisions, power, fame and income.  But queer fans overwhelmingly identify Vikernes as someone who killed a gay man.  Why?

The fans are confusing Vikernes with Faust.

Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun was the drummer for Emperor, another formative Norwegian metal band.  Faust was convicted in 1992 of murder for the death of Magne Andreassen, an openly gay man living in Lillehammer, Norway.  According to documents, Andreassen approached Faust, asked him to go for a walk, and Andreassen never returned.  Andreassen’s body was discovered the next day with 37 stab wounds and massive head injuries from repeated kicking.  Faust was sentenced to fourteen years, and was released in 2003 after serving nine years of his sentence.  He has since returned to the metal scene, working in various projects.  As Keith Kahn-Harris has discussed on his blog “Metal Jew,” while Faust has discussed his time in prison, he’s made little if any comments about his homophobic crime.

Why are Varg and Faust so easily confused?  You could argue that they share a genre, a sound, perhaps even a style and culture.  But the confusion stems from the fact that neither man cares to deny or confirm information needed to clarify.  Varg has no interest in clarifying why he killed Euronymous, and even further, there is no point in doing so.  The aura of evil arsonist and murderer of closeted gay men is one that Varg wouldn’t deny because it feeds his fame and his pose.  Faust, who has returned to metal and has offered very few statements exhibiting regret about his actions, also has no interest in saying some sort of confession/rebuke of Varg.  Can you imagine Faust giving a press statement that read “He didn’t kill a gay man, I did!”  Again, such a statement serves no purpose other than demystifying the pose of the uber-evil black metal musician.

Interestingly, in 2008 Gaahl, the lead singer of the Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth, came out as a gay man.  He won the “Gay Person of the Year” award at the Bergen Gay Galla in 2010.  In this 2008 interview, Gaahl was asked if being out would change the perception of him and his music.

“I guess it will even out the score in a way,” replied Gaahl.  In online forums, a new question began to appear: Gaahl versus Varg, who wins?  While the answers are mixed, Faust isn’t even in the contest.

1.            Kerry King
It was nearly unanimous.  Over 70% of the queer fans surveyed identified Kerry King of Slayer as the most homophobic performer they could identify.  In fact, many had stories they’d overheard, or events they’d witnessed, about King’s homophobia.  One story suggests that King walked off stage when given a cup of ice at a show.  The ice machine was broken, so the bar manager went next door to the gay dance club to borrow a cup of ice for King.  Others pointed out quotes by King in the press suggesting his homophobic attitudes.  King has been photographed with a swastika on his guitar, and has used gay slurs in interviews and on stage.  Most recently, in this interview, King discussed Slayer’s search for a new drummer.  It seems, Adrian Erlandssen (formerly of At The Gates and Cradle of Filth) “hits like a fag.”  According to King “This is Slayer; people expect more.”

What makes Kerry King’s nearly unanimous appearance as THE homophobic HM performer according to queer fans most interesting is not the slurs themselves.  What makes it important is the fact that King is also the performer most surrounded by a “he must be gay” whisper campaign.   Thousands of blogs, metal mag online comments, and chat room discussions have posted talk about the possibility that King is a closeted gay man.  In the online pop culture site Urban Dictionary, “bear” is defined as “A good example of what a typical bear looks like would be Kerry King of slayer.”  In a further sample sentence:  “Dude, Kerry King is such a freakin’ bear!”  No doubt some of this discussion is meant to create a discourse that opposes King’s homophobic stance.  After all, what better way to chastise a homophobic public figure than loudly suggest the homophobic is nothing more than a closeted queer?  Or as we say, “You know the biggest homophobes are the biggest queers!”  Another way to think about this position is in the song “Hats Off To Halford,” by the musician and performance artist Atom and His Package.  In his ode to Rob Halford, Atom wrote:  “Oh, I wish everyone in heavy metal would be homosexual, if not only to make those nazi fuckin’ pricks in Slayer, a little uncomfortable.”  This kind of protest is a political one, one where queer metal fans suggest King is gay in order to upset his position as a king of metal, and to turn his homophobia around so that it becomes a discursive weapon.

