Oct. 10-15 see box for details
"FINDING OUT, years after the fact, that there were so many queers involved in the early L.A. punk scene was both gratifying and frustrating," explains Pansy Division's Jon Ginoli, when asked about the evolution of queer visibility in rock music. "If they were such rebels, why was it kept a secret? [Pansy Division] were tired of hidden histories . . . and part of our band's reason for existence was that we weren't aware of people doing what we wanted to do."
In the nearly 20 years since Ginoli's band originally formed as one of the first openly gay acts on the punk-rock radar, countless acts and individuals have followed suit to rock out, both loud and proud. From Team Dresch and Tribe 8 to Fifth Column's G.B. Jones and Chainsaw Records' Donna Dresch, the past two decades have seen numerous musicians—simply by embracing queer sexuality—helping to expose the "hidden histories" and often undisclosed contributions of queers to the punk and rock canons. Yet, despite the advances and occasional media spotlights on bands such as Sleater-Kinney and Imperial Teen, queer rock still remains—as Ginoli states—"on the margins."
So contrary to all the press reports and ivory-tower academics insisting otherwise, queers' places in music and the mainstream haven't come as far in terms of acceptability and visibility as many might've hoped 20 years ago. "There was a brief moment of supposed 'lesbian chic' in the early to mid-'90s, but homophobia and sexism seem as though they've just gotten worse since then," says the Butchies' singer-guitarist and Mr. Lady label co-founder, Kaia Wilson. "Of course, the good news is there are more and more people in the underground— activists and musicians who are continuing to do what they do."
Two such individuals are responsible for this weekend's first annual Bent festival, an "homage to queer punk and rock 'n' roll" that runs through Monday at both the Crocodile Cafe and Sit & Spin. Founded by Seattle promoters Frank Nieto and Dave Meinert in the wake of the Wotapalava tour's demise, the festival showcases a 30-plus-act lineup of both regional and local bands that fuck with genre as well as gender. So with everything from Mexi-king El Vez and Erase Errata's twitch-inducing punk to the hardcore goth metal of the Haggard and the Sick Bees' rock dissonance, Bent has something for everyone, regardless of musical or sexual orientation.
Despite an impressively diverse and talented lineup that also includes acts such as the Turn-Ons, the Gossip, and Pansy Division, Bent will undoubtedly be blindly judged by nearsighted critics—just as Ladyfest and Lilith Fair were—as more concerned with identity politics than quality music. Perhaps due to social pressure from such stereotypes, Nieto and Meinert have stressed that Bent is not intended as a political festival. Still, many of the performers feel it can't be considered anything but political given today's social climate.
"I fall back on the old feminist phrase, 'The personal is political,'" says Ginoli. "You don't have to sing about polemics and doctrine for [music] to be political. Try to marry someone of your own gender or get health benefits with them, and it becomes political awfully fucking fast."
Sarah Dougher, who performs alongside the Butchies, the Haggard, and the Tami Hart Experience at Sunday's Mr. Lady Showcase, agrees. "I just read that 52 men were arrested for being gay in Egypt, and a transsexual woman was murdered and dumped by the side of the road in Portland. It is laughable to me that gay people anywhere would say that they are not political."
So while few musicians want to be described and dismissed solely on the basis of sexual identity, as more critics praise Eminem and others for being "refreshingly un-PC," many queers are acknowledging the importance of embracing queer sexuality as both a personal and political statement. "To a lot of people, the word 'political' pretty much means the same as 'stinky poopie,'" says the Butchies' drummer, Melissa York. "But I see the word 'political' as far different."
Her bandmates concur. "I fear that people—queers and women particularly—feel the need to push away the 'feminist' and 'queer' labels because of their own internalized issues," says Wilson. "It's sad when people feel the need to qualify what they're doing as 'not political.'"
"Walking down the street is a political statement," agrees the Butchies' bassist, Alison Martlew. "The only time that it won't be political to be an out queer is when we are no longer treated as second-class citizens."
So while the fest was originally intended as simply a great queer-rock celebration (which it undoubtedly will be), by creating a public space for queer and queer-friendly performers and fans to freely express themselves, Bent is proving that hidden—and highly politicized—histories don't have to repeat themselves.
What's what, what's when
(All shows 21 and over unless noted. Advance tickets for most shows available at ticketweb.com, thecrocodile.com, and www.sitandspin.net.)
Wed., Oct. 10 (Opening Night)
El Vez " Boxing with God" Tour, the Plus Ones Crocodile, 441-5611. $14
Thurs., Oct. 11 (National Coming Out Day Party) Faux Bang!, with the Gossip and Chromatics Hosts: Ursula and the Androids and Jackie Hell and the Control Tops Sit & Spin, 441-9484. $7
Fri., Oct. 12
Infinite Xs, Sick Bees, the Turn-Ons, Tracy & the Plastics Sit & Spin, 441-9484. $8
Sat., Oct. 13
Pansy Division, Skinjobs, Polkedot Chokealot, Sherry Manilow Sit & Spin, 441-9484. $8 Plus: all-ages show with Infinite Xs, Pansy Division, Studfinder , USAsexual Sit & Spin, 3 p.m. $8 The Butchies, Erase Errata, Fairgrove, Japanic Crocodile, 441-5611. $10
Plus: all-ages show with Mirah, Spink, Alan Wiley, Terry Picknell, Barry Ingle, the Welcome Back Crocodile, 4:30 p.m. $7
Sun., Oct. 14
Tracy & the Plastics (featured films), Queer Film Club DIY Seattle/Olympia short films, Muneca Chueca Sit & Spin, 441-9484. $5 Mountain Con, Lila, Little Champions, Lesliewood Crocodile, 441-5611. $8
Plus: all-ages Mr. Lady Showcase, with the Butchies, Sarah Dougher, the Haggard, Tami Hart Crocodile, 4:30 p.m. 441-5611. $10
Mon., Oct. 15 (Closing Night)
Queen tribute with hostess Dina Martina! Kurt B. Reighley, Alan Wiley, Cock-Up's, Spink! Crocodile, 441-5611. $10