Hoo, boy! What a week! What a time! I'm insanely jealous of everyone at Americanafest, but do remember that there is a Queer Country Roots showcase tomorrow (Saturday) and you should go because I can't!
AND, if you're in Austin, remember to check out OUTlaw Pride Fest on 9/24! Tickets are $15 and will benefit Out Youth, Allgo and TENT (Trans Education Network Texas.) Huge props to Julie Nolen for organizing this show -- the lineup is very similar to the Queer Country Roots showcase so SOME of you will get to capture the magic.
One more announcement! Rainbow Rodeo now has an [Instagram][(https://www.instagram.com/rainbowrodeomag/) and Twitter account. Please give 'em a follow at @rainbowrodeomag because -- trust me -- big things will be happening in the new year.
As promised, this week's essay will focus on the connection between queer country music and the birth of the trans liberation movement.
CW: Mentions of transphobia
This idea came to me way before things blew up with Brittany Aldean, Maren Morris, and, to a lesser extent, Cassadee Pope. As expected, this got hushed up pretty quick. Jason was dropped by his publicist. Brittany complained about her victimization on Fox News. Morris printed up t-shirts that benefited Trans Lifeline and raised over $100k. Conservative media is still trying to beat the drum on this thing but Nashville has mostly moved on (for now.)
My final thoughts on this -- the media treated this like a feud because of the rhetoric the parties used. Aldean's initial post is so full of LibsOfTikTok brainworms that it's literally incomprehensible to people who aren't in the know. Cassadee critiqued the comment itself but let's be real, Morris's were of a more personal nature. And hey, I would have done the same thing. It's just that I don't have tens of thousands of people reading my social media posts, and I think all three women, being human, forgot that when they wrote these things. Our monkey brains can only handle the existence of so many people.
However, in both Pope and Morris's responses, they never actually...talked about trans kids? They made some very powerful statements about the inclusion of trans people in country music, but they never directly responded to Aldean's comments, or why they're dangerous. I mean, nobody's expecting Maren Morris to be up-to-date on the trans rights movement. But if you respond to someone's political argument (however disgusting and convoluted) with a general sentiment, then the focus ends up on these interpersonal arguments, then the stan army gets involved -- and trans people get lost in the process. I'm really glad Morris was able to transform the moment into something that could be good for so many people. And I think it was a missed opportunity to take a solid stand for trans rights within a conservative political stronghold. But hey -- as Elamin Abdelmahmoud pointed out, this conversation never would have happened even a few years ago. Top 40 country music is just perpetually 10 years behind the curve -- politically and in terms of the music it appropriates from hip hop. Very excited for country drill in 2030.
Be that as it may, trans country artists have been around since the jump of the queer liberation movement. I want to stress here that I am not super well-versed in LGBTQ+ history, much less trans history, and I don't want to overstate the connection between queer country and Camp Trans, which launched the trans rights movement as it exists now.
But I have a lot of tidbits swimming around in my head, and the most recent episode of the trans history podcast One From the Vaults got a lot of neurons firing! If you don't already listen to it, take a second to subscribe. Host Morgan M Page has a gift for storytelling that makes the case of a trans person navigating England in the 1700s as hilarious and sexy as if you were talking shit with your friends in a bar right now. This one was about Mich Fest and the formation of Camp Trans.
If you're not familiar, Michigan Womyn's Fest was a cornerstone of lesbian and feminist organizing spaces, as well as a huge boon to the women's music movement. It also led to the creation of domestic violence shelters. Unfortunately, the festival enforced a ban on trans women that ultimately led to its undoing. Page gets into it in the podcast and I wrote about it on Country Queer, but won't link to the actual piece for these reasons.
Page provides a helpful explanation of where TERFs came from -- second-wave feminism viewed sex work, porn, and drag as misogynistic and lumped them all together. These philosophies coalesced around transphobia as well.
Around this time, Olivia Records (which now exists as Olivia Cruises, which you've probably seen on The L Word) was the home for women's music and, by extension, lesbian artists. One of their artists, Beth Elliott was outed as a trans woman and her presence was protested at the West Coast Lesbian Conference. One of the label's sound engineers, Sandy Stone, was also outed and voluntarily left the label for fear of jeopardizing its mission. Olivia Records defended Stone. According to Page, this incident inspired one of the foundational TERF texts.
The Olivia Records brouhaha precipitated events at Mich Fest. And, to be clear, plenty of people protested this position. Eventually, trans organizers Transexual Menace created an encampment just outside the festival's grounds. This is where many of the central tenets of the current trans rights movement formed: that trans identity does not have to be tied to a gender binary, or even the genitals or hormone balance of an individual body. Nor does medical transition have to be a qualification for identifying as trans.
To be clear, the women's music artists I spoke with for the article don't necessarily see themselves as country musicians, but I think there's an argument for considering them Americana. Those artists certainly would be considered as such today, and contemporary artists like Crys Matthews already are. So I think it's possible to tie women's music into queer country music history -- or at least say they're kissing cousins.
So that's what I mean by a connection that I don't want to overstate. So much of where we are today, politically, is the result of gatekeeping about who could participate in the women's music movement. This gatekeeping ultimately destroyed a powerful artistic and political movement -- one that highlighted and embraced queer artists making roots music.
Trans artists have always been fundamental to queer art, and especially to queer roots music. We're at a moment where the movement is in a new iteration -- both the incredible momentum of the queer artists performing at mainstream industry events like Americanafest and the Brittany Aldeans of the world. This time, we have to get it right.
(PS -- The first four songs on this week's playlist are by trans artists. I look forward to the day when I can make it all ten.)
Here are all of the queer country album releases this month! Let me know if I should add something to the list!
Updated every two weeks!
Thanks to Catie Pearl-Hartling for making a parallel list on Apple Music!