Pride month looks quite different from years past without its annual traditions of parades and festivities in the midst of a pandemic and ongoing social unrest. But cancelled celebrations and concerts haven't yielded lower visibility of Houston's LGBTQ music scene, a network of socially charged, politically aware artists that range from Rap and Hip Hop to Pop and Electronic music. On the contrary, these artists are fighting for their stories to be heard, making an impact in Houston's community and beyond, and seeking inner truth in a time of turmoil.
The Houston Press spoke with some of Houston's favorite LGBTQ acts in a series of FaceTime, Zoom, and phone interviews, where the artists told us their stories, shared what's on their hearts in these unprecedented times, and proudly claimed their identities as people of color, allies, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Putting Genesis Blu in a box is impossible. She’s a rapper, a psychologist, and an activist; she occupies a lane that she herself has created. After a record deal turned sour in her youth, Blu traded her stake in the music business for a decorated academic career in psychology. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and began an career as a psychotherapist for underserved communities. While in her doctoral program, however, she always felt “something was missing.”
“I literally just put down the pen working on my dissertation one day, picked up another pad and started writing music and I never stopped again,” says the Greenspoint native on her decision to resume.
Blu, known to her fans as a ‘raptivist,’ used to march with her grandmother who lived in Acres Homes when Blu was a child. In a phone interview with the Press, she recalls marching during The War on Drugs with her activist grandmother.
“She put me in it really really quickly and so I thought that's just what everybody was doing, you know? Everybody was fighting for the little people. So that was just ingrained in me.”
Now, Blu uses her music as a platform to give voice to the community and to integrate her careers in music and social work.
“I really have a grasp of what's going on in our communities. I can't ignore that. I have to be able to pull back into the music industry and spread a message.”
As a member of the LGBTQ community, Blu identifies as a black queer woman, though she says she finds labels “tough.”
“I know from being a psychotherapist that we are all really on a scale, a spectrum, and so now I would identify as queer. But in knowing that I'm on a spectrum, I really just love who I love,” says Blu, adding that the queer label allows her to “least be in the box.”
Blu, who runs a treatment center for males between the ages of 7 and 17, has seen the psychological trauma of the LGBTQ community run its own spectrum of abuse, violence, and discrimination. “You name it, they're experiencing all of that on top of them being a person of color as well. It's tough.”
She says that the generational traumas faced by the black community have psychological repercussions, including experiencing symptoms of PTSD secondarily.
“We are actually dealing with the effects of the trauma that our generations before us have experienced. Absolutely, it's still going to affect me psychologically; it’s still going to affect us physically; it's going to affect us socioeconomically. That's just what it is, but we do have generational trauma of over 400 years of being put in the back of the bus. So yeah, it's going to take us a little bit longer to get past the trauma,” she says, deeming counseling as an effective, judgment free path toward healing right now.
“People of color don't get a lot of empathy, nor do we have the spaces to receive it because we're always fighting. We're always in fight mode. So to sit down with a person and you don't have to fight, you don't have to be on the defense, you don't have to be perfect, That's a beautiful thing.”
Blu says that at a time like this, she stays in the light and keeps the darkness out through her music and by helping her clients find their own inner confidence.
“When I help a client, you can see that aha moment go off in their head and they go: ‘Oh, I'm going on my way, I don't need you anymore.’ That's a good feeling to know that somebody that thought they were not going to make it, now they have all the confidence in the world that they can make it. That helps me a lot working with the kids that I work with because through all of what they've been through — and they have rough stories of abuse and neglect and abandonment — they still find ways to smile and laugh and hug and show empathy and show love and that restores my faith in humanity every day that I go to that job.”
Coming out is a difficult moment in a person’s life. Circumstance, stigma, and receptivity each play roles in an individual’s decision of how and when to take that brave step. Electro R&B fusion act and Port Arthur native Attxla’s coming out journey began as a result of coverage from local media outlets including the Houston Press, OutSmart Magazine and the Houston Chronicle.
“My family’s just finding out through the past couple of articles [which] have kind of spearheaded my coming out publicly because that's how a lot of people are finding out,” he says over FaceTime from his home studio in Richmond, where he recently moved. “I don't know how to say it but I know how to speak to other people about it.”
He says the liberation he felt after coming out was immediately followed by shame, fear, and questioning what’s next after anticipating the milestone for so long — on top of an already taxing mental health balancing act.
“Depression will go down, anxiety will go up. I was depressed for most of the time until coming out to my mom, and then coming out to my grandparents which I didn't plan on at all,” he says, thanking God that local journalists “took the jump” for him.
“I was just like: ‘Okay, I'll deal with it now.’ The rest of my family just kind of trickled in.”
