First and foremost, I want to be recognized as a musician, but I also identify as queer and as genderqueer. My songs are not and have never been overtly political and do not directly address subjects of queerness or gender, because that is just not what I am compelled to write songs about. But even so, especially because there are so very few genderqueer performers in the public eye, I do think that my presence on stage has a political impact and is important for queer and genderqueer visibility.
The music industry, as an extension of the larger “entertainment” industry, is obviously out to make money. Record labels and managers are interested in selling records. Professionals in this field think they know what sells records: I have known artists personally that have been encouraged and pressured by managers and labels to look a certain way, to dress a certain way, to hide their queerness and overall, to conform to gender stereotypes. Through the industry lens, it seems you need to either conform to gender and sex appeal stereotypes or you need to sell yourself as a “niche” artist and target a certain minority demographic. For me, neither of those were good options. I am not willing to compromise my gender expression, and I also do not want to be pigeon holed or even dismissed as a ”lesbian folksinger”. The best path seemed to be to try to carve a different path. That has not been easy and it is an ongoing challenge.
I came into the music scene around 2002 through a D.I.Y., grassroots avenue and the larger type of music industry presence never really appealed to me. I have preferred to retain artistic control over my music as well as control over how I want to express my gender both on and off the stage. So I have released all my records independently on my own little label, Sad Rabbit Records since 2004. This has probably limited my exposure and to some degree my larger success but I feel that I am living in integrity with myself and my values.
Regardless of my songwriting, I think that my presence in the public eye is important for increasing genderqueer and queer visibility. I think it is important for the average heteronormative public to gain exposure to queerness and gender nonconformity. It is also important for genderqueer listeners and especially youth, to see themselves reflected in a public way. I have definitely received this kind of feedback from fans over the years and that has helped reinforce the importance of continuing on this path. It has also been wonderful to be embraced by all kinds of people that really don’t care what I look like and are just interested in what I do because my art touches them emotionally. It is really important to me to continue to have a diverse audience. I am happiest when people of all ages, races, economic statuses, sexualities and genders can come together to enjoy my music.
Chris Pureka's album 'How I Learned To See In The Dark' is out now.