This pseudo-outing of Kerry King could be something else though.  What if, as we turn our understanding of metal subculture away from the heteronormative and consider the queer gaze, Kerry King becomes an object of desire?  In what Foucault termed scopophilia, the queer fans obsessively look at Kerry King so that he becomes not just a subject of derision, but an object of desire.  According to Foucault, such scopohilia was compelled by “an unacknowledged search for illicit pleasure and a desire which cannot be fulfilled” (Hall, Representations, 268).  Certainly no queer desire for Kerry King will be fulfilled; in fact, even to say so suggests that one may seek pleasure from a subject that professes only hatred.  But that, in effect, is scopophilia:  the pleasure that is sought, gazed upon, even stared at in fascination (or disgust), and still desired.  Consider, for example, a quote from Brian Cook, former bassist for the metal band Botch.  In a 2006 article in Decibel magazine on queers in heavy metal, Cook puts this voyeuristic desire in Kerry King terms.  “I definitely prefer the straight edge, shaved-head jock types,” said Cook, “Then again, I do like the fat-dude-with-a-big-beard-and-tattoos look.  Kerry King is totally hot.  He’d probably kick my ass for saying that.”  Perhaps queer fans of King feel the same way: both attracted and threatened, but still watching.

Queer f* Heavy Metal

Welcome to Qf*HeavyMetal.  This is my home base for all things queer heavy metal!  Overall, this site has three major goals:

1.  Queer f*ans of heavy metal: I’ll use this page as a base to post information about my research on queer fans of heavy metal.  I’ve been privileged to hear from over 500 queer fans from around the world, telling me their thoughts about and experiences in heavy metal.  Queer fans, like myself and all my gracious informants, are everywhere in the metal scenes of the world!  Check here for information from the survey of queer metal fans, and for information about my work as it continues.

The survey is still active until December 31.  Click here to take the survey:
http://www.ucmo.edu/surveys/?formID=4140

2.  Queer f***ing heavy metal:  Look, there are lots of GLBTTQQIA+ metal performers out there.  Some you know, some you don’t.  There’s a lot of both hard and heavy music out there by queer folks, not to mention a rich history of queer involvement and influence in rock and metal music.   For example, consider transgender artists.  The American radio and pop music community was incredulous when Laura Jane Grace (born Tom Gabel), lead singer for the pop-punk bad Against Me!, came out as transgendered this year in Rolling Stone.  But metal has been the home of trans artists- including Marissa Martinez of Cretin, Mina Caputo of Life of Agony, and the band Mechanical Black to name only three- for a long time.   Trans performances such as “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” feature hard rock and heavy metal.  As I said at a conference in March, even Gaahl of Gorgoroth has come out- queer people are everywhere on the metal stage.  To quote a Nirvana classic, everyone is gay.

Check out Mechanical Black’s ballad “Together in Electric Dreams”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmPta19GSFU

3.  Queer f*ixtures of heavy metal:  We’ve all heard the stories or seen the posts about Kerry King calling people fags, or maybe you remember the infamous “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” t-shirt that Sebastian Bach wore in the 1980s.  The fact is, the idea that metal is inherently homophobic is not accurate.  Queer folks are a fixture in metal scenes; in fact, metal has us to thank for leather and spikes, for the L.A. glam look of the Sunset Strip, and  rock gods such as Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford and Joan Jett who helped bring hard rock and heavy metal to prominence.   Or consider industrial metal:  Rammstein’s overt BDSM, Marilyn Manson’s genderfuck. And there’s still homocore, queercore, riot grrls, goth metal- the list goes on and on.  In other words: we’re here, we’re queer, we’re all over hard rock and heavy metal.

I’ll start posting stories, research materials, and news from the hard rock and heavy metal.    Until then, \w/.