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Metalheads: Of Hatred and Healing
Sexism and Homophobia in Heavy Metal

By: T. Ray Verteramo and Greg Watson  |  Published: April 17, 2015

Metal has always been about paving your own way, forging your own path, and being part of a community that possesses a fiery passion for a style of music that is equally full of that passion. And for all intents and purposes, the metal community is pretty damn awesome. However, there's a part of the metal world that is downright ugly, outdated, and one of the remaining ties that we have to mainstream world that heavy metal tries to distance itself from.

The ugly truth is that both homophobia and sexism run rampant in metal and have been present in our world for quite a while. These attitudes have been present because not much has been done to say that they are wrong and offensive behaviors. How many times have we seen "Hottest Women in Rock" or heard someone calling a band "gay" because they don't sound heavy enough? What happened to appreciating the artist for their accomplishments? Apparently that's just nonsense. "You want to appreciate this artist, well stare at her rack instead of listening to her sing." "You like this band, well they're fucking gay because they can't play in lower tunings and their speed level is non-existent". These are just some of the comments you'll find posted in the comments sections of Facebook or any metal news site that has that feature included. These attitudes and behaviors are part of the metal culture that really needs to change. We need to be more aware of the social issues and the harm these types of behaviors cause to those directly affected by sexist and homophobic statements. In this column, we are going to talk about both of these issues and discuss things that can be done to help try and assuage the damage these attitudes cause.

We're going to kick this ride off with the issue of sexism in metal, which I will now turn over to T. Ray Verteramo. Then, I, Greg Watson, will cover Homophobic attitudes in metal. All I ask you readers is that you read this with an open mind and remember that this is our opinion, not law.

I will now turn things over T. Ray. The stage is yours to rock and command as only you can…
   

***
SEXISM IN METAL

"Who do you think is a better male guitarist?"

"In this issue, check out our special spread on hot sons of rock stars!"

"Yeah, Michael Schenker can play, but did you see that ass? I bet he's got a hot package, too."

"He's got talent. Too bad he's a boy."

"Steve Harris is the greatest male bassist in the world."


It's one thing to express one's sexuality it's another when someone else dictates how you're going to do it.

This is what it's like. This is what we're subjected to. This is what we read every day. Leather Leone, one of the most powerful voices in world, once described, "I was at a conference – I wasn't on the panel, but Doro Pesch and Lita Ford were. And while everyone was hounding Lita with questions about her hair and where she gets her clothes, I piped up and asked her about the music. She looked at me and said, ‘Thank you'!"

Welcome to our world. You can rock out with your cock out, but leave your vagina at home or you'll be placed in a whole different category. Men are called "rockers," "stars," and "metallers." Women are called "babes." The only reason why it is the way it is, is because the media said it is and people decided to agree. Period. No other reason.

The elephant's in the room. It's so hard to see through the smoking stink of segregation that it has been so normalized, so accepted, we just think it's the oxygen. Yet, the consequences of that casual sexism include less female students enrolling and graduating from music schools, less opportunities to be employed in the industry, and limited or no choices in garb modeling or designs. It's one thing to express one's sexuality – it's another when someone else dictates how you're going to do it.

Not Just Tits in a Corset
Not Just Tits in a Corset by Jill Hughes Kirtland
Yes, there have been a handful who have put their foot down, like the author of "Women in Metal – Not Just Tits in a Corset," Jill Hughes Kirtland [1]. But, the number of supporters on her Facebook page are a mere embarrassing smidge of a fraction compared to the "likers" on the "Official Hot Metal Babes" page, and that's no accident.

Humans are a weird race. We're one of the very, very few species in the world that require the female to be more flamboyant and colorful to attract a mate. With this blessing and burden of sexual power that has been placed upon us, we are subjected to a myriad of expectations and double-standards that is impossible to please; if we exercise that sexual power, we are "slut-shamed" and if we don't, we're prudes. Porn, fashion, make-up, prostitution, skin bars, and sex-trafficking are generally female-centric businesses, raking in billions and billions of dollars for male-centric owners. The music industry, which has been cashing in on estrogen for decades, is no exception. Women are still struggling to earn respect because patriarchy understands that it is very difficult to control what you must respect. Controlling women is a golden goose. Why hand over the eggs?

