Kiyoko's final single from her project "I'm Too Sensitive For This Sh*t" has a music video that will get you in your feelings.
When I first realized I was bisexual, I didn't know any girls who liked girls in real life.
I grew up in a community that was supportive of gay rights in theory, but queerness still felt shrouded in discomfort and otherness.
Because of this, every morning of eighth grade I'd wake up, stumble out to the kitchen table, and wish it wasn't true. I wanted to erase these troublesome, fluttery feelings I had for the pretty girl I'd seen on the dance floor that summer. I wanted to wake up and be straight. I wanted to erase myself.
I wonder how much of a difference seeing a video like Hayley Kiyoko's "She" would've made in my life, had it come out at the time. "She" is a pristine pop song from one of the most prominent lesbian artists making music today, but it's also a reminder that even though gay rights have become accepted by the mainstream media, discovering your own queerness as a teen can be incredibly scary and isolating.
It can also be a source of power and inspiration. For the "She" video, Kiyoko dons a baby butch outfit, complete with a wig that resembles the short emo-kid haircut she had at the time. At first, she's awkward and uncomfortable, but eventually she finds the confidence to pick up a guitar, and soon enough she's a rock star jamming out as crowds scream her name.
Hayley Kiyoko - She [Official Video] www.youtube.com
"I actually got emotional putting on the wig," she told Teen Vogue. "It brought on a wave of feelings and reminded me of how insecure and hard I was on myself during that time. I felt a wave of pride as well knowing I overcame my fears and I was now celebrating that moment. All my insecurities are the reason why I became me."
The video will be relatable to anyone who's ever felt the pain of being stuck in the closet, either by their community or by their own internalized homophobia or both. "When I was younger, I hid so much of who I was, and secretly felt so different and alone," Kiyoko added. "But I was really inspired by artists like Tegan and Sara and Lance Bass; they made me feel like I could turn my dreams into a reality. Having representation is so important and means so much to the future generations."
Despite increasing levels of widespread protection and acceptance, LGBTQ+ kids still face many challenges. According to the Human Rights Coalition, 4 out of 10 American teens ages 13-17 feel they live in a community that does not accept queer people. LGBTQ+ kids still face high levels of violence, being twice as likely as others to be physically assaulted. The survey also found that although 9 out of 10 kids say they're out to their close friends, 92% said they've heard negative messages about queerness.
These messages can have deadly consequences. According to the Trevor Project, suicide rates are three times higher for LGBTQ+ youth. Things are even more difficult for transgender people, who receive less acceptance and support than cisgender people; according to the same study, 40% of transgender adults say they've attempted suicide.
Queer people of color experience unique challenges as well, facing high levels of poverty and intersecting challenges. For example, "disproportionate numbers of LGBT people of colour live in places that lack any explicit state-level protections for LGBT people," said Ineke Mushovic, director of the Movement Advancement Project. "This means that LGBT people of colour face a high risk of economic harm from anti-LGBT laws."
In spite of the accessibility of these statistics, it's easy to forget how harrowing the experience of growing up queer can be—particularly for kids in situations wherein homophobia is a reality and other issues like poverty are at play. Though 77% of the kids surveyed by the Human Rights Coalition say they know things will get better, that doesn't mean that queer and trans kids should have to suffer. And until every single kid can joyfully embrace who they are in a safe and loving home, the work isn't done.
To make this work happen, we need not only to promote surface-level love for queer people. We need to address the forces that lock queer (and non-white and non-able-bodied) people in loops of poverty, that permit conversion therapy, that codify employment and housing discrimination, and that prevent trans people from using their chosen bathrooms and accessing the health care they need.
Though these realities are painful, it doesn't all have to be about suffering. As Kiyoko said, visible and high-profile examples of queer joy and acceptance can be invaluable.
Personally, I've come a long way since the day I first came out to my Siberian husky, in private, because I was too scared to consider whispering the words to another human. For me, getting to know other bisexual girls helped me learn to accept myself—shout out to the girl from summer camp at age 14 who casually said "I'm bi" in a meeting and changed my life—and over the years, I learned to truly appreciate my sexual identity. Nowadays, when every other person I meet seems to be queer (I do live in New York), it's so easy to forget about those years of shame.
Hayley Kiyoko's video sent memories of that time flooding back. It reminded me that I made it out—and that there's still work to be done to make sure every kid can do the same.
- Hayley Kiyoko on Spotify ›
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Mikaela Straus's debut LP raises questions about the boundary between using queerness as a brand and using one's power to create an inclusive community.
King Princess is a different kind of gay icon.
While many stars have indoctrinated themeslves into the gay community by becoming beloved by mostly gay men, it's rare to see a star become beloved specifically by the lesbian and bisexual/pansexual femme community.
King Princess (whose real name is Mikaela Straus) burst onto the scene at a cultural moment that seemed overripe for a queer femme-focused star. She was preceded by Hayley Kiyoko, whose openly queer music earned her the moniker "Lesbian Jesus," and she's very far from the only queer femme musician around. But other than Kiyoko, she's one of the few to build a successful pop career off of a specifically lesbian-oriented aesthetic. She's garnered quite a following, and her shows have become safe spaces for queer women looking to express themselves openly and loudly.
