Singing from the Margins: Morrissey as a Queer Icon

March 19, 2014 in inQueery
Morrissey at La Zona Rosa

Morrissey at La Zona Rosa. Photo: JohnnyMrNinja on Flickr

Morrissey recently decreed he was “humansexual” in response to the oft-repeated query concerning his sexuality. With this statement he rejects outright the need to define himself via the conventional alphabet soup of queer identifications. This refusal to pander to conventional narratives of identity is nothing new for Morrissey. His writing and performances are anthem music for the queers and others who find themselves on the margins of society. The tenacity with which he defends his convictions, his loyalty to those he loves, and the great artistry with which he does both has created an army of devoted followers world-wide.

Queerness is all encompassing and expressly negating. Someone who is defining themselves as queer is telling the world not just what they are, but what they are not. Queers are not bound by traditional notions of heterosexuality, monogamy, or cissexism. Queers reject not only the heteronormative narrative of sexuality, gender roles, and body-based behavior, but the counter-hegemonic definitions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans*.

How could someone be a lesbian if they are not a woman?
What is woman?
What does one’s body have to do with their sexuality?

Queer is the identification that responds to the complexity of these questions. It points to the fact that one person’s queerness is not another’s. Queer is an identity formed by the homonormative pressure to identify as a lesbian and then pick either a butch or femme expression of that identity. It is a response to a “bisexual” person who loves more than two genders. It is a response to the isolation felt by those who do not fit the homonormative and racist ideals of mainstream gay collectives like the Human Rights Campaign. Queer acknowledges the spectrum of sexuality that has not only an X and Y axis for femininity and masculinity, but a Z axis for the nuances of sexuality as it travels through time, which changes as the humans who supposedly lay on it change. Queerness is outside the inner circle of normativity – be it hetero- or homonormative.

When Morrissey says in a statement, “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans…” he is expressing a queer sentiment. He rejects being conventionally straight and distances himself from the trope of the heterosexual mainstream rock and roll male. At the same time, he rejects what the LGBTQ community may want to say about him – that he is (privately) gay. However, with these words, Morrissey defines himself simply, in his own terms. In effect, he locates himself on the margins of both the heteronormative and homonormative world.

It is in this spirit that Morrissey writes the music that captures the hearts of his fans. A song like “Hand in Glove” defies society’s othering and claims a space for what may be deemed as unseemly.

“…we can go wherever we please/and everything depends upon/how near you stand to me/And if the people stare, then, the people stare/oh I really don’t know and I really don’t care…”

The message is simple and easy to identify with, and yet captures the acute scrutiny that queers face in a variety of quotidian events. Holding hands on the sidewalk, showing up to an interview with makeup, shopping in the men’s section, [or] filling out forms in the doctors office that require a check next to the “male” or female” box[, for example]. People do stare and they always will. Yet somehow, Morrissey is standing with you with a flippant remark for the intrusive gaze.

Morrissey assures his prized audience in “I Want the One I Can’t Have”:

“…if you ever need self validation/just meet me in the alley by the railway-station…”

He speaks, if not to, than for the queers who face isolation and demoralization. He speaks for those who want nothing more than a simple life with the one they love:

“…A double bed and a stalwart lover for sure/these are the riches of the poor”.

The poor, in this case, are not simply those with little financial means, but those with a greater lack. A lack of safety, acceptance, self-actualization and love. This lack is perpetuated by patriarchal systems of oppression that keep queers marginalized. Morrissey is subject to this same patriarchal system and confronts it defiantly in his music. His words wave like a banner in the battlefield of queer validation.

Whether or not Morrissey is or ever “was gay” is precisely off-topic. Intrusive postulating about his private life, body parts or desires are not necessary to read him as a queer icon. What is more relevant to his status as a queer figure is his brave immovability from the margins of existence. He makes a case for being worthwhile while on the outside of conventional happiness. Validation, riches, and all the joys of being unclassifiable are yours when you sing along with Morrissey.

Bridget Daly is a Guest contributor for InQueery News.