Metal, in particular, though outfits like Heart and The Plasmatics were certainly appreciated, once the all-female, male-independent bands took the stage, such as Vixen and Girlschool, the competition and the labels started to get nervous after the initial shock. (Yes, there were really outcries of, "Holy shit, I didn't know girls could play metal!") The fans were there. The interest was there. The support was there. But, the industry didn't listen. Though the 80's encouraged the boys to cross-gender, (which is ironic as my collaborator, Mr. Watson will explain), inferior media exposure and subsequent record sales proved the girls were not.

Their fate was sealed with a single word. Once someone started putting the word "female" in front of "artist," that was the kiss of death. To the women, this says: "You are not part of the club because you are a woman. Before anything else, you are a female. You are distinguished by your sex, not your skill. You are identified by your vagina, not your talent." To the men, this says: "Women are not part of the club. They are not the same as you. You do not have to respect them. They are separate." Whether or not this was an act of malice or kindness, or even intentional, we have been forced to sit on the back of the tour bus ever since.

I know, come on, where's our sense of humor, right? Why do we have to make a big deal? Why get our thongs in a knot or (the very curious) why don't we "calm our tits?" Because only two women made it onto Rolling Stone's 2011's "100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time" list [2]. (You would think if Orianthi was good enough for Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson, you would think…) Because Loudwire has never included women in any of their "Cage Matches" and absolutely no women at all were listed on their "Top 50 Guitarists."[3] Because quick: Name 10 women drummers from the top of your head. Go! We'll wait…

It's hard not to make a big deal when our mothers were rejected from the labels because they got too old at the age of 25. It's hard just to want to wear a t-shirt. It's hard to keep your sense of humor when you Google "girls in rock bands" and the top result after the ad is "The 25 Hottest Girls in Rock Bands." It's very hard to "calm our tits" when our daughters are more likely to be bullied out of playing in a band, so their music will never be heard.

Metal is a warrior's noise and the Amazons have been muted.

You, your son, your father, your brother, your uncle, your husband, your boyfriend, that guy, that Metaller, whatever he's got hiding in his pants, is not a "male" artist. He is an artist. Why isn't she?

Supporting Links
[1] Women in Metal – Not Just Tits in a Corset
[2] Rolling Stone: 100 Greatest Guitarists
[3] Loudwire: Top Hard Rock/Metal Guitarists
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "That's All"


HOMOPHOBIA IN METAL

Before I start, it should be mentioned that there is a piece that was written a few years ago for the Maximum Metal website to parody all of the people that go searching for homosexuality within metal. It was written by a collaboration of writers and should be noted that it was totally tongue in cheek, basically calling them out on their idiocy despite the offensive language in the column. If you want to check it out, the link is below. [1]

But, here's why I'm bringing it up again:

"I wanted to be in denial [about Rob Halford's homosexuality], but shit, you can only hear it so many times. he's hanging out with a certain type of guy every show. Yeah, it just had to be made public. I personally don't fucking care for fucking homos of either sex, but as long as they ain't in my face, fine. It wouldn't be a problem if they weren't so fucking petty about getting it in the public. If you want to go fucking suck a dick, go suck a dick, but I don't need to know about it." --Kerry King quoted from "Louder Than Hell" [2]

Vik Kuletski: "Now I know for sure what is that something that has always been turning me off headless guitars."

Scar Symmetry: "Vik-did you just bash headless guitars AND gay people in the same comment? Isn't there enough intolerance and prejudice as it is in the world already?"

Vik Kuletski: "Per, I don't like either. Live with it."

(Exchange between owner of Vik Guitars, Vik Kuletski and Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry in regards to Paul Masvidal of Cynic coming out as gay and being a fan of headless guitars) [3]

What makes those two comments quoted above stand out so much are the sources of the comments. Vik Kuletski is a business owner who endorses metal bands with his brand of guitars. Kerry King--everyone knows who he is. But let's not focus on the who said what aspect so much as what was said. Homophobia is an epidemic that isn't just specific to metal but feels so out of place in the metal world. Adding to the faces of metal speaking out and saying such horrid comments are the hordes of trolls that come out from under their bridges and spew forth their hatred and ignorance in the safety of the internet. This just shows how cowardly these people are. I guarantee you that they would think twice about saying something like that at a concert or festival for fear of getting the shit beat out of them.