Strangely, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Straus implied that she's not well-versed in the queer female community that loves her so much. "My shows are [filled with] very queer females, which is interesting because I cannot tell you a community that I have been less apart of in my life than that," she said. "It makes me interested in what's happening with them." Presumably, Straus is saying that as she identifies more with drag and nonbinary communities than the queer female sphere, but it's still a confounding statement, delivered without context in an article called "The Unapologetic Queerness of King Princess."
This raises the question: Could all this be an act, a well-timed and excellently executed branding technique? In all likelihood, it probably is, at least in part. King Princess's authenticity (a generally meaningless term) has been criticized extensively, and for good reason—she grew up in the music industry, as her father was a recording engineer and owned Mission Sound Studios, and her great-great-grandfather was a co-owner of Macy's. All of this meant she was offered a record deal at age 11 (which she turned down), but it allowed her to release an extremely successful EP in 2017; "1950" rests at a cool 300 million streams on Spotify.
King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com
Probably at least a thousand of those streams are this writer's, as "1950" is a gem of a song. Fortunately, her debut LP Cheap Queen continues in that song's vein, keeping with the lush harmonies, hefty beats, and glossy 80s pop and rock influences that made that song such a standout.
In contrast to that song and much of her earlier work, Cheap Queen moves away from explicit references to queer culture and focuses on the dissolution of a relationship; take a step back, and it's largely about performance, curation, and fame. The songs are confident and forthcoming, buoyed by modern beats and rich, warm mixes. In some ways, the album's glistening, glittery finish is anti-DIY, totally committed to its own poshness and self-seriousness.
King Princess - King Princess: Deep Inside Cheap Queen www.youtube.com
In that way, you could see it either as the product of someone born with a silver spoon who's successfully capitalized on queer aesthetics and popular music's most familiar and trustworthy sounds and images—or you could view it as the passion project of someone who truly understands the meaning of drag and camp, and who is, as the Entertainment Weekly article states, "queering queerness, whether she knows it or not."
Ironically, in terms of its subject matter, Cheap Queen actually isn't that explicitly queer. It's more of a discussion of relationships, free from gender and sexuality; its lyrics are pure pop, cut through with a thread of Gen-Z angst but without becoming brooding. Sonically, it's relatively subdued and mellow, avoiding controversy or extremes, perfect for chill playlists or summer nights (perhaps it should've been released in June instead of October).
Cheap Queen is at its most out and proud when Straus sings about drag. The cover photo features King Princess clad in light drag makeup, armpit hair showing, casting a disdainful glare at the camera. King Princess identifies as genderqueer, still uses she/her pronouns, and drag has been a huge influence on her life and work. "Drag for me is just such an extension of my queerness because it was how I learned to become comfortable with myself," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I feel so grateful to drag because…RuPaul and everything that has made drag mainstreamed it in a way where a girl from Brooklyn, who didn't feel like a girl, saw drag, and learned how to become a woman."
King Princess - Playboy School Of Pop www.youtube.com
Drag, of course, began as a way for queer people to express themselves and their sexuality in a creative and liberating medium. Like its aesthetic sibling, camp, it originated largely in black queer communities, working as a subversive form of expression that existed outside of and in opposition to established hierarchies.
Women and lesbians have always dressed as men in drag, but of late, increasing numbers of women and nonbinary femmes have been using drag as a way to subvert expectations of femininity. In an article from The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson writes, "It's a deliciously complicated web to untangle: these are women, performing as what would have been (historically, at least) a man performing as a woman. These female queens are traversing gender boundaries as well as putting on outrageously entertaining performances, often in the face of prejudice and misogyny, even within queer culture."
The fact that cis women have begun performing femme drag has been met with some discomfort and accusations of cultural appropriation and fetishization, though these arguments have also been criticized. In Dazed, Jake Hall writes, "The irony is that drag is designed to disrupt gender norms – anyone can bind, stuff, pad and 'perform' gender to an exaggerated extent." Many have also argued that criticizing female drag performers places too much emphasis on genitalia and bodies themselves, when drag is supposed to be an inclusive space, one dedicated to the deconstruction of gender and exclusivity, and one that can be liberating for nonbinary people or anyone struggling to come to terms with their gender identity. Plus, queer women and nonbinary people have always been around, and trans women like Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were at the forefront of early battles for LGBTQ+ rights.
In the midst of this sacred tradition enters King Princess, who has largely avoided mainstream controversy thus far. Most publications have branded her as a victorious new kind of queer icon. It's hard to say how her legacy will hold up, but for now, she seems to have hit a sweet spot between ingenious branding and a genuinely meaningful message.
Whatever you think of King Princess and the way she uses queerness, she is creating an inclusive space where queer people can congregate and celebrate their identities, with all their inherent fluidity, confusion, and contradictions. And in a way, wasn't that always the point of queer activities like drag, which are inherently, beautifully performative? Aren't they supposed to be about the presentation, the artifice, and the show, highlighting the cracks in the idea that anyone has a fixed gender identity and shattering the idea that anyone is exempt from performing their gender, style, and selfhood all the time?
Maybe King Princess should have the final word on this. "Growing up, I thought it was much more simple," she told Vice. "I was just like, 'I'm gay.' But now that I have the words to describe how I've always felt, it makes it complicated." She's quick to clarify that this is a good thing. "I like that complication, because we are all walking dichotomies of some sort. We are all just walking contradictions. I don't think any of these identities are mutually exclusive."
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- King Princess - Cheap Queen (Official Video) - YouTube ›