When Gavin Russom came out as trans, it was a big deal. Russom has been working in the electronic music scene for decades and this moment seemed to coalesce her many projects and identities into one place, into the body, offering a sense of home she may not have had before. It was great!
It was handled strangely though, mostly her being anchored to LCD Soundsystem as a sort of symbiotic artist who didn’t seem to be anything else but a pawn in James Murphy’s hunger. She’s so much more than that. Always has been, always will be.
Unfortunately, a new evolution of this stripping Russom of longstanding brilliance has emerged: an article by Pitchfork’s managing editor Matthew Schnipper that claims “Gavin Russom’s Trans Identity Is a Big Deal—But So Is Her Music.” Yes, true, but…huh?
The article frames Russom’s music as something that was long overlooked that only now is a big deal because being trans is a big deal. It removes a bit of agency or ability from the artist, pinning her coming out as a career hallmark. Coming out is a big deal, yes, but that doesn’t up and change everything that you once did. It does add a new context – as Russom has said of her identity, “This is a thread that goes through my entire body of work.” – but to anchor that as the reason for revisiting is strange considering the story is ostensibly written by a cisgender white straight dude. Assumed allyship aside, this feels weird.
As a longtime supporter, I had to chuckle a little; perhaps this news might draw some attention to Russom’s extensive catalog of really excellent house tracks in a way my various praise over the years never could.
Sure, yes, that is one thing to chuckle about but it’s another thing entirely to then use queering as clickbait. Instead of seeing Russom as a person, her work is framed in a way in this story that objectifies.
The story doesn’t even go that deep into Russom’s work either – Particularly as it relates to queerness!! – which is really annoying as a long, long, long time fan of Russom’s work. What about the dance party, flasher oriented Black Leotard Front? What about the transformative “Relevee“? What about her working with Delia Gonzalez, her primary collaborator who is – Uhh. – a woman? What about her remixing Britney Spears? Her breakout live performance with The Crystal Ark on Beats In Space (before that act kind of petered out)? There’s too much in her catalogue to even begin to breeze and the story seems to both trivialize and misunderstand the relationship between creation and queerness.
The story just doesn’t get it. In examining the back catalogue of someone who has come out, you need a bit of understanding of their point of view from a lived sense to explain the past if that is what your thesis is tied too (a la, “One’s queerness and coming out represents an entire slew of good that is further nuanced now.”). Given the author’s straightness, this feels weird and didn’t incorporate Russom herself in conversation but conjured previous quotes. A good counter balance for this – a looking back at work, celebrating, and finding queerness – was Resident Advisor’s great 2016 story on Octo Octa’s coming out. The story involved her in examining her music without even having to say, “Wow, her music is so nuanced and always has been. You should check it out!”
This story? It does not do that and lacks a stake in the queer game. As minor and celebratory as it may appear, situations like this miss the mark in essentially saying “This long working artist is relevant now because they are trans!” instead of “This artist is a big deal and always has been (and you might have heard her name because she recently came out).” This all could have been avoided with a sensitive copy editor or team that could have flagged this, to say, “This is weird, no?” I don’t know the Pitchfork office or team but situations like this reflect a seemingly insulated and not very diverse newsroom.
Technically, no harm and no foul here. It’s just feels strange and dehumanizing, like a co-opting of queerness for clicks – and that is uncomfortable.