After the amazing Bhoga-frois: LGBT+ Voices in Folk gig at Celtic Connections this year, there was a Q&A series with various folk involved in the gig. I was lucky enough to make responses to the following questions, a process both terrifying and empowering!
Disclaimer- being concise is not my strong suit..
Tell me a story... what was a moment when you felt both your identity as a traditional musician and your identity as a LGBTQIA+ person were in focus?
This is such a rare thing, so far at least. Until very recently, I haven't really seen even that a meeting of these two aspects of myself might be necessary, or indeed possible.
The Bogha-frois gig at Celtic Connections was certainly one of these times though, it was an amazing and beautiful celebration. I was really surprised by how profoundly moving it felt to be part of a big group of LGBTQIA+ folkies playing music together, and for this aspect of our identities to be what had brought us there.
Thinking about it, music- traditional music in particular, has so far been the biggest factor in making my identity, far more than the fact of being an LGBTQIA+ person.
I think that's for a couple of reasons. I've been playing music since before I can remember, but I've only been aware and accepted that I was gay for a comparatively short amount of time. I've found understanding and reconciling this fact to be a process that is much more complex, and definitely still ongoing.
To me, being a musician is everything: It's a passion, art, creating, a purpose in life, and way of life. If it was only a job, I'd be doing something else like practicing law, and being paid far more to work far more regular hours.
More than ever before, the past few years have been a time of discovery creatively; finding worlds of artists and work to listen to, read, see and watch; things to admire, and be moved and inspired by. They have also been a time of doing more learning, playing, and making music. And what I’m really starting to understand, from works that inspire me, and the work that I make, is that for this whole notion of doing something like this only works if everything feeds in quite unfiltered.
In a very roundabout way, I guess what I'm trying to say is that as getting comfy with the LGBTQIA+ aspect of myself continues, that of course there needs to be much more space and consideration for these two identities overlap.
How do you identify? What are the pronouns, descriptors or other words you like to use, if any, to describe yourself in regard to your LGBTQIA+ status.
I'm a (mostly) gay, cisgendered man I suppose, and the pronouns I use are he/him/his.
Talk about your perceptions of LGBTQIA+ identity (both yours and others) within your experience playing traditional music in Scotland.
Perception, especially self-perception is something I find very hard. I'm prone to being quite negative in how I see myself, and massively overthinking (usually in a negative way) my own notion of how other people see me- as a musician, person, and everything else.
This is probably going to be a bit of a left field (and very long) answer, but relevant I think. It’s quite telling that when first reading the question that my mind immediately went towards anxiety. I think that for me, so much of what causes and triggers anxiety is to do with being a musician, and being gay.
So, the musician thing. To me it is such a deeply personal thing, playing an instrument. How and why you do it is something wrapped up in the very fabric of you.
And the nature of doing it for a living is one of always putting yourself out there- putting this really personal thing in all sorts of situations where people can hear and judge it.
This is a bit terrifying sometimes, and it becomes a challenge not to be totally overwhelmed by the swirling thoughts that come with thinking about it too much- mainly that I’m doing a shit job, and that the people around me can see and hear that.
This can present a major problem, but thankfully not all of the time. One of the things I love the most about the bands and collaborators with which I’m most regularly and seriously involved, are the levels of friendship, support, understanding, and trust which make these emotions fade in to the background, and make the space to focus on the things that are actually important.
It’s all a question of perspective about perception I think, and there’s a real challenge in that.
And the gay thing.
To my knowledge, there’s never been a better time to be LGBTQIA+, and arguably, in terms of rights, protection, and legislation, you’d struggle to find a better place than Scotland. Sadly, you don't have to look too far, to see very present, worrying and heartbreaking examples where being LGBTQIA+ is literally a threat to your life. So I’m extremely lucky to be where I am, when I am.
In the great scheme of things though this comfort and protection is a very recent thing. Even in this progressive country we’re emerging from centuries of this sort of otherness being feared and abhorred- an abomination and illegal; something society said to be ashamed of. Thankfully, for all sorts of reasons that I really don’t know enough about, it feels that as society we’re moving away from this pretty quickly, and have been for a while.
But certainly when I was growing up (and I’m sure being from a small rural place is part of it), I always had the impression that being some form of LGBTQIA+, (probably not described in such sympathetic terms) was something to be ashamed of. I was told that, saw it in the complete absence of any such people in the community, and heard it in the way such folk were talked about. Of course it’s a problem far bigger than that specific place. A problem it’s hard to see an end to until we stop raising children to expect that they’ll be straight and cisgendered.