He lovingly refers to the LGBTQ community as ‘The Alphabet Community,’ but he says that being gay doesn’t influence his musical output, at least not in ways that might be expected.
“My music has not been influenced by it, nor has it been affected by it. If anything, if you want to call this an effect, all this stuff that's been going on the past few months, nay, the past few years, has slowed down my creativity. I tend to have times when I can't create at all and that's the one thing that I turn to as an outlet as a therapeutic way of getting this energy out.”
In an ongoing turbulent social climate, Attxla has remained selective with whom he engages in difficult conversations on racism, Black Lives Matter, and protests against police brutality,
“I've tried my best to avoid talking about any of this with anybody, really. Especially my white or white passing friends simply because — and this is not to trash them or shame them in any way shape or form — I don't have time right now to not tolerate. I don't have time to console and comfort white tears. I can't do it right now. I'm trying to keep myself sane, number one,” he says, adding that he doesn’t believe it’s his responsibility right now to educate intolerant people on ways to help the black community at this time.
“If you have not made up your mind on where you stand at this point, there’s nothing I'm going to say to change your mind. You know what it is you believe in and what you want; you just haven't made that step publicly. You know it in here,” he says pointing to his head.
“I just hope that people understand that being pro-something is not anti-the-other. That's my whole issue, that I am not anti-anything unless it brings harm to people. That's kind of my thing. I'm not condemning white people. I'm not saying ‘Oh my God it's a sin, it's illegal to be white.’ Honey, be as lily-white as you want to be. The thing is, just don't come around here being crazy; don't act stupid; don't say nothing wrong about people; don't hurt people. You know what I mean? It's common sense... that should be common sense.”
Consider yourself blessed to have worked up a sweat with Houston LGBTQ electropop superheroes Space Kiddettes at any one of their pre-COVID shows. Especially their particularly scorching set at Axelrad in Summer 2019 where they proved that Houston’s signature blend of summer heat and humidity would not stop their onstage shenanigans.
They doubled down on that tenacity to fight for their right to party by taking their shows online when the coronavirus made live events impossible. Now with live Pride events succumbing to corona cancellations, the Kiddettes have joined forces with Texas’ LGBTQ community to curate a statewide virtual Pride event called Texas Pride Online on Sunday, June 28.
“Rather than all of us fighting for attention for our own individual Pride thing, it seems more in the spirit of Pride — like unity, coming together, and trying to raise people up together — rather than [saying]: ‘No just come to my pride event, mine is the best,’ because that kind of undermines the whole thing of strength and unity,” says the Kiddettes’ Devin Will on the event that will raise funds for organizations like The House of Rebirth, Austin Justice Coalition, allgo QPOC, Transform Houston, and Montrose Grace Place.
The Kiddettes’ other half Trent Lira adds: “We decided that we not only wanted to come together with our resources but also take the opportunity to amplify over all the Texas queer scene, and of course amplify black queer voices as well and those organizations that continue to support the community and those black queer identities,”
Collaborating with their contemporaries has always been at the heart of Space Kiddettes’ artistic mission. (Last fall they released an entire collaboration album Deadspace featuring Houston treasure Kam Franklin on their euphoric, house banger “Shine A Light.”) But activism and fighting for their audience remains another integral component to their artistry.
“I feel like that's always been the spirit behind [Space Kiddettes] is strength in numbers with the weird kids and with anybody that feels like they’re ‘other’ than everybody else. So I can't imagine supporting that and then not being vocal about rights for other people,” says Will.
She adds: [black and brown trans women] fought for the rights that we have today, so I think that there's no way to celebrate Pride without celebrating Black Lives Matter because I feel black LGBTQ people have been kind of on the forefront of gay rights and trans rights. I feel like the two can't be mutually exclusive. I feel like you can’t support one without supporting the other.”
Lira says that the Kiddettes are trying to use their privilege and “small but mighty platform” to do their part in making a difference in the community.
“Something that should always be on people's minds is the intersectionality — where does this fit? Not only in your community but communities that you don't engage with all the time. I think that that's what we've tried to do as we move forward in our career is we meet people all over the city, all over the state, all over the country, and we want to know what their experience is like and how we can do our part to not get in their way,” says Lira.
“We literally want to stop, collaborate, and listen,” adds Will, the Kiddettes’ synergy uninterrupted.
“I'm a Black, gender-nonconforming American, and I use pronouns they/them, and I tend to be more femme presenting than anything else. That's pretty much how I identify,” says STOO via phone with the Press while walking through Montrose. By the end of the afternoon discussion, they add black coffee connoisseur to the identity list. They could also claim the role of Empowered Pop Star.
