Identity Politics

Identity is more than gender; Identity is more than skin colour; Identity is more than sexuality.

I watch TV and films, and I don’t feel seen. I am not talking about straight white men. I see lots of those on every screen in every direction I look. I don’t feel like one of them. They do not represent me; they are not who I am. I am talking about the things which make me me. The colour of my skin means nothing to me: nothing compared to which band is printed on my t-shirt on any given day.

It may seem like nothing more than the very trivial view of an entitled white man – especially to the people for whom any form of representation would be a pipe dream. But that’s me, and this is my opportunity to speak. Who I am, who I feel, who I identify as, means a lot. At least it does to me.

I do not see people on TV, in any of its now various forms, who listen to big fat heavy metal all of the live long day. It is perfectly normal to me, and it is how I cope with navigating this crazy world we are expected to wallow in. The only people I see on TV, or in films, either have no music at all in their lives, or they are crazy people, with a bit of a problem: Weight, social anxiety, mental health.

Whichever it is, people who live and love heavy music are viewed in much of mainstream media as freaks and geeks, worthy of mockery. We are the “and finally” story on the nightly news. Yet, in reality, we are just the same as you, only with a more face-melting soundtrack to our lives. We laugh off the fact that you don’t recognise us, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not confused by it.

I have heard people who love folk music express similar sentiments: it’s just music and dancing (and beer, it must be said), but they spend decades being derided, before folk becomes fashionable again for a few minutes, and then they’re the funny folk folk again. They’re not funny folk folk: they’re just some people who actually like a certain kind of music. They don’t observe music passively, able to accept whatever is deemed most commercially viable as the sole arbiter of their personal tastes.

Some people who listen to metal music tell me that pop music is the enemy. It is not. Pop music is the default position: it’s what people listen to when they do not know that other music has been let live in the shadows for millennia. It is entry level sounds for the people who don’t much care.

I have been chased through the streets of my home town for not conforming to some kind of norm.

I have had people sing songs about hippies to me, because I had long hair. It was a pop song at the time.

I have been singled out in class as having “alternative” tastes because I chose to do a project on a rock band which I was particularly fond of at the time. It was 1994, and it was Queen. Go figure.

Throughout my time at university I was a member of societies, based on our shared love of hard rock, heavy metal, and all kinds of allied and connected noise. We didn’t judge each other’s’ tastes, but we shared the music we had. I learned so much in those years, and a lot of that music is the basis of the music I continue to look out for to this day. That all sounds rather happy, doesn’t it?

It wouldn’t be a term without someone being beaten up for being dressed differently. Whether it was someone in one of the societies or someone from one of the night clubs we went to, there was always someone losing teeth at the hands of a thug. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone like us would be beaten to death, somewhere in the country, somewhere on the news. It happens.

Context. This is nothing compared to millennia of subjugation. This is nothing compared to being treated as the property of other people in the society you are part of. This is nothing compared to what countless groups of people have suffered for years at the hands of oppressors who look very much just like me. I cannot deny that, and I do not seek to minimise any of it. It can go both ways.

The identity I identify most with, beyond that of being a father and a partner, is not one which is instantly visible. It is within me, and it moves me. If I have my coat closed, you will probably never see my gruesome t-shirt. If I thought you would like to see it I would yearn to show it to you, to celebrate that kinship. That said, I’d probably be far too embarrassed to even approach doing that.

A lot of the things which I feel strongly connected to are available at every turn nowadays: I can find YouTube videos on all kinds of sci-fi, whether referring to the written, televised or cinematic forms of the medium. This aspect of my tastes has almost reached a saturation point. It has become so ubiquitous that it is now unequivocally mainstream. Even science is cool now. For now, I suppose.

Context. I am not whinging; I am just getting some thoughts off my chest. I am not looking for your sympathy, nor am I looking for your help. I do not feel that people who listen to the kinds of music I like are a subjugated or oppressed people. I feel that we are a minority, and so misunderstood, but I also feel that we revel in that quite often. I never said human beings were not hypocrites, did I?

I have been asked, in all honesty, why, if all people who like metal music want to express their own individuality, do we all look the same? Oh how I laughed. To us a person in an Avatar t-shirt looks nothing at all like a person in a Bloodbath t-shirt. They may both have beards, or they may not, but they do not look the same. They may also look just like you, and that is the main thing. Most fans of metal music look like the person you’re sitting next to now; outwardly expressing nothing of music.

One of my favourite aphorisms is that generalisations are always wrong. I’ve said that not all metal fans dress like you’d imagine, but I’ve also said that I do not feel seen on TV or in film. I can’t have it both ways. I just imagine everyone listening to Paradise Lost once they’ve finished saving the world.