I’m really interested in the Suzuki method. Much of it is based on the notion that it is possible to learn music in the same deeply natural way one learns their native language- by immersion, observation and impersonation. And it's so true- we do learn our first language like this. As a child, you become an expert in speaking your language through this deep and unconscious process.
By this same principle, I managed to pick up a whole bunch of shame about being gay. My teenage years were spent agonizing about it, resenting it, and feeling quite isolated because of it; worrying about how others would see me, and tying myself in knots about how I saw myself. These things are ongoing I suppose- it's a lot to unlearn.
The understanding and perspective that time and learning brings are hugely helpful, but working on my perception of myself in this way is definitely also still a work in progress.
In what ways do you feel your identity as a LGBTQIA+ person and a traditional musician intersect, overlap, engage?
I’m really attracted to music that's quite absolute, just existing to be a wee world of its own, on its own terms, and that makes you go fuck, that’s amazing as an entity in its own right, not as an abstraction of something else. To me that’s lots of piano music, classical things, electronic things, and of course, much of traditional music.
My attitude until quite recently has been that it'd be hard to make any sort of explicit overlap between this sort of music and anything LGBTQIA+. If it is just music for its own sake, how can you make it queer, straight, or anything else for that matter?
This is maybe the wrong way of looking at it though- if everything feeds in to music in some way, so being LGBTQIA+ must, even in small ways.
One place this is maybe quite concretely the case is in how I speak and move. It’s an idea that’s crossed my mind quite recently, when I was watching back a film that involves a lot of chat. I don’t often hear myself speak outside of my own head, so watching I was quite struck by how my voice sounded- it was quite camp.
I don't mean that negatively- camp as an insult is bullshit from a toxic notion of heteronormative masculinity.
And I notice it too when I see myself playing the piano, the same sort of campness. Granted, I think being quite anxious can make me pretty hyper-aware, so maybe it's not so obvious to other folk. But playing music is a physical thing, so it’s maybe actually really nice that there are ways using my body to do that, or my voice to speak about it that come from an LGBTQIA+ identity.
Noticing and valuing these small things already feels like something quite profound.
Talk about your experience connecting with other LGBTQIA+ folks both inside and outside the traditional arts.
I'm extremely lucky in the community around me in Glasgow- I feel very part of something musically and socially.
For me, connecting with LGBTQIA+ people is never something I've really consciously sought out- as with everyone else, it just happens over the course of day to day life. Other than accidentally ending up at pride in Vienna a few years ago, and deliberately going to the Glasgow one once, the Bogha Frois gig was the only time really I’ve been involved in a gathering centered around LGBTQIA+ identity, and certainly a first time its been about music. And there was something unexpectedly and completely amazing about that.
If you’re comfortable sharing, talk about any incidents of homophobia or transphobia that you’ve witnessed both inside and outside the traditional arts.
I've been very lucky, sheltered or possibly both in how little of this I’ve experienced, to my face at least. Within the scene within which I live and work, it's barely ever more than some off colour jokes.
When I was young, I think there was a lot of homophobic language, in school and in the community in which I lived- again this rarely amounted to more than off colour jokes, but sometimes you’d know the sentiment was serious.
In all honesty, the worst homophobia I've experienced was probably levelled at me by me, during the younger years of coming to terms with my sexuality. That feels like quite a drastic thing to write, and when I think back to that time my inclination is to downplay it, but this is definitely no overstatement.
How do you see the traditional arts changing in regard to LGBTQIA+ people? What are the further changes you would like to see?
Malin said something really interesting in their answer to this question, about a link between some of what we’re talking about here, and the much needed discussion around women in traditional music that's been a big topic in trad scene over the past couple of years.
My mind was really blown when the conversation started a couple of years ago. I had so little idea of the privilege I was enjoying in comparison to my female counterparts. It was quite an eye opener in a much wider way towards the workings of privilege in the world around us.
It's kind of everywhere- systemic and entrenched societally, but also very individual- on the scales of privilege and disadvantage we all win and lose in different ways.
It's a bit of a fucked situation, and I don’t know what the answer is, but what I don't think helps is denial. I think the most useful thing, for our own folky world, but also in the widest possible way, is simply acknowledging the privileges you have, being aware that they might be what allows you to occupy your space, and that they might well create a barrier that prevents other folk from also occupying that space.