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In Defense of “the Gay Section” at Music Stores

This last week, openly gay musician Olly Alexander (frontman of the band Years & Years, above) clowned a music store for putting his music (and that of several other gay musicians) in the “gay section” of their store.

I’m not a musician, and I definitely understand not wanting to have your art walled off in a “gay ghetto” or reduced to one aspect of your identity — imagine if we had sections for “female” or “Black” music; despicable.

And yet as a music journalist, my attempts to write about bands with LGBT members and my searches for “gay bands”, “lesbian musicians” and “transgender rockers” have been regularly thwarted by the fact that most LGBT artists don’t wanb to put their sexual and gender identities at the forefront of their music. As one musician put it, “We want to be known as a rock band, not a gay rock band.”

Granted, what that means is that diligent music journalists must become more intimate with musicians in order to actually learn about their LGBT-identities (things you can’t just find out by Googling). But viewed another way, it also means that many musicians essentially closet themselves so that their music and bandmates aren’t pigeonholed into the “gay” section, reducing their marketability to folks who have no interest in “gay music.” Hell, even most of my music-loving, gay friends have no interest in listening to bands that are merely gay — they want bands that also sound great.

But as a result, LGBT media covers non-LGBT musicians acts from gay-pandering stars like whats-his-name Jonas brother and musicians that make homophobic comments like Azelia Banks. Meanwhile, LGBT music acts have to literally name themselves “PWR BTTM” (Power Bottom) or feature hunk dudes kissing in their videos just to get any play.

It’s lamentable but understandable. In the meanwhile, Olly Alexander shouldn’t complain too much about being tossed in the gay section. Being put there helped me discover him and now I’m writing about him and listening to his music, so that section still has some use, no matter how antiquated.