Beth Ditto Interview: Diamonds Are Forever

Gossip front woman Beth Ditto capped off an amazing year with her very revealing memoir, Coal to Diamonds.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

December 03 2012 3:45 AM ET

Ditto performing in 2007 at the London Astoria.

Indeed, Ditto did come out and she left Arkansas with her best gay friend, Jeri, and her future Gossip cofounders, drummer Kathy Mendonca (who quit the band in 2003) and Nathan Howdeshell (a.k.a. Brace Paine, who she says singlehandedly created a punk scene in their small Arkansas town). Always flamboyant and stylish, Howdeshell was “harassed more than anyone I knew,” Ditto says. The “fag bashing” from logging-town locals in Olympia was intense, and even though he wasn’t gay, Howdeshell bore the brunt of much of it, including a violent physical assault in front of their home.

Olympia, then the center of all riot grrrl and indie music, was a godsend. Ditto says had her mom not urged her to go, she wouldn’t have the life she does have. But, coming from the roots of the riot grrrl movement that abhorred capitalism, does Ditto feel guilty for her financial success?

“I don’t want to fucking be poor. I don’t want my friends to be poor. I don’t want my family to struggle. There’s a difference between capitalism and economic empowerment. But I also believe in the feminist movement and in helping my sisters and in the queer movement and helping my queer family. I couldn’t do that if I didn’t capitalize on the things that I’ve been able to do.”

She says economic choices aren’t as black-and-white as some activists think. “When you’re fat, there is no American Apparel for you, there is no [sweatshop-free] option.” She says she still shops at Walmart for her everyday clothes. “I don’t think everything can be boiled down to right and wrong.”

Being a poor kid who didn’t always have food to eat, Ditto says it was important to admit the crushing poverty she felt, to not minimize it by saying, “Oh, we were a broke family — because when I think of a broke family I think, your checkbook didn’t quite balance out. But what the fuck’s a checkbook? My mom never even had a credit card.” Today, she’s wiser about money but admits lingering scarcity issues still show up.

“For me it’s underwear. I am so obsessed. If you knew how many pairs of underwear I have it would blow your mind. It is ungodly. Because growing up you ended up having to share with your mom and your sister and even your underwear and bras, or having to wear nursing bras because they were hand-me-downs.”

It might seem like extroverted Ditto’s media embrace would upset the rest of Gossip’s members (Mendonca quit the band in 2003, and drummer Hannah Blilie joined Ditto and Howdeshell soon after), but she says her introverted band mates think, “Thank God…sometimes I’m getting up at 7 a.m. and they’re sleeping in until 11, so I think that they feel OK about it.” She says equality is the most important function in the band.

“Everything we make in Gossip, we make exactly the same amount of money. There is no hierarchy. That’s so that between us we create equality as much as possible. I think that’s what really matters to all of us.”

When Ditto was 19 she fell in love with transgender music promoter Freddie Fagula; their breakup, after nine years, is one of the few things Ditto leaves out of the book. “It’s something I’ve never discussed. It’s still complicated. I think we’re both very much better off.”

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