Awe & Shocked

By Matthew Breen

Originally published on Advocate.com June 24 2013 4:00 AM ET

Like me, many music devotees in Salt Lake City were introduced to punk-folk singer Michelle Shocked by the KJQ “Modern Rock” radio station in the late 1980s. Her talent and progressive activism were an antidote to and beacon in conservative Utah. I dragged friends to her live shows and played tracks from Short Sharp Shocked, Captain Swing, Kind Hearted Woman, and Arkansas Traveler during my stint as a DJ for KUTE radio at the University of Utah.

Early on, Shocked acknowledged not being straight, first obliquely (she joked that her category at the 1989 New Music Awards, which included the Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman, should have been called “They Might Be Lesbians”), then more explicitly. In 1990 she gave an interview to Outlines, an LGBT Chicago newspaper, saying, “I was with my first woman lover about a year and a half ago.” But she shied away from using any label to define her orientation.

In the mid-1990s, while delving into the roots of gospel music, she became a born-again Christian, and her public statements regarding homosexuality devolved from the quixotic to the specific. From 2003 to 2008 I made multiple requests for an interview for Out, where I was the music editor.

In 2008 she told Dallas Voice she’d be pleased to be thought of as an “honorary lesbian,” but in 2011, she said to an audience member at the Christian-oriented Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, “Who drafted me as a gay icon?” she said. “You are looking at the world’s greatest homophobe. Ask God what he thinks.” I’m sure many longtime fans felt the same way I did, who heard this as a sharp and unexpected jab. I renewed my requests for an interview, this time for The Advocate.

Her statements at a San Francisco club performance in March 2013, during which she cited verses from the Old Testament condemning homosexuality, then told the audience they “could go on Twitter and say, ‘Michelle Shocked says God hates faggots,’” was confounding for her left-leaning crowd. In lightning-fast succession, the clubs that were hosting her tour gigs cancelled her shows. Like many fans, I felt personally betrayed by the incongruity of her messages and music, and essentially lost hope of an interview.

When I finally got the opportunity to “talk” with Shocked, it was on Twitter in May 2013. She’s known for giving explosive, defiant interviews, and I'll admit I was treading lightly. We were not in any traditional interview environment; not in a publicist-organized lunch at a café or in a TV studio where walking out would be particularly notable. She could simply turn her computer off and the interview would end. I’d seen her on Piers Morgan and honestly didn’t expect definitive answers, nor was I confident that I’d determine for myself once and for all if all her statements were religious fervor, elaborate performance art, or something else. But I was determined to try, so we started by discussing her tweet regarding Boulder, Colorado's KGNU radio on May 3, 2013:

@MShocked: You know what would be cool? 303 442 4242 studio line KGNU “Don’t censor Michelle Shocked, let her talk!” God Hates Censorship!

(Twitter is a ranty, potentially non-linear beast, and simultaneous tweets can result in several concurrent streams of replies. I’ve attempted to put the exchanges in the order they occurred, and they’re all still available on Twitter for viewing. After this point all tweets are public, direct replies to one another, and spelling and grammar have not been adjusted.)

@matbreen: I’ll take the interview! Let me know if you want to talk.

@MShocked: A podcast, I surmise? Siri can do the interview for me..She’ll just ‘phone it in’...

@matbreen: No, for print or web.

@MShocked: What’s in it for you?

@matbreen: In it for me? More than half a life of a lifetime of fandom, for starters.

@MShocked: Isn’t that reward enough?

@matbreen: You can say no. I can take the rejection. But I need to understand. That’s all that’s in it for me.

@MShocked: Shall we begin?

@matbreen: May I call you?

@MShocked: Call me anything you want. Just don’t call me late to dinner

@matbreen: My dad used to say that! Happy to talk to you in the manner you prefer. Twitter is a difficult medium for this, however

@MShocked: Twitter is ideal. Trust me on that.

@Matbreen: OK. Please don’t mistake my short questions for me having a specific tone--just have the 140 characters.

@MShocked: We’ll improvise It will be pitch perfect

@matbreen: What were you planning to talk about on 88.5 FM Boulder Community Radio today?

@MShocked: I was hoping to help a community that believes it is progressive see that their filter is getting foggy

@matbreen: Foggy about what in particular?

@MShocked: I wanted to make a connection to Stephen Thrasher’s point about Professional Homosexuals

@matbreen: Trying to look up that reference as fast as I can. I see his piece on Bradley Manning and noticed you tweeted the graphic (1/2)

@MShocked: Take your time to read it I’ll stand by. Plenty of gnats to swat in the meantime!

@matbreen: (2/2) Does that mean you supported Brandley Manning as SF Pride grand marshall, or didn’t like the idea, or something else?

@MShocked: I TOTALLY support Pvt Manning as Grand Marshall and completely understand why it was torpedoed by the ProHomos

@matbreen: He writes LGBT movement has no room for radicals now. Correct? What’s your response to his article? Or the connection you draw?

@MShocked: You promise not to call me a conspiracy theorist? Delusional? Paranoid? Crazy? A lunatic? A whack job? A nut?

@matbreen: Wouldn’t dare! You’d never Tweet me again. This conversation is one I want to keep going.

@MShocked: I’ll start with a very simple basic premise. The Advocate. Who are its patrons? To whom does your publication owe fealty? 1/2

@MShocked: And corollary, do you make your livelihood writing for the Advocate? Freelance? Staff? Earn a living wage from your labors?

