On Country Music; or, Loving That Which Hates Me

I have a lot of problematic faves. I’m a queer woman, I’m intersectional feminist, I’m body positive, I believe sex work is work. I want my media to be full of queers and women who are shown to be real people, I want my media to embrace my values shamelessly and wholeheartedly.

And yet, I love country music. I love the twang, and the swing. I love to dance to it. I love line dances, and country swing, and spinning on the heels of my boots. I love to roll the windows down and scream-sing the lyrics I grew up with. I love to let my Southern accent out, and revel in my own drawl. I love the way that me and my redneck friends  make each other’s accents get thicker.

I’ve had my country pandora station on my tv all day. The album covers have been a constant stream of mediocre white dudes, as though this industry thinks there are no women or people of color in rural, redneck, Southern cultures. That is deeply untrue. There are definitely women and people of color making good country music, but it’s so hard for them to go big that it’s easy to miss them.

I’ve listened to lyrics that espouse deeply toxic visions of masculinity, that revel in the sort of violence that really hurts real people. I’ve heard romanticizing of everything from drinking while driving, to punching people you dislike, to murdering them with guns.

I’ve listened to various versions of misogyny. There’s the “preacher’s daughter” trope that fetishizes the corruption of innocence. I listened to a beautiful love song that claimed that women as a whole are incapable of punctuality and are always late to everything. The focus on women as “the mother of my children” instead of a whole person in their own right is disempowering. There’s a focus on body parts which is deeply dehumanizing. The “country girl” is usually unnamed and lacks the identifying characteristics or personality which might make her seem human, and is instead an infantilized, sexualized, objectified accessory to the singer. I am very aware that many of these artists think that I, as a queer person, am despicable, that they publicly state these things, that they don’t want filthy queers as their fans.

I still love country music.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it must be like to be a straight, white, cisgender, monogamous man, and to grow up only ever seeing media that features people that look exactly like you. I can’t do it.

I can’t imagine that world, because for me, nearly all media consumption is an exercise in empathy.

Mainstream media doesn’t feature queer poly disabled women like me. Rarely does mainstream media even have well-written women characters who are presented as fully human people. I grew up on Star Wars, X-Men, Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings has three female characters with speaking roles. I cannot fathom seeing only me mirrored back at me from the big screen. And I’m white, which is a huge advantage here- the Lord of the Rings installment of “Every Single Word Spoken By a Person of Color” is only 46 seconds long and comprised entirely of men in orc makeup which prevents viewers from identifying their race. All three of those female characters are white and thin, and two are in heterosexual relationships by the end of the trilogy.

For me, and other members of marginalized groups, only consuming media by and for people like us, which only features people like us, would mean missing out on most media. So I keep listening to country music by mediocre white dudes, and reading fantasy novels with flawed ideas of gender, and watching action movies where there is apparently only one woman in the entire country. I do these things because I am hungry for good stories, and good fan communities, and films that are 90% explosions, and music with a bit of twang in it, and I take them where I can get them.

We know that exposure to different ideas, people, and stories builds the ability for empathizing with those who are different from us. But some groups, the marginalized ones, are forced to have that exposure, because lack of power means a lack of our own spaces and media. Mainstream and privileged groups, on the other hand, are able to hide in their own bubbles of media that reflects them and only them. I have trouble imagining what it would like to be able to do that, but I can see its effect on entitled male fans that view every character that doesn’t mirror them perfectly as some sort of theft or insult.

I would love for the misogyny, violence, racism, machismo, and heteronormativity to disappear entirely from country music (and also everything else). There are of course artists that are better about it than others, and I try to support them. (If you want to rec queer country artists, please tell me!) But for now, one of the constant trials of being a marginalized person in this world is knowing that unless and until the world changes an awful lot, wanting good stories- and good country music- means that I will love things which hate me.