If you do not follow mainstream country music stars, obsessively check their social media, or spend an unhealthy amount of time on country music Twitter, congratulations.
The tea is that Brittany Aldean (Jason's wife) posted something transphobic on her Instagram seemingly out of nowhere, Apple Radio host Hunter Kelly spotted it and mentioned it on his Instagram stories, Will Groff ported it over to Twitter, and, 24 hours later, Cassadee Pope and Maren Morris called her out...on Twitter. The trio have spent the whole weekend going back and forth, with Candace Owens weighing in. You can read a summary at The Boot which includes the offensive language, but, of course, none of the people involved here are trans.
And now, a community famous for nuance and political integrity is having a public fight about the rights of trans people.
Normally I post this letter every two weeks but this i the very essence of queer country music news, so let's talk about it now as it keeps unfolding.
Completely by coincidence, my essay for this week was going to be about queer country's connection to the origins of the trans liberation movement -- so I'll be back to you with that this Friday. For now, let's look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly here.
To be honest, I do not think about Jason Aldean, his wife, Cassadee Pope, or Maren Morris any longer than it takes to read a headline with their name in it and go about my day. I know, intellectually, that there are many conservatives working in country music. I know, intellectually, they do not care to work with me or my favorite artists. But seeing the bigotry spelled out so explicitly — precisely because they know there will be no consequences and plenty of support — really hurt my soul. So I coped with it healthily by Tweeting angry things and retweeting snarky things, patting myself on the back for ignoring mainstream country music, and throwing my hands up at things ever changing meaningfully.
But that doesn’t make change.
After mocking Brittany Aldean on Twitter, Maren Morris was barraged by her supporters (lol apparently she has a bunch) all weekend, made a statement supporting trans people from the stage at her shows, and then put out a nicely-produced video stating her support, clearly and unequivocally, for LGBTQ+ country music fans.
Morris is one of the top-ranked country music artists right now. It is genuinely goosebumps-inducing to see an industry leader be so outspoken and then triple-down on it. Morris has been a fascinating figure to watch. The Highwomen fell short of their promises for a crowded table in many ways when the album came out — including a “giant miscommunication” (in Morris’s words) that caused Mickey Guyton to be turned away from the “Crowded Table” video shoot. A few weeks later, Morris quietly turned words into action by explicitly working with Black talent in her music and behind-the-scenes roles such as music video production. Of the four members of the team, she seems, to me, to be the most visibly committed to changing her business practices to reflect what she says.
Now that she’s welcomed trans fans to the table, how will she — and the rest of Nashville — ensure there is a place for trans artists?
None of this should be surprising in a business community that refused to sanction Morgan Wallen after screaming a racial epithet, failing to apologize, using his “apology” donation as a tax haven for his pals, failing to follow through on even donating that and doing so only after media scrutiny. Well, friends, he said he was sorry so that means he gets an extra Academy of Country Music award! With no repercussions for even the most fundamental expressions of bigotry, Nashville truly is what Kelsey Waldon called it all those years ago: a dirty old town.
But I think what’s really bad is that, by focusing on personal attacks among three wealthy women, or even spreading what should be a non-controversial message of acceptance and equality at country music shows, we’re missing an opportunity to refute dangerous myths about trans healthcare. I am sure I don’t need to tell any of you the real-world consequence of Mrs. Aldean’s failed attempt at humor.
I’ve already tutted the ACM for their actions, in spite of CEO Damon Whiteside’s stirring comments last year that the country music awards show should reflect what the country looks like. I’ve been trying to report this out for two years and it would be easier to extract state secrets via Donald Trump, evidently, than to get any real information about their diversity plan.
And don’t think Americana gets off easy here. In general, we like to describe it as country music for liberal people, but the Americana Music Association is hardly a shining example of what a more inclusive trade organization looks like. I’ve interviewed Jed Hilly about this several times now and he often claims that the organization is too small and under-resourced to implement the changes we’d all like to see. The organization created a Diversity & Inclusion Committee last June, but its mission is vague and the most recent public update about it is in the piece linked to above, which I wrote last September. You’ll also find that in the piece, many of the artists who had official showcases at the festival weren’t even aware that the committee existed.
As Mya Byrne has pointed out on Twitter, there are no trans musicians featured at Americanafest this year. This is why Holly G, founder of the Black Opry, put together an all-trans band to back the performers at their showcase -- now that's allyship.
(EDIT: I misread some of Mya's Tweets! Adeem the Artist will be playing at American Aquarium's showcase. However, Americanafest as an institution has yet to show outwards support of trans people. Thanks, Mya, for your kind correction. I'm very sorry! And thanks, Jessye, for also reaching out to correct me.)
Furthermore, while this year’s list of panels does discuss diversity and representation, but there are no panels explicitly about the LGBTQ+ experience. (Yes, Ann Powers is moderating a panel with the Indigo Girls but that’s not quite the same thing.) Mya and Dale Geist of Country Queer moderated one last year, but Dale’s gross mismanagement of Country Queer and its staff (like me) has rightfully earned him a disinvitation from doing so again. However, surely there’s at least one more person out there qualified to host such an event.
Finally, there has never — ever — been an official Americanafest showcase featuring queer musicians. Yes, the Queer Roots Festival happens alongside the rest of the shows, but it has not been sponsored by Americanafest.
So, there’s much to be done. What do we do? First of all, the indefatigable Jeremy Leroux has created Country Everywhere, a directory of marginalized artists of many identities working in roots music. Find a tour buddy, opener, or someone to guest on one of your recordings?
Secondly, you can take the #ChangeCountry Music Pledge initiated by Karen Pittelman, who created the Gay Ole Opry and commit to working with marginalized artists, journalists, producers, and so on.
And if you’re a fan like me, vote with your dollars.