The history of queer discrimination in various spheres of the global music and media industry has been largely dominated by the stigmas attached to its community members. Today, however, like other prominent social movements, the queer movement, backed by influential art and artistic expression, is also revolutionizing the global culture, one step at a time!
We at the Indian Music Diaries got in touch with some remarkable queer indie creatives who, with their music and their exceptional journeys, have a lot to say about queer representation in the indie music sphere.
Queer or not, an individual’s art undoubtedly holds a mirror to one’s sense of expression. Be it music or any other form of art, it simply carves out a safe niche for us to be at peace with ourselves. Prakti (@praktiii), an upcoming queer musician reflects upon how she has been the most vulnerable version of herself in her songs. She also believes that inclusivity in art offers a greater scope of acceptance amid a universal audience.
“Well, you can’t shout at a painting!” She remarks laughing. “Okay maybe… I know some people who can shout at a painting, but you can’t really shout at a song- because these things are beautiful! When you take something that’s frowned upon and put it into something as beautiful as a song or a painting, it’s harder for the audience to be THAT pissed at it. So I guess, in that sense, art helps a lot.”
While some musicians we spoke to, bore a direct association with their music and their sexual or gender identity; others simply did not.
“There is a direct correlation between my music and my gender identity. Most people in the industry who have worked with me in the past are still unaware that I identify as a trans man. I was often questioned during my shows as to why my songs were from a “guy’s perspective” or, were about women. Well here’s the answer to all that now,” says singer, songwriter, and musician Jay Anand (@jayinprocess) who is currently heading the music department for a tech ed firm, while also working on some impending music.
At the same time, one’s music does not have to exclusively mention verses that emulate their identity so as to be able to represent them as queer musicians in the industry.
“My music represents me even if it’s not speaking about someone or something in the queer spectrum.” He adds further.
While socio-political factors greatly influence and navigate the growth of communities like the queer community, representation and inclusivity also go a long way by de-stigmatizing these individuals in the public space.
At the same time, this idea of “representation” is many-a-times forced by brands or labels to portray false diversity. GrapeGuitarBox or Teenasai Balamu is another non-binary musician who was not entirely open about their identity when they initially started producing music.
“I was afraid my music won’t get the spotlight it deserves if I were labeled as a ‘queer musician’ and not just a ‘musician’,” Teenasai says.
“I was genuinely scared because I was seeing a lot of ‘tokenism’. Queer musicians were not being taken seriously but were a part of the show for the sake of this tokenism,” they add.
That being said, Teenasai eventually made peace being labeled as a queer/non-binary musician because in a way coming out was very liberating.
“It was more authentic for me and who I have always been. Before I came out, there were so many ways in which I had to be closeted, I put out covers without changing the pronouns just so that I could vicariously be queer, without having to say it- But, this act can be very stifling for someone who wants to make art out of their experiences.”
Talking about the present and the future of queer musicians in the independent music industry, they believe that social media has played a key role in uniting similar individuals from all across the globe. At the same time, inter-sectionality also greatly influences queer inclusivity.
In the midst of these changing times, the indie music space has undoubtedly embraced the presence of queer musicians. The acceptance is a consequence of the very foundation that supports the indie music industry worldwide, independence to express oneself in the absence of multi-million music companies and record labels that are often known to design a ‘brand’ for the artist.
Queer musician and cinema enthusiast, Coup Jean says that queer individuals are often reminded that they are still “very much an outsider in a straight person’s world”.
“Someone either on the production committee or the stage management front, or someone from the audience just automatically assumes that since I’m queer it is ‘ok’ to say certain things to me or to overstep boundaries by asking me very personal questions- which is just not right.,” He adds.
As an openly queer artist, Coup has also been misgendered one too many times, and yet, as a final piece of advice to all queer musicians, all he has to say is that one should just get out there and start irrespective.
“If there’s something that you want to say- something you want to record and make a song out of- Just go ahead and DO IT! Don’t worry about the consequences because the world is a hot mess right now. With ongoing wars, oil spills, and a f*cking pandemic- there’s not much you can do but make art and hope for the best!”