A provocative question that was asked, in essence, by a provocative storyline on ABC’s country music drama ‘Nashville’. If you are not familiar with the show, a character named Will is a young, hot, up-and-coming country star, who has been recently signed to a major label and is touring with a major artist. Yet, Will is gay. He fled his hometown after his father caught him sleeping with a man, and has spent his time in Nashville sleeping with many women, including Layla, his tourmate, who he’s currently dating. He is in love with his “minder” on the tour, Brent, a boyfriend from his past, and despite attempting to distract himself they end up sleeping together. Wracked with all manner of emotions, Will attempts suicide by standing in front of an oncoming train. He cannot do it, which prompts a revealing and emotional conversation with his friend Gunnar, who comes to find him. Will calls himself disgusting, and when Gunnar tells him that it’s the 21st century and anyone can be whatever, Will replies “not if I want to keep doing what I do.”
The harrowing reality of this response echoes loud and clear over a guilty city. As we gaze over the annals of country music history, only a couple of names come to mind. k.d. lang, Chely Wright. Many suspect Kenny Chesney of homosexuality, but he has rigorously denied it. Yet when it comes down to probability, these can’t have been the only gay country artists. Thus we are presented with a sure certainty: that many of them were like Will, and kept it hidden. Maybe they even went so far as to become womanizers, trying to squash those gay feelings and force themselves to love women.
Of course, the problem with this practice is one that many still fail to understand: one cannot choose their sexuality. It is not something that can be prayed away, nor should it be. We live in a world with so much hate and destruction, terror and fear, while the purest form of emotion, devotion to another human being, is torn apart and protested. The act of simply loving is contested and challenged to the point of oppression, intimidated, faced with pure loathing. It’s a shocking and terribly sad truth that even in 2014 much of the country music community rejects other human beings for being in love, notably a state that cannot be counteracted or overwrought by willpower. It is simply as it is. The ability to understand this is obstructed by fear of the unknown, and a little book from around 2000 years ago that some have interpreted to say that homosexuality is wrong.
That is not to say that I am dismissing Christianity, far from it; merely assessing that loving someone with the same set of genitalia as you is perhaps rather less morally wrong than pedophilia, or murder, or war, or simply cheating on your partner in monogamous relationship. Intimacy between two people of the same sex makes others feel uncomfortable if they’re not used to it, and have an ingrained rejection of such a situation from their cultural environment.
Thus, country music remains a heterosexual-white-male world, and it would be easy to say “well why doesn’t somebody come out already?” Maybe they want to. Maybe they’ll get dropped from their record label if they do, or their fans will reject them, attack them even, bully them on social media, the press will haunt their every move, their career will end, the country industry firmly slamming the door in their face. In Nashville, Will faces the decision of whether to give in to his undeniable love, or suppress it in order to achieve his dreams. He opts for the latter, but it causes him to attempt suicide. This begs the upsetting question of how many other people have been drawn to this same action? How many others are suffering in silence, depression raging them, unable to act upon the one thing that makes them truly happy. If you were told you could not love the person you did, how would you react?
Who knows if some of the well-documented drug and alcohol problems in country music’s history were in relation to homosexuality either. Just stop and think: if your idol came out as gay and you don’t think that it’s right, would you turn on them? Would you go from worshipping the ground they walked on to burning their albums and making their life a misery? Would you make them wish they were dead?
The effect that country music’s traditional (read: old-fashioned and eschewed thinking) nature has is that it oppresses its own superstars and artistic drivers. Those so adored. Brandy Clark is a critic’s dream and she is happily out of the closet, but do you see her writing songs about lesbian relationships, things that truly come from her own, authentic experiences? Not at all. I, for one, have been presented with the agonizing decision of whether to come out as bisexual, which I am now doing in this article. What I do in my private life should be none of your business if you enjoy reading my words and my perspective, but I have held back this long in the knowledge that I will lose a fair amount of readership for this fact alone. That I will lose some friends. Simply because I work with country music, where gay acceptance hasn’t reached. I am lucky in that my position as a journalist means that eyes aren’t on me all the time, but artists are not afforded that luxury, and are forced to live in painful denial. It’s no wonder they find that there’s nowhere else to turn but taking their own life.
Whether you fully support a human being’s right to love who they want, or settle for the “it is for God to judge” stance, do not ostracize people any more. Do something good and save a miserable life. That doesn’t mean the gay apocalypse is going to come, with sodomy plastered across magazines and every song on the radio detailing it in the way straight men sing about women today, it just means that people won’t have their careers ruined just by being honest about who they are.
If you love our genre, let us allow people to be free.