aGLIFF 2011 (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival)
By Don Simpson | September 11, 2011
Director: Madsen Minax
When I listen to music, I do not care about the musicians’ appearances. Trust me. I started listening to punk rock, goth, industrial and other “alternative” (as it was referred to at the time) music in the mid-1980s. I witnessed a lot of crazy shit on stage and off. Live performances were often centered around appearances, in most cases, the more shocking the better; but when I sat down to listen to a record, I did so without ever envisioning the recording artists. I still do.
Trust me, I am not trying to get all holier than thou on your ass — I am probably no less judgmental than you — but I seem to think I might be in the minority in my approach to music. Image and appearance seem to play an integral role in terms of what the majority of audiences will listen to and this is where Madsen Minax’s documentary Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance comes in. As its verbose title suggests, Riot Acts speaks to a subset of musicians, specifically those artists who deviate from traditional gender roles, whose image and appearance does matter.
The gender deviant musicians featured in Riot Acts are heroes and role models to some audiences, while others will not give them the time of day because they do not conform to mainstream society’s definition of “normal.” For all intents and purposes, the tone of Minax’s remains positive, focusing on the creativity and freedom associated with gender deviance and music.
Riot Acts gives a fairly complete picture of the lives of transgender and gender variant musicians. Via first-hand interviews, the subjects discuss how their [transitioning] gender influences their songwriting, voice presentation and body image; they also discuss their unique ability to utilize identities and bodies as political representations.
Academically thorough and thoughtful, Riot Acts serves as an enlightening revelation of a side of the music industry that people who adhere to more traditional gender roles have probably never been exposed to. Keeping with Minax’s positivism, Riot Acts also shows to other gender deviant people that they are not weird; there are other people like them, people making really good music.
Minax’s presentation of gender deviant people in Riot Acts functions a significant step towards acceptance and, more importantly, equality for this population. If there is one thing I have learned about music in my lifetime, it is that it has the power to break down boundaries between different “kinds” of people. The presence of gender deviant musicians — especially as they start trickling into the mainstream — will definitely result in greater acceptance of this population. Hopefully this will occur sooner rather than later.