Last year, STOO released their album Supersuit, a high octane electronic pop narrative that blends futuristic soundscapes, STOO’s undeniable sense of humor, and a cyborg alter ego in search of inner confidence, self reflection, and human connection. The album closes with the poignant, if not spiritual, “Powerline,” where STOO’s vocal character finds catharsis. STOO says the album’s message still resonates with them even a year after its release.
“I needed this album this year more than I needed it last year because this has really gotten me to become one with myself again and to not really need a character to be my best self. I can just be me and be fun and not be so robotic all the time.”
That character lies somewhere in between Robyn’s sensuous, digitized “Fembot” and Beyoncé’s dynamic, commanding “Sasha Fierce,” complete with the fierce femininity both have to offer, something STOO says is “not a weakness.”
“I've always told people that me being feminine, or anyone being feminine, is a superpower. Really, it's a superpower. It's very, very effective and it can really inspire people to be their best selves and it's inspired me to be my best self when I had come more to terms with my femininity.”
The world is undoubtedly a different place since Supersuit’s release. STOO says that since the pandemic, life has been draining; but it has become even more daunting seeing events affiliated with injustice toward the black community such as the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“It kind of hurts because you don't want to see that stuff. You would hope that the country has moved forward and moved past this but every single day has become more and more weighted,” says STOO.
“It’s been a difficult time for a lot of my black friends and even close friends who are my allies. It's been very weighted on them too because they are starting to see what we've been going through since we've been born into this world and beyond that. So in a way it has been difficult to deal with, but it has left me a little bit hopeful that change is going to come with everyone speaking out and being more aware of what's been happening in this country for 300-plus years or longer than that. So I'm finally in a space now where my spirit is a little bit more at peace. But I still am speaking up and making sure that we are still aware that we have work to do. We're not done here. And I always repeat that every single day to people, I’m like: ‘We are not done here. The fight still continues.’”
STOO says that that fight extends to the multitudes of intersectionalities within the black community such as black women, black trans women and black trans men “because all Black lives matter.”
“There's intersections of blackness that we still need to speak on behalf of and to continue to make sure to let people know that their lives are just as important as anybody else in this country because we are human beings - and that's the whole point of this. We're not ignoring other races in this fight. It's just, black people need everyone's support. Everyone's voice has to stand up for us because we can only do so much right now.”
There’s no limit to the magic of Sugar Joiko. Vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, gamer, badass are all on her resume. Her music is marked with Pure Pop melodies, expansive electro production heavily influenced by her love of video game music, and infectious rhythms sprinkled with a whole lotta Janet.
“Ms. Joiko, if you’re nasty,” says Joiko, gushing over her love for one of Pop’s finest.
The Kenner, Louisiana native came to Houston due to Hurricane Katrina, where she studied music at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music. You may have seen her perform at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, an experience she says strengthened her chops as a vocalist. Her piano playing is ripe with fire, energy, and personality, especially on songs “Freak Bitch,” and “Ole,” where the piano alone gives reason to dance. Factor in the respective hints of Madonna and Selena and it’s nothing short of a party.
As a supporter and member of the LGBTQ community, Joiko says she is bisexual but identifies as queer. “I love Love, and it gives me a larger spectrum,” she says.
Joiko grew up in the Southern Baptist church, where she was a minister of music, choir director, and church musician for 16 years. She says that the pressures of religion caused an identity crisis of where she fits in or how to be unapologetically in love with herself, making it difficult for her to come out.
“For the most part, the way I came out is through music,” says the singer, adding that, although a struggle, she found ways to manage the marginalized elements of her identity in the church.
“A lot of it was just staying single, staying celibate. The shame of being Christian and being queer was actually very difficult for me. Luckily today’s climate and the friends that I have have been amazing, but with family, it’s been a little difficult. Me and my mom are so close and I hate that there are so many things I want to talk about with her, but I can’t go to her. That’s the part that I guess is my least favorite part. I’m blessed that my mom loves me. Her thing is: ‘I just want all my kids to go to heaven.’”
Despite the challenges she’s overcome within Christianity, Joiko says she is still of faith, and wants to keep it that way.
“I can have a relationship with God and that relationship is supposed to be personal between me and Him. So maybe it’s not on other people, or my mom, or anyone that opposes my sexuality. Maybe that part is not up to them, or their journey, or their purpose in my life, which helps me keep my relationship with God and not be ashamed of who I am.”
She says that her journey of self-acceptance has liberated her creativity, and allowed her to embrace the multifaceted nature of her artistry.
“Accepting my sexuality made it very difficult to be creative-wise and I felt that I was boxed. There’s like a little part that I kept accepting. I felt that my music has gotten better because I’m able to express myself more authentically and I’m not trying to mold into anything. I’m not looking at a model. My mom had to tell me frankly ‘It’s time that you stop looking at everybody else and start making them look at you.”
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