Gay “rights” and the professional singer

February 5, 2006

Here is a response to the question “should Rufus Wainwright’s gay-specific songs only be covered by gay men?”

Meg writes:

The concept of a song that can only be sung by a gay man disturbs me in much the same way as the idea that there is a “masculine novel” and a “feminine novel.” This concept hypothesizes that female novelists (Austen for example) can’t write a truly successful traditional novel because they lack the “masculine thrust.” At the same time, men shouldn’t be able to write a “feminine novel.” The best example of a “feminine novel” the theorists could come up with was Ulysses . . . written by a man, of course. What I mean to say with this comparison is that the idea of songs that can only be sung by a gay man isn’t sexist by any stretch of the imagination, and I wouldn’t want to imply that, but it does draw an overly sharp distinction between genders.

Clearly, however, it is rather difficult to imagine a song like “Gay Messiah,” for example, sung from a woman’s perspective. It doesn’t work. The song is clearly from a masculine point of view and explicitly identifies the singer as gay. I would argue that a woman could nevertheless sing this song. Just above me kae pointed out that a singer or songwriter can take on any number of personas in their songs. Many of the songs we love, by Rufus and other singers, touch us because they create a character or story that we connect with. They make us feel for another human being even if that person, on the surface, has very little in common with us. So could a woman or straight man not sing a song from the perspective of a gay man? I think that it would require imagination and empathy but it could be done. It would just take the right singer.

Joe McCarthy and attentive aid

Here is the second movement from my Arias for cello and piano, “Mount Shasta.”


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