@matbreen: We earn a wage & we have advertisers. We’re pretty lucky that our advertisers appreciate our mission, to record LGBT history (1/2)

@matbreen: (2/2) and that they know that doing so, and advancing LGBT rights means encompassing many varying viewpoints.

@MShocked: Block none Love all Truth will out Time is on my side Follow none Delete none etc etc etc

@MShocked: Can you characterize the range of viewpoints represented? Is it like the range represented now at the NYC LGBT Center?

@matbreen: I can’t claim perfection on that, but expressing that is a goal.

@MShocked: I’ll take your word for it Lets go with that premise The Advocate represents a wide range of viewpoints And you? Full time staff?

@matbreen: And the web site allows us to display a very broad range of viewpoints in op-ed. Full time staff, yes.

@MShocked: Next do you agree with Thrashers point about radicals and/or pacifists being silenced in deference to military contractor patrons?

@matbreen: That’s a detail I’m not versed in, haven’t researched that myself. But I’ll accept that it’s his contention.

@MShocked: And they accuse ME of being elusive! :)

@MShocked: I’ll make a connection next but there’s a couple of dots we’ll need to connect afterwards

@MShocked: Slight aside Personally, have you been confused about my sexuality or am I a paragon of transparency for seekers of the obvious?

@matbreen: I thought you were queer, partly because you talked about it. But that was long ago. But I’m older and wiser and know we’re (1/2)

@matbreen: (2/2) all sorts, so I generally take someone’s word for it--unless they protest too much. Then I wonder why the preoccupation

@MShocked: Do you think your younger self would have discernment as to whether someone was ‘gay’ or ‘marketed gay’?

@matbreen: Possibly not. Do you feel you were “marketed gay”?

@MShocked: Do YOU feel I was ‘marketed gay’?

@matbreen: I wasn’t aware of the marketing. What I perceived of you was that you talked about it, wishing you hadn’t been repressed by (2/2)

@matbreen: (1/2) religion, and that you wished you’d heard the word “lesbian” earlier. Seemed like it resonated w/ you

@matbreen: oops, got my (1/2) and (2/2) backward. Read those in reverse order

@MShocked: That’s closer to accurate than most reports I deeply resented the religious indoctrination My chief regret about the taboos (1/2)

@MShocked: around acknowledging homosexuality was it left me so niave when I ran away at 16 I would rather have been told the facts of life (2/2)

@matbreen: & u played with taboos! Even having a short haircut and sometimes androgynous clothes. U can see how that struck a chord (1/2)

@matbreen: (2/2) so when we felt we say a kindred spirit in you, the “God Hates Fags” and “world’s biggest homophobe” felt like a very...

@matbreen: (3/3, it’ growing)... kick in the gut.

@MShocked: Im so sorry to disappoint you! I was truly that naive! Once I understood how people perceived me I made a principled stand NOT (1/2)

@MShocked: to disavow! Identity Politics in 80s was tender and new I wanted to help birth possibilities for liberation Believe it or not (2/2)

@matbreen: Your orientation wasn’t the disappointment (we all pine for someone we can’t have), it was what we viewed as antigay speech. (1/2)

@MShocked: I sincerely believe a young idealist like Bradley Manning would understand what I’m trying to explain

@matbreen: (2/2) Was it? What was the “world’s biggest homophobe” about?

@MShocked: They let you get away with asking questions that way in J school?

@matbreen: never went...

@MShocked: It wasn’t hate speech. “World’s Biggest Homophobe” is a sound bite, like “Would somebody please tweet...” Dumbing down, yeah? (1/2)

@matbreen: Honestly, I think I understand your perspective in 80s better now. Not disavowing how people viewed u. I hadn’t understood that b4

@MShocked: My point is, if someone is looking for a target, I’m just here to be of service (2/2)

@matbreen: Wow, what a way to do it! You certainly got everyone’s attention. (1/2)

@MShocked: Mat I know you’re not gonna believe this but (1/2)

@MShocked: I wasn’t trying to. The Professional Homosexuals were!

@matbreen: So what r we 2 believe when we hear v. confusing things from u? What about ppl who agree w/ those statements & act on it w/ hate?

@MShocked: I’ve spent my entire life fighting hatred and bigotry. Please don’t ask me to be responsible for it! (2/2)

@matbreen: Just trying to understand. Our work involves reporting on the harm that comes from damaging speech. So many viewed your (1/2)

@matbreen: (2/2) speech that way, so I’m trying to get it.

@matbreen: I know about your work against bigotry, so was confused by what seemed discordant in your speech. Did we get anywhere? I think so.

@MShocked: It’s all right there in the transcript of the bootleg. Start with “I could no longer pretend” and end with “I am so committed (1/2‏)

@MShocked: to loving each and every soul in this room tonight” etc etc etc http://www.youtu.be/WBxRKn666rs (2/2)

@MShocked: My friend JWoo sez he was surprised how many people rushed to judgement and how few seemed to rush to curiosity (1/2)

@MShocked: That is my wholehearted belief. Just one woman’s opinion (2/2)

@MShocked: The chief complaint I hear is that I didn’t try to explain it all in a blog

@matbreen: It’s neither here nor there, but that’s how we (who heard the audio online) are accustomed to explanations these days.

@MShocked: That’s because you’re also accustomed to ripping artists off by listening to bootlegs. Oh well...at least YOU get paid to write!

@matbreen: I know about your work against bigotry, so was confused by what seemed discordant in your speech. Did we get anywhere? I think so.

@MShocked: I think we did. If you can believe is a homophobe, you can believe anything! God Hates Censorship! Gotta dash!