Marilyn Manson and dirty gender

This is the tenth article in a series I’m writing on gender. Equal parts personal narrative and transgender studies I hope to explore topics that have, by-and-large, been nagging at me for some time, but that I haven’t taken the time to write about. What does a thing called “The Cyborg Manifesto” have to do with being trans? What’s the relationship between transgender people and Frankenstein’s Monster? What are neopronouns and why do they upset some people? These are just some of the topics I hope to address in this series.

This Was Before I Knew What I Was Gonna Write

Here I decide to write about ‘Lest We Forget’

When I was in middle school I got Lest We Forget: The Very Best of Marilyn Manson through some CD ordering service, the name of which I cannot pretend to remember. It was only one of two or three CDs my dad let me get through this service before he told me I couldn’t keep using it. And what a blessing it was, this collection of Marilyn Mansion, unweighted by his deeper cuts, most of which I still don’t care for to this day, and unencumbered by the process of editing and censoring it would’ve taken to get it on the shelves at Wal-Mart, where I got most of my music in those days.

Because I do beg for money at the bottom of each one of these pieces, I won’t including the cover art for Lest We Forget, lest (ha!) Interscope have an issue with that, but Wikipedia saves the day, as always.

Unlike with other albums (Back in Black, for example) I don’t have any memory of the first time I listened to this CD. What I can tell you is that it was in-fucking-valuable to me through middle and high school.

Around this time (to really help give this story a sense of time) my dad would occasionally pick me up a Hit Parader (apparently the only hard rock and heavy metal magazine Wal-Marts in the tri-county area were willing to carry). By the time I was getting Hit Parader’s it was all posters and “Greatest of/Best” lists. I didn’t really have a lot of room to be picky.

I would tear out the posters (I call them posters, pictures of bands or artists that took up an entire page) and hang them up on my wall. My goal then was to fill up every inch of my walls with posters. I did pretty well, though I never quite got all the way. My other decor item was energy drink cans and bottles. Old empty cans are pretty badass, they’ll make loud popping sounds at random times, it was a nice ambiance.

Anyway, of course one of these posters was a picture of Marilyn Manson, wearing his full face of makeup. Of his appearance, that was the queerest thing to me, his makeup, and in particular, his lipstick. So goes the thought process, “If he can wear lipstick, well then so can I!”

Of course, now I know, anyone can (or should be able to) wear lipstick simply because they want to wear lipstick. That’s a simplicity and a luxury that I didn’t have as a teenager.

I did wear lipstick to school from time to time, and I invoked Marilyn Manson to try to give myself some cover, but I was also so fucking anxious that part way through any day I wore make-up to school I would wash it off in the bathroom. Always avoiding mascara, because I’d learned the hard way, one night at home, that that doesn’t come off so easily.

The Marilyn Manson poster earned a spot front-and-center above my desk. I would look up to him, to the rock ’n’ roll androgyny that helped rocket him to notoriety. Before I knew about drag culture, before I knew about ball culture, before I knew about the ways rock ’n’ roll and rock ’n’ roll androgyny had been appropriated from and stolen from black people (including Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins), in a time when I was looking for hard rock and heavy metal, Marilyn Manson was who I had. Marilyn Manson was who I had to look up to if I was going to think about gender deviance and gender fuckery. From the time I got Lest We Forget til I got Gender Outlaw, Marilyn Manson (and I suppose, Gerard Way) were what I had for gender deviance, by-and-large. And it wasn’t just Marilyn Manson’s look that I clung to.

Dirty Gender

I was going to take a moment to work out more clearly what I mean by dirt(y) gender, but I’ll let folks work their way through the space themselves, for now. Much like my parents who would literally send us out to play in a giant mound of Georgia clay a construction team left next to our house, I’m now encouraging all of you to go play in the dirty places of your gender. Go play in the places where gender is allowed to be dirty. Find out what dirty means to you, roll around in it, live in it. Liberate dirt from masculinity. What does dirty femininity look like, what does dirty androgyny feel like? This is for the metalheads, this is for the punks, this is for the rock ’n’ rollers. This is for those who will be seen as gross no matter how meticulously they attempt to conform. This is for those who will be outcasts no matter how well they mirror hegemonic masculinity or hyper-femininity.

I was never going to be pretty like Marilyn Manson (in that way that skinny, white androgynous people can be pretty, almost regardless of what they do), but I could be disgusting like Marilyn Manson. I could climb out of swamps, and roll around in dirty places like Marilyn Manson. I could wear poorly put-together outfits like Marilyn Manson. The way that Marilyn Manson interacted with femininity (that may be to say, with things like clothes and make-up that are feminine-coded) gave me cover for doing femininity poorly, for doing it wrong. Which is great! Because even though I identify as feminine, I’m certainly not always perceived that way.

