Just as gays and lesbians from Wayne County to the Screamers and Hüsker Dü shaped the socially confrontational music of the "Blank Generation," Texas punk stalwarts like the Dicks' Gary Floyd, Randy "Biscuit" Turner of the Big Boys and Dianna Ray of the MyDolls proved that queer Texas punks were not mere novelties.
"I used to skate with a lot of those guys around Austin," says J.D., guitarist for Houston firebrands Zipperneck. "I had no idea that Biscuit was gay. I thought he was just weird, like the rest of us."
This doesn't mean that all of punk fandom — so-called rebel masses at the fringes of rock and roll — eagerly welcomed gay rockers.
gays and lesbians in punk
"Rock and roll is not free — it's extremely homophobic," says Floyd. "It's not free at all. So many people don't know I'm gay. If it happens to come out, they act all weird. They don't want to feel emotional about music that a queer is singing, because being queer has such a weird connotation in this society.
"I'm not a real advocate of going out and screaming in my songs about, 'I love him,'" Floyd continues. "I keep my work gender neutral, because I want everybody to be able to relate to my music. I get a lot of shit from queers about that. I don't give a shit. I do what I want to. I am pretty open about being gay, always have been, in a kinda redneck way. The smartest people in rock and roll are queer. I always remember that."
"I really grew up in the punk culture, not really much in gay culture," explains Dianna Ray. "I was more likely to go to a gay men's bar, like a disco, to go dancing, than to a women's bar, because the music really sucked. So many of them were country and western. We didn't dress like them. We didn't act like them."
For her, a lesbian identity was not all-consuming. "It's either you were, or you weren't," she says. "In the context of being in bands, people just didn't talk about it.It seems clear watching a Big Boys show, or knowing Biscuit, that he was gay. But no one ever talked about it."
"Biscuit was an anomaly, abnormal, but in a very good sense of the word," remembers drummer Bob Weber of local legends Really Red. "As the front man he was animated, quick-witted and a whole lot of fun to be around. He didn't adorn himself in being gay or expose himself, figuratively. Either there was nothing to discuss, or else we'd all been through Bowie's glam years and were blind to it."
Sexuality seemed subsumed by something greater — "My sexuality was secondary, not really part of the music," Ray attests — yet when gay culture coped with President Ronald Reagan's response to AIDS, sexual identity and punk politics merged.
"A lot of us, myself included, are liberal and vocal about social justice issues, whether they are gay rights, illegal immigration [or] other discrimination issues," says Ray. "That's why we were driven to punk to begin with. Even white males felt disenfranchised, not part of the common culture."
Punk rock formed Ray's, and many others', soundtrack to this era. It was sharpened agit-prop brimming with frustration, hope and tenacity.
"The politics of the music drew us to it," she says. "It was a platform for change, and against Reagan. There were a lot of gay people in punk rock — whether we were very vocal about it or not — so we started having this terrible loss, of people dying."
J.R. Delgado, guitarist for the Derailers and future owner of the Axiom, clearly recalls the early era's gay and punk convergence.
"Montrose was booming with rock clubs and gay bars," he says. "Every counterculture was out and about, especially gays and transvestites. By the time punk/New Wave clubs opened in the late '70s, we were used to seeing gays as part of the counterculture as much as blacks and Hispanics."
"We always got on good with gays. We were allies," says former Legionaire's Disease Band singer Jerry Duncan.
The Derailers first gigged at a gay disco called The Parade that featured "New Wave Night" every Wednesday.
"There were about ten folks around. After about 15 minutes into our set, we were abruptly stopped, handed our guarantee and were asked not to play anymore," Delgado recalls. "I was devastated. We were bad, but not that bad."
Old-school punks Bevatron catalyzed a much different reaction when playing iconic Westheimer gay bar Mary's.
"We were 17 or 18 years old, [and] our guitarist hadn't been exposed to that scene before," recounts singer Allison Fisher. "We're onstage, and right in front, one guy drops his shorts and some other guy blows him. The guitarist nearly fell over. It didn't faze me in the least. In retrospect, that's very telling."
Rumors about longtime MDC lead singer Dave Dictor's sexual preference continue to persist. They stem from this line from "America's So Straight/Dead Cops," a song from the Austin-founded political hardcore band's 1982 debut album Millions of Dead Cops: "What makes America so straight and me so bent / They call me queen, just another human being."
As a young man, Dictor briefly experimented sexually, but he's straight. Preferences aside, though, the song persona explores marginalized queer culture and asks tough questions about America's cultural restraints.
"MDC were very connected to the 1970's punk rock scene, which was more like a freak revolution than, say, what started happening in the early 1980s, [which was] more like young guys in the crew lacking links to the Dead Boys or New York Dolls," Dictor argues. "We began to notice that people had different backgrounds.
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"Original pioneers like [Minor Threat/Fugazi's] Ian MacKaye and [7 Seconds'] Kevin Seconds were not homophobic because they were leaders," Dictor says. "But as it got bigger and bigger, it involved more random, lost and less-focused young people."
This marked the end of an era shaped by urban queer culture, and the beginning of the next — punk's expansion into the suburbs.
"A lot of those people didn't have the empathy or connection to the stuff that was pre-1980, which was definitely a lot more open-minded about sexuality than what came out of '82-'84," Dictor says. "The hardcore scene was rather homophobic. Let's get that out in the air.
"There were very few out singers who were gay," he continues. "The ones who were — like Gary Floyd — got a lot of shit. Though they were popular, they'd go and perform at places, and people were rough and crazy."