"For me, and for many, metal is about accepting people for who they are regardless of race, religious background, gender or sexual preference and being part of something bigger."

For me, and for many, metal is about accepting people for who they are regardless of race, religious background, gender or sexual preference and being part of something bigger. But as the quotes above and any comments left by internet trolls indicate, metal is just as prejudiced as the mainstream world, if not more so. Think for a minute about your typical metal fan; In the Decade of Decadence, they were rocking jeans or denim vests, leather vests and/or leather pants, an array of studded bracelets and so forth.

When black metal and death metal exploded in the 90's you had two distinct looks: death metal fans rocked t shirts and jeans and black metal fans wore all black with crazy metal gauntlets, spiked bracelets and bullet belts. Today's image still has some of those trends mixed with an abundance of tattoos, muscled-out band members with leather still prevalent. But all those images are incredibly macho and God forbid if a female dresses up like that because then people would call her a "dyke" or a lesbian because she isn't showing off the goods. If someone doesn't observe the "metal dress code", they're subject to a rash of teasing and derogatory comments like "you dress like a fag" or a myriad of other insulting statements. People get verbally abused due to their choice of band by fans who think the band "isn't metal" or is "too queer".

What's metal about insulting someone for their taste or personal preference? Isn't metal about everyone enjoying the music and identifying with it? Isn't metal supposed to be this huge family of supporters that look out for each other and have each other's backs because society and the mainstream world doesn't understand our obsession with this music? Yet here people are, turning on their own family and eating their young because of their choice of band, lack of wardrobe, or god forbid their sexual preference.
Louder Than Hell
Louder Than Hell by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman

Now, I get that everyone is entitled to their opinion and if that's how they feel, then fine. But what good is publicly stating that you won't listen to a band because their singer or guitarist or some other band member came out as being gay? Where's the camaraderie that makes metal so fucking awesome and has created legions of rabid fans then?

To blow your mind for a second, think about this: In 2008, Gaahl, former singer of Gorgoroth and current singer for God Seed, came out as being gay. He stated in an interview with Metal Hammer's Dayal Patterson that, "For the most part the response was positive. But I don't think people should care what happens in a relationship between two people that they don't have anything to do with-why should they? It's really weird, but I don't think it's just black metal, I don't think it's just metal, I think humanity has always been this way..." Now for Gaahl to come out, being a black metal artist, that had to be difficult, given the fact that Bard Eithun from Emperor was convicted of murdering a homosexual man in Norway in 1992. So, for that genre to have an artist publicly admit that he is a gay man is huge, and for there to be mostly positive reactions is a great sign.

T. Ray and I have just talked about a few of the wrongs that are plaguing Metal and the perception of Metalheads. But the point of this piece isn't just to talk about things that need fixing; it is also about pointing out some of the things that Metal is doing right. While there is all this negativity, I thought there had to be some positives that metal was doing out there in the world and had to think there were some social issues that the metal world was addressing.

Now, we'll get into the good side of Metal and just how awesome Metal fans and bands can truly be.

Metal has always taken a backseat to mainstream music. It has been overlooked, snubbed and written off so many different times that it's hard to keep track of. But despite all of that, Metal has always bounced back and silenced the critics. And the same can be said somewhat for their charity work. You hear about all the Top 40 and country music stars that do charity work but you don't ever hear about Metal very much.

Going into this, the only charity that I was aware of was the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. The fund was established in 2011 and since its inception, has raised nearly $1 million dollars for cancer research. All of the events that they run give proceeds back to cancer research directly. Last year the fund released a tribute album for the man himself with artists like Anthrax, Rob Halford, Glenn Hughes and countless others. Recently, the fund released a t shirt with the album's artwork on the front and really awesome design on the back on sale for $20. (For more info, check out www.diocancerfund.org.)