I write about the songs I like best

Lest We Forget starts with the opening of “The Love Song,” which grooves its way into the opening lyric:

“I got a crush on a pretty pistol
Should I tell her that I feel this way?
Father told us to be faithful”

The chorus was powerful for me, raised in southern baptist north Georgia by a dad who claimed Charlton Heston as his president during the Clinton presidency, I was starting to form my own politics, and sometimes when you’re 14, 15, 16 it’s enough for your politics to be oppositional:

“Do you love your guns?” Yeah
“god?” Yeah
“The government?”
“Do you love your guns?” Yeah
“god?” Yeah
“The government?”
Fuck yeah

I was still a larvae in terms of political opinion at the time, but I didn’t understand why we were “at war” in the Middle East, I didn’t understand why we were polluting the planet, I didn’t understand why it was weird or controversial for someone like Marilyn Manson to wear lipstick. A song like “The Love Song,” provided a reminder to not be complacent, to not fall in line with clinging to Gods, Guns or Governments.

The second song on the collection, the first cover, “Personal Jesus” had the lyric:

Feelin’ unknown and you’re all alone
Flesh and bone by the telephone
Lift up the receiver, I’ll make you a believer
Take second best, put me to the test
Things on your chest you need to confess
I will deliver — you know, I’m a forgiver

I didn’t know who my personal Jesus was, who they were supposed to be or what they were supposed to do for me, but I knew that as a young trans girl I was feeling unknown, and I was feeling all alone and that I had things I needed to confess. Maybe in ironic contrast to “The Love Song,” where it fed my rebellious atheistic-wannabe spirit, a song like “Personal Jesus,” fed my agnosticism. Maybe if I did pray, someone would hear me.

I don’t think I ever prayed about my gender. I already knew what the God I was raised with would have to say about it, and have me do about it. As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to understand (or hope?) that there is a God, or an interpretation of one, that would accept me as a transgender woman. But, that’s the power of Southern Baptist raisin’ — “Any God who would coddle a pervert is a false God.”

And then “mOBSCENE” encouraging the listener to “Be obscene, be be obscene,” it’s unbeatable. It’s fantastic! Compared to some of the other songs on the collection, I don’t have much to say about “mOBSCENE” although I will say sonically, it still rocks, and very literally, bangs.

“The Fight Song,” with the refrain:

But I’m not a slave
To a god that doesn’t exist
I’m not a slave to a world
That doesn’t give a shit

“I’m not a slave to a world // that doesn’t give a shit.” I still wrestle with this shit. If you’re an anti-capitalist in a capitalist world, if you’re trans in a cisgender world, if you’re queer in a normative world, you wrestle with this shit. Trying to make it through each and every day, trying to make each day count, trying to live a life of resistance while also just fucking trying to survive.

And if “The Fight Song,” is just that, a fight song, then the anthem, for me, was “This Is The New Shit.”

This song blew my mind, and it still gets me going today. I have got to resist the part of my brain that would try to justify this song or make it out to be more than it is. To theorize about it or to try to fit it within academia. The song just fucking hits. And for 14, 15, 16 year old me it remained one of the hardest songs in my collection, and I turned to it when the rage and the indignation tore me to shreds. I’m not going to try to force myself to say more about the song then I’m inspired to say. If you’re into heavy metal and you’ve never heard it before, I’d say give it a chance. Maybe you’ll hear what I hear and feel what I feel. Maybe not.

“Disposable Teens”

Researching this piece I’ve read that a lot of folks (if not Marilyn Manson himself) recognize the line “A rebel from the waist, down” as being from 1984, but I immediately appropriated that line for my own transgender purposes. I was the chick with a dick. I didn’t give the slightest fuck (and still don’t) about Marilyn Manson and George Orwell’s ideas about sexuality linked to rebellion. I couldn’t spend the night with any of my friends because their parents didn’t want a “boy” spending the night. What they meant, of course, was that they didn’t want someone with a penis spending the night. And it’s fucking hard to make and have friends when you don’t really have the means or the ability to see them outside of school.

My penis made my girlhood disposable. My penis made me disposable as a girl.

The second verse of “Disposable Teens” hit me like a fucking sledgehammer as a teenager.

I want to thank you mom, I want to thank you dad
For bringing this fucking world to a bitter end
I never really hated the one true god
But the god of the people I hated

When my parents divorced and my mom and sister moved across the country. It might as well have been the end of the world. Everyone reminds you that divorce is so much better for everyone involved than for people to stay in an unhappy marriage, and I would never debate that, people should never stay in unhappy or loveless marriages. But it’s an uncomfortable experience to have to start from scratch. I mean, we had a house, my dad had his house, his most prized physical possession in this world, but appliances and furniture? My mom pretty well cleared us out. And there was the months of watching my dad deal with the emotional turmoil of his daughter being gone. There was being alone at night, because my dad worked nights. There was us fighting before he went to work. I mean, on our best days we’ll debate whether or not the sky’s blue, all in good natured fun. On our worst days — stubborn, prideful, stoic, in those days, when I was willing to try to cut him down just to feel like I could get my head above water — I couldn’t imagine having to go to work after the fights we’d had.

