We need to talk about metal’s online homophobia problem

The metal community must do better to support the LGBT+ community online – and in the real world…

We need to talk about metal’s online homophobia problem
Tom Dare

Heavy metal's a confusing place to be a gay man; so much of it starts your gaydar whirring, but so much also tells you that you've made a wrong turn.

Last year, I (like almost every other man in the world) took advantage of lockdown to start a podcast, and so the LGBT+ heavy metal podcast, Hell Bent For Metal was born. (Of course we chose a Judas Priest reference!) When I pitched the idea to the person I wanted to co-host with, I specifically said I didn't want it to be all doom and gloom, because that wouldn’t be fun or healthy for our listeners or us. I wasn't going to ignore the bad stuff, but I didn't want to focus on it. We had so much to talk about that was much more pleasant for everyone, and still raised topics which we felt were important.

On February 17, 2021, something happened. Something that made us ignore that principle for a week, and dedicate a show entirely to the homophobia in metal's online spaces.

Faith No More's Roddy Bottum and his boyfriend have a music project together called Man On Man. The release details for their album were reported on news site Blabbermouth, complete with a fairly tame image of Roddy embracing his partner from behind, and kissing him on the cheek. While the two men are topless, the shot is only from the shoulders up.

The replies on social media were riddled with homophobia. Comments such as “That has about the most repulsive thing I've ever seen. God help us all,” interspersed the vomit emojis and GIFs. It was a depressing sight, but one that wasn’t remotely surprising to anyone familiar with the comment sections of big metal websites. This stuff is commonplace, it has been for years, and we can’t ignore it.

I need to make clear that I do not believe this represents metal overall – my experience of being an out gay man here is largely a positive one. Most people who know me are affirming, and I'm yet to face a really hostile reaction, although I know others who have.

There are, however, enough little signs I've seen over the years to be more cautious in metal about being visibly out (e.g. holding my partner's hand) than I am in general life. Some of these incidents are casual, but some are more malicious.

The casual category includes the musician I was interviewing who, despite having a bandmate who is part of the LGBT+ community, declined to answer some of my questions because they were “too gay”. The malicious category includes when “f*ggot” or similar language is shouted across the floor of a death metal show (which I've heard). It also includes social media comment sections like the Blabbermouth one – and these tend to be the most regular occurrence.

As much as I try to not let it get to me, reading the comments under the Man On Man news makes me frighteningly aware that I am repulsive to some people, that there are people in metal who would be disgusted should they see me hold my fiancée's hand or kiss his cheek. The comments give me a real gut-knotting anxiety, the like of which that I hope you don't, and never will, understand (although I imagine almost all LGBT+ readers will). My fight-or-flight response kicks in, because I'm all too aware that some people's hate of me extends to physical violence. (The number of gay men in Britain who have been beaten up for who we are makes sure I can't forget this.) And, while I can calm all this down, when you have to experience it frequently, it's exhausting.

Metal's supposed to be the place where we all come together to find the sense of community that can’t elsewhere. But, as former TesseracT singer Ashe O'Hara put it when he came on HBFM, the journey of the gay man through the scene can be quite a lonely one. There just aren't as many of us here as there are in society.

I believe the reason for this is simple: Metal is where misfits who've struggled to stay afloat find a crew, and we don't want to kick each other off the boat. But, as a result, we're letting a minority of dickheads scare off people like me before we've even had a chance to get on board. The only way to change this is by speaking out against it.

If we, an LGBT+ metal podcast, didn't talk about this when we saw an avalanche of it on the internet, who else would? And next time, will you?

Hell Bent For Metal is available to listen to now on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

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