Dio also was a huge supporter of Children of the Night, a charity that is dedicated to rescuing children from the ravages of child prostitution. And speaking of Hear 'N Aid, Dio helped organize metal's response to USA for Africa's "We Are the World". Pulling in some of metal's biggest names at the time and recorded "Stars", this helped to raise nearly $1 million dollars for the charity. He had plans to release a follow-up to "Stars" by Hear 'N Aid that would directly benefit the Children of the Night fund but sadly it never came to fruition. Clearly, Dio's heart was as big as his incredible voice.

On March 13th, HellYeah released their single "Hush" as a part of the "No More Week" campaign that is designed to bring awareness to domestic violence and sexual assault on women. The "No More" campaign is a nationwide campaign that came about due to the Ray Rice situation that occurred earlier this year. That was incredibly great to see a metal band taking part in such a worthy cause.

Also in my searching, I came across the Heavy Metal Truants. The Heavy Metal Truants were established in 2012 by Iron Maiden's manager Rod Smallwood and Metal Hammer's Editor-In-Chief Alexander Milas. They donate all their proceeds to three separate charities: Nordoff Robbins, Teenage Cancer Trust and Childline. Many metal icons and bands donate all sorts of cool signed merchandise and swag that go to an auction where all the proceeds come back to the aforementioned charities. The auction leads up to the kickoff of the Download Festival and culminates with a motorcycle ride from London to the site of Download in Donnington. Having a name like Rod Smallwood attached to the charity as well as so many well-known metal personalities is huge and incredibly promising.

The one other charity I found is a charity called Women Rock for Charity. Based out of Nashville, the charity is a public benefit corporation that provides music camps, musical training, activities and other events for women and men to create live musical experiences. In addition to the rock camps, the organization also uses their profits to help support local womens' charities. This cause is amazing and originally started as a women's only charity but recently switched things over to co-ed involvement to include men as well. Organizations like all these that I have mentioned are incredible causes and all great things to contribute to and makes me proud to be a metal head. One other thing I found that I thought was really cool was that Suicide Silence auctioned off all the clothing they wore during their incredibly bad ass video for "You Only Live Once" and took all the proceeds from that auction and bought toys for their local orphanage. How damn cool is that?

Supporting Links
[1] Heavy Metal Homos by Earnest Lee Sincere
[2] Wiederhorn, Jon, and Katherine Turman. Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal: The Uncensored, Unflinching Saga of Forty Years of Metal Mayhem. Reprint. HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. Print. 354-355.
[3]
Periphery Cuts Ties with Vik Guitars
Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund
Heavy Metal Truants
Nordoff Robbins
Teenage Cancer Trust
Childline
Women Rock for Charity

***

So there you have it folks. I'm sure some people are up in arms after reading some of this piece and may have their own opinions to share on the matter. As I said before, people are going to have their opinions and that is their prerogative and they are free to share them. We aren't trying to prevent people from sharing their opinions, we're trying to get people to think about what they are saying and doing before they take action. The bigotry and homophobia show a disturbing pattern of behavior from Metalheads that is mirrored by a lack of wanting to give back to people in some sort of capacity. The charities I found are only a handful and thank goodness for them doing what they are doing. But so much more could be done on that front was well as on educating people about the negativity of sexism and homophobia.

I'm sure some of you are thinking "why should I give a shit? It doesn't matter to me; I'm not a woman or a gay individual." Well, I'm sure you have a friend or two who is gay and we all have had a mother or sister or friend who was a female in our life. Think how you would feel if they were told to "calm their tits" about this or were praised more for their looks than for the music they were creating. Or imagine a friend of yours comes to a show with you, people feel that he's a homosexual and they start calling him a fag and call you a fag lover. Or imagine that you need some help because of some horrible accident that you suffered and there's a charity that could help you, if it had only been started. We need to be more about action and not reaction. I'm no longer happy sitting around and not seeing anything change. I want to make a difference and do something that will help this behavior stop. Clearly, some artists and bands have already done that with the charity work and the stances they have taken on these social issues of sexism and homophobia. They weren't happy standing back and just watching and we shouldn't be either.




[Other Maximum Metal Columns]

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