The world really felt like it was coming to its bitter end.

And then, there was God. I tried to find as many different bibles as I could (there wasn’t a lot of variance at my middle school library) and see what I could find that it said about homosexuality, gays, queers — could there be a God that loved me? I can’t say that I believe in one true God, and I can’t say that if I do, or if I did, whether or not I hated them, but I did hate the God that would condemn LGBT people to hell. I do hate that God.

“Lunchbox” And the rest

This is literally a song about how Marilyn Manson would defend himself with a KISS lunchbox in school.

The big bully try to stick his finger in my chest
Try to tell me, tell me he’s the best
I don’t really give a good goddamn, ‘cause
I got my lunchbox and I’m armed real well
I got my lunchbox and I’m armed real well
I got my lunchbox and I’m armed real well

We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows. I had bullies that would come in groups of two and three and stop me on my way home from the bus stop and try to harass me, try to physically intimidate me. Outside of the jurisdiction of the bus driver, and out of sight of my house, where my dad would be getting ready for work, literally under the cover of the woods, all I had was my stiff upper lip, and let me tell you, that shit’s always been made of jelly.

When I made it home safe, I turned up “Lunchbox” and imagined that if it was ever the last straw, I’d be able to hold my own. Thankfully, I never had to find out.

“Get Your Gunn” is an impressive song, and there’s a lot I could pull from it, but the most important for me is the line:

You want me to save the world
I’m just a little girl

Probably the person who wanted me to do the saving, as much if not more than anyone else, was myself. I had a tendency, still do, to believe that if I can just do everything exactly right, everything will work out. Things seldom work out. And if I was a kid when my parents got divorced, or the first time I heard this song, well, I’m 26 now — but does the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness ever fully go away?

“The Nobodies” starts with:

Today I’m dirty, I want to be pretty
Tomorrow, I know I’m just dirt
Today I’m dirty, I want to be pretty
Tomorrow, I know I’m just dirt

Think about depression. Think about long, sweaty walks to try to keep the worst of the depression at bay. Think about a day, two, or three without a shower. Think about hearing “just try it on” when I know it won’t fit. Think about trying to shave my chest and the man who pointed out all the red bumps. Think about long hair that sheds, I am everywhere. I am the dirt. Everywhere. It is tomorrow. Yesterday I spent all my psychic energy begging that someone might find me pretty, and that they might say it out loud. Begging that someone might find my gender pretty, and that they might say it out loud. Now I know, I’m just dirt.

Lest We Forget ends with “The Reflecting God,” of which I’ll only show two lines here:

Your world is an ashtray, we burn and coil like cigarettes
The more you cry, your ashes turn to mud

I’ve always been fascinated by these lines. What is an ashtray? Where I grew up anything could be an ashtray. An empty Ice House can, something plastic or glass bought at the store. Just an ugly thing with little indents for placing your cigarette, a bowl for the ashes and the butts. I rarely saw cigarettes set down. Instead clenched between fingers, held between lips.

It’s inevitable, isn’t it? It’s inevitable that we burn and coil like cigarettes — that is, at the pleasure of others who take from us with only selfish regard. And that burning, that pain, that losing, well it’s all plenty reason to cry. But the more we cry, the more we show our pain and anguish, the worse, the dirty, the uglier, the grosser, the muddier things become. We, burnt to ash, become mud.

The End

All lyrics courtesy of Genius

Note: Though this writing wasn’t directly inspired by José Esteban Muñoz’s chusmería or Deborah R. Vargas’s Lo Sucio, I’d be remiss, after having read “Ruminations on Lo Sucio as a Latino Queer Analytic” in the spring of 2018, not to mention Vargas and Muñoz here. Their work and their impact deserves to be recognized.

Have questions? Don’t be afraid to leave them in the comments below! Questions asked may turn into pieces written in the future!

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I am Frankenstein’s Monster: An echo of Susan Stryker’s call to action

On Neopronouns

This didn’t take very long to stop being fun

I Am a Transtrender and so can you

Cyborg Possibilities: Another trans person writes about Haraway’s manifesto

“True Trans Soul Rebel” and the Transgender Killjoy

Pride Month is Upon Us

The journals of a teenage trans girl

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Jessica Rae Fisher

Jessica Rae Fisher

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Trans woman writer | @MetalRiot | @Medium | @GAHighlands alumna | @KennesawState alumna | @GSUSociology PhD Student | #Metalhead