Heavy Metal Is Gay: Why We Need To Tackle Our Homophobia

By on 23 July 2014

Manowar promo photo Terrorizer

Heavy metal is totally gay. It’s a predominantly male audience watching predominantly male bands act as butch and masculine as possible. It’s leather, denim, tight trousers (we’ll skip over the baggy jeans of nu metal, because that was actually the closest metal’s ever come to being straight) and a bunch of other shit that has more to do with 1970s San Francisco gay clubs than anything vaguely hetero. It’s all phallic metaphors, homoerotic imagery and sweaty (frequently topless) men grappling each other in a dark room. And yet we are amongst the most homophobic sets of music fans in the world.

There seems to be this odd perception amongst metallers of gays as mincing queens effeminately cocking a limp wrist. And while gay men like that certainly exist, it is far from the majority – and in fact, is something liable to win you prejudice even amongst the LGBT community. In fact, the closer to a Manowar press shot (with or without loincloth-only garb) you get, the closer you get to something genuinely gay.

Gay men are still men. They like football, gaming and action films (especially Jason Statham films, homoerotically charged as they are) as much as anyone else with a Y chromosome (although it should be pointed out, this stereotype about straight men is frequently bullshit too). The stereotypes portraying gay men as soft, sensitive, delicate flowers who only want to talk about fashion and feelings are as wide of the mark as the stereotype of metalheads as stupid, drunken, unwashed, uneducated Satan worshippers who are more likely to go on a killing spree than hold down a job and function in normal society.

To demonstrate the bizarreness of this presumption about gay men – that they’re soft – here’s a quote from comedian Steve Hughes, a metal fan and musician who played in, amongst others, Slaughter Lord and Nazxul, and did the BBC’s ‘Live At The Apollo’ show in a Wolves In The Throne Room t-shirt (you can imagine the Aussie accent for yourself):
“What do straight guys want?
[adopts camp tone] “‘I want a woman. Soft. Sleek. Feminine.’”
“What do you want, Dave?
[manly voice] “‘I want to fuck a bloke. I want a big strong bloke to fuck me in the arse. Is that a bit tough for you and your pussy loving mates? You and vaginas. Well fuck you, mate, ’cos we want cock, son – cock! Go and play with your girly tits, you fucking fag.’”

It might then, on the surface of things, appear odd how quickly homophobic abuse is doled out at any band metalheads don’t like, or at a band perceived as inadequately metal. But when you stop and think for a few seconds, it becomes a lot less strange.

For one, study after study after study has shown that people who are homophobic are more likely to be aroused by porn involving same-sex couples of their own gender than non-homophobic straight people. So it seems quite reasonable that homophobic men would be drawn towards the homoerotic image of heavy metal – after all, if you subconsciously or secretly are turned on by two guys getting it on with each other, why wouldn’t you like watching the powerful arms of Jeff Waters caress his guitar strings while pointing that flying V manfully at the crowd like a prosthetic schlong? It’s not hard to imagine either why someone, slightly more interested in the idea of sweaty manlove than they are prepared to admit, would like a cuddle with another sweaty topless man at a show while the (frankly gorgeous) Jamey Jasta struts his manly stuff on stage, with his arms pumping and thighs… actually, I’d better stop there, before I have to sit on my hands. The point is, if you like watching men, heavy metal is only topped by hardcore for the butch all-male visuals.

Beyond that, however, we have the relative absence of sex from metal lyrics – at least overt discussion of sex (and again, excluding hair metal, because that was pretty straight too – possibly why lots of metallers didn’t like it that much). Metal sings about death, Satan, misery, misanthropy, internal turmoil, political ideology, dragons, religion, goblins, drugs, the environment, drinking, HP Lovecraft, pirates, ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, ancestral culture, Jesus and heavy metal itself more often than it sings about sex, and when it does sing about sex, it does so more through innuendo (Megadeth’s ‘Mechanix’, for instance) than about falling in love and/or shagging.

An “enlightened” comment on a recent post about Death on Terrorizer’s FB page

Homophobia Terrorizer

The consequence of this is that, for someone who is uncomfortable with sexuality – their own, or just in general – metal is a place where you can ignore that. It is quite possible to escape from your concerns or insecurities for a while, to not have to confront them. Whether as a straight person struggling to work out how to deal with the opposite sex, or as an LGBT individual working out who you are, questioning and not yet at peace with yourself, metal offers a refuge. This can, of course, include those dealing with their insecurities through homophobia – perhaps inevitably.

Perhaps then this is why homophobia is the first weapon against metalcore bands who do sing about love and girls. The safe refuge from all that stuff is suddenly under threat. The insecure are once more brought face to face with the very thing they want to hide from – when Trivium sing about ‘Dying In Your Arms’ or Oli Sykes (who, from the sounds of both his interviews and his lyrics, has no problem with his own sexual identity) screams about the girls he’s read about on the back of toilet doors (which paints a rather grim view of Sheffield, if that kind of misogyny is commonplace, but that’s a separate issue), it brings love and shagging into metal. And that makes some people – particularly young people less likely to realise that phrases like “fuck this gay shit” or “faggot metal queers” cause real harm to real people – uncomfortable, and lash out.

Now, it is certainly worth noting that the heavy metal subculture is – as much as some of us would like to pretend otherwise – part of wider society, and some of the homophobia is simply an extension of the homophobia in society. It is undoubtedly true that a section of society thinks it’s OK, or even funny, to use “gay” or related terms and epithets as negatives, as terms of abuse, and that this spills over into metal. But metal also has some aspects of its homophobic tendencies that are purely our own problems.

Whatever the root cause, none of these are acceptable as excuses. Homophobia is horrible in all its forms. It hurts people. “Gay” as a synonym for “bad” tells LGBT people that they are different, that they are bad, that they are somehow inferior to straight people. It leads people to deny their identity, to battle with their own psyche, and is a significant part of why depression and suicide amongst LGBT people is still such a problem. It is why Rob Halford was in the closet for 25 years, why the Cynic guys only publicly spoke about their sexuality this year, and why there are so few openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender musicians in high profile metal bands.

Statistically, if we accept the percentage of the male population who are gay as around the seven per cent it is reported as, and if we take the average number of male musicians per band as four (it’s not, it’s higher, but we’ll stick with four for simplicity’s sake), then the Bloodstock main stage should feature eight gay men performing (to the nearest whole number), or two entire bands. In fact, there are no openly gay men at all. That’s none. Zip. Nada.

We, the metalhead community, have been throughout our history, even to this day, fucking rubbish at challenging it, about sorting out our own house, at saying “you like metal? You’re in. Who you fancy doesn’t matter.” We need to fix this. For our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer family.

And because metal’s so fucking gay, we’ll look bloody stupid if we don’t.

Words: Tom Dare

This article appears in Terrorizer #251. Click here to buy this issue.

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