In So Brown’s stunning music video “United States of Deprivation,” the queer actor-model-musician morphs from one gender to another, singing lyrics like “Doing drugs with the bums downtown/smoking cigarettes I picked off the ground/my dad tried to pay me to be more like a girl/so I said fuck you, fuck mom, and fuck this world/and I was gone.”
With Brown’s alternating male and female imagery, the video is indisputably about a trans, fluid, or gender-variant experience. But it also addresses ecological degradation and physical abuse, and in today’s political environment you can’t help but see the images of self-cutting, a bruised and beaten Brown, and an encroaching darkness as metaphors for an entirely different kind of degradation: the self-inflicted rot that threatens to destroy our country from within.
How has your identity changed?
In my youth, I very much thought of myself as a boy, although Houston, where I grew up, wasn’t the easiest place to be gender-variant. I never felt like a “lesbian” because I never identified as female, although I was certainly attracted to women. I related more to men — men like Kurt Cobain and Mick Jagger, who weren’t afraid to rock a dress and embrace their femininity. Then I discovered the trans identity, in part due to Antony and the Johnsons, and very seriously considered transitioning. [Now] I feel the word “queer” is the best fit for me, because it’s so all-inclusive. I want to stay free to go where the spirit moves me in regards to gender and art and sexuality.
How does being Texan by way of Alabama influence your work?
I’m heavily influenced by old blues and soul music. I have written a lot about that part of the country, things like Dauphin Island [Ala,] and owls singing in pine trees, and trains. There are the less obvious ways as well. I spent a lot of time living very isolated, feeling like my being queer excluded me from mainstream society, and that lonely theme runs through a lot of my work. I think if I had grown up here in Brooklyn [N.Y.], it wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, but being from the South, I felt like the biggest freak the world had ever known. And I retreated into the world of song and art as my refuge. Maybe it takes that kind of social outcasting to be an artist.
Are you part of The Resistance?
There have always been artists and there have always been queer, gender-variant, [and] gay people. I am part of this lineage. No political entity can stop that. No corrupt government can silence that. Most likely, they will end up destroying themselves anyway, so I don’t feel a need to fight them. I foster life and celebrate human diversity, rather than resist them.