In the Blog
If one more music reviewer says “Lesbian Twins from Canada…”
While browsing the internet this morning for a Tegan and Sara video (oh, the life of a freelancer,) I came across this appalling review of their most recent album, The Con: As lesbians who never reference their oppression or even their sexuality, Tegan and Sara don’t have men to lash out at, put up with or gripe about. This may be why their uncommonly detailed love songs are so short on drama - a riddle worth pondering, because their keyboard-heavy, New Wave-ish music is also uncommonly catchy.
Believe it or not, this review (displaying some of the worst in sexism and assumptions about queer identity) is courtesy of the venerable and widely-respected Rolling Stone Magazine. Shocking as it is, the magazine is certainly not alone in the way it conveniently packages Tegan and Sarah for readers. These ladies seem to face this kind of “journalism” from the mainstream (straight, male-dominated) press all the time. From an interview in The Advocate:
“It’s always, ‘Tegan and Sara’s new record, they’re gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, big fat gay, gay, gay, gay,’” says Sara. “If it’s an interview or an article in the gay press, that’s OK. But why, in a review of a record, does it have to talk about us being gay? It’s a music magazine; write about the goddamn music.”
And this from SFweekly.com:
“We always get, ‘Oh, you’re twins? And you’re gay? And you’re from Canada? Wow!’” says Quin. “Half the time, I don’t know why anyone writes anything about us. They should just write, ‘Twin Lesbian Duo From Canada.’ … Too often, it just ends up being about those things and there’s no time left to talk about the music.”
(The part of this packaged, watered-down sell that makes me laugh the most is the fact that “Canadian” is also a common label used south of the border in order to brand (and popularize) the duo. Twins! Lesbians! Canadians!)
Although this kind of media pigeonholing is obviously problematic, there is another side to the double-edged sword that’s worth looking at. Jamie Lynn at AfterEllen.com sums up the issues facing lesbian performers who are embraced by the mainstream while reporting on a recent interview the duo had with World Cafe: Inevitably and frequently the interview turned to relationships, and I was curious to see if the interviewer would drop the “lesbian” word. I’m torn in situations like these — on the one hand, why should every interview with a lesbian musician come back to this? On the other hand, why not? But it never happened, although the interview was full of the vague pronoun game. (You know, when you refer to your girlfriend as “this” and “that” person or in the plural “they.”)
Why is sexuality and sexual preference so vital to the popularization of these musicians or any other? I would also argue that this kind of constant labelling of the girls as lesbians is unique to women in the industry and not to men. Do you think lesbian artists have a responsibility to publicize their sexuality with their success, or should music journalists realize that who you sleep with has nothing to do with the music you make?