Editors’ Note: Though the music of queer power-punk band PWR BTTM is one that we have not covered on the site before, the recent explosion of news surrounding the band’s critically-lauded sophomore album Pageant followed immediately by bombshell accusations of multiple instances of sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior by one half of the band’s leading duo Ben Hopkins is one that we have paid close attention to. The fallout from these accusations and overwhelmingly singular and fast response from the band’s fanbase – many of which are part of the LGBTQ community – as well as the band’s label, management, distributors, and even touring members of the band itself has been shocking. It is shocking not because it isn’t correct, but because it’s so rare to see allegations of sexual assault in the music and entertainment industries (not to mention presidential politics) taken so seriously with real-life consequences.
In discussing this situation and the still pervasive issues of how we deal with sexual assault in popular culture in one of our community groups, the topic of other artists and bands that we have covered that have faced similar allegations with vastly different responses and outcomes came up. And though how we personally deal with these sorts of situations where the people and bands we admire do things that we cannot condone and simply dismiss is a complicated subject with no singularly right answer, it is important that we do talk about them, especially when it’s uncomfortable to do so. In the spirit of that, we asked a member of our community and occasional Heavy Blog contributor Kellan Roy for his personal take on the situation. This is not an official editorial and does not reflect the full opinion of the Heavy Blog editorial body, but the opinions presented here are ones that we wholly support and believe have merit. Most importantly, these are opinions that are worthy of further conversation and introspection from the heavy music community writ-large.
When I found out that Ben Hopkins was outed as an abuser and rapist I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken for my friends who loved PWR BTTM. I was heartbroken for all of the queer kids and young queer adults who looked up to this band who (at the time) appeared to really care for their communities. They were activists. They were one of us. They held space for a community of people who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else. PWR BTTM stood up for us. They were just like us, and when people like us are ousted we see ourselves in them and we lash out. We grieve. We process. We take action. We compartmentalize. We move on and hope we won’t have to deal with this again until we do, because this is work that never stops.
Their tour was cancelled. Their music expunged from every Spotify playlist. They were dropped from their label. They’ve been effectively blacklisted from every DIY venue and space in North America. And yes, these are all good things. Incredible things. This means that we as a community are becoming more aware of what is and isn’t acceptable. We are aligning ourselves with survivors. We are believing survivors. We are supporting survivors. These are beautiful things.
But why are we only doing the right things when it’s marginalized people being called out?
Why do queer and trans people have to go through the constant pain and traumatization of taking the same (correct) actions again and again and face growing stigmas against us when cis, and/or heterosexual artists who commit identical offences face no consequences?
Are queer and trans people just that much better than everyone else at doing the right thing? That’s lazy analysis, and pushes accountability off of our more privileged peers.
Is it just easier for our more privileged peers to demonize people they can’t identify with? Probably, which is just as harmful. How can you (rightfully) call out other people when you can’t even manage to collect your own?
It has been exactly one year, two months, and twenty-two days since Swans guitarist and vocalist, Michael Gira, was ousted for raping singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm. Swans still racks in approximately 98 thousand listens per month on Spotify alone, released The Glowing Man in June of 2016, which received outstanding reviews across multiple publications (including an 8/10 from Exclaim! who also wrote up a very unflattering piece about Gira when he was first ousted as a rapist, funny enough) [Ed Note: We are also not above this, as we wrote up a positive review of the album and included it in our official Top 50 Albums list from this past year], and on Wednesday, May 17th, announced 3 shows in Brooklyn as their final shows with their current lineup, which, I have no doubt will be sold out.
Where was the outrage? The lashing out? The heartbreak? The actions that should have been taken?
Oh wait. Right. Abusers, rapists and predators who also happen to belong to marginalized communities are the only ones that see actual consequences for their actions.
Ben was demonized (and rightfully so). Gira had “a weird story.”
Make no mistake: Ben is a rapist and deserves to be demonized. But Gira’s “scandal” was merely cast off as a weird story in which no one was sure what really happened, except that we know what happened.
Cisgender, heterosexual men should see themselves in Gira just like how me and every queer and trans person saw themselves in Ben. Ben is one of us, and we still did the right thing and dealt with the heartbreak, and grief, and the rise in violence and stigma against queer and trans people that comes with every queer abuser being called out, because cisgender, heterosexual people just love any and every reason to demonize all of us and harm us.
Gira is one of you. Why haven’t you done the right thing?
You have to. You have to believe Larkin like how you believed Ben’s survivors. You have to call out your own just as we have called out Ben. We did what we were supposed to do. Why haven’t you?
This isn’t just about Ben, or Gira, or even strictly music. This is bigger than these names. It’s about the fact that marginalized people are the only people who face consequences for their actions. It’s the fact that being called out and dealt with properly is another way for more privileged people to use call outs against us as another form of oppression. Cisgender people stripped Ben of their transness; their queerness. Cisgender people will use Ben to reinforce the transmisogynistic narrative that all trans femmes are predatory. Musicians like Gira get that benefit of a doubt, and will continue to every single time when they should be demonized the same way, and face the same consequences.