In the mid-1980s — amid the Reagan administration’s lethal neglect of the AIDS epidemic and an increasingly vocal Christian “moral majority” who blamed homosexuality for a decline in “family values” — a homosexual splinter of the punk rock scene broke off and began to challenge societal disapproval of queerness through counter-cultural music, zines, art, and film. This movement eventually became known as Queercore.

J.D. Image courtesy of Bruce LaBruce, www.brucelabruce.com

GmbH Lyrically, queercore admonishes the homophobia and transphobia of both the hardcore punk scene and society at large. Much like Riot Grrrl, Queercore is highly critical of modern concepts of gender roles as well as the exclusive attitudes within the gay community. Common queercore themes also deal with religious and political oppression, queer lifestyles, and an emphasis on the experience of the individual (occasionally referencing the artists’ own life experiences).

What sets queercore apart from conventional punk is not its music — which is typically intense, energetic, and raw — but its lyrics, which explore themes of prejudice, oppression, and same-sex attraction with rare honesty and insight.

J.D. Image courtesy of Bruce LaBruce, www.brucelabruce.com

The difference is that where punk once promoted nihilism and destruction, most queercore records are driven by an overwhelming instinct for survival — the music celebrates its outsider status, refusing to cave into the so-called moral majority’s myopic definitions of what is right and natural.

The subcultural concept of queercore was launched in Toronto by provocateurs G. B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce through their 1980s zine J.D.s. It was in the pages of J.D.s that the word “homocore” was articulated, and the concept of this radical new transmedia movement of queer punks, subsequently known as “queercore,” was elucidated.

“People thought that Toronto was the centre of this hardcore movement,” says LaBruce in a new documentary directed by Leyser titled Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution. “But it was just me and two women who sat in their basement and churned out alternative publications and experimental movies.”

The Gossip, 2019, www.brooklynvegan.com

The very term “punk” has roots in gay sex, referring to a man on the receiving end of anal intercourse in prison. But trying to make those connections in the 80s proved to be a daunting and risky task. While the freewheeling world of early punk embraced a wide range of sounds and sexualities, by the start of queercore it had already ritualized into the macho hardcore trend, whose bands and fans started to look and sound increasingly alike. Similarly, the mainstream gay community was, by then, presenting an exponentially more hetero-normative image.

The early queercore artists not only spread their gospel through zines and films but also in art and music, all of which were inspired by earlier work from the Dadaists, the Situationists, and the Sex Pistols.

The zine culture of queercore was booming and intersecting with the music of queer punks more than ever before, with the zine Outpunk creating a label in 1992, the first of its kind specifically for queercore artists. As the movement flourished, many queercore bands were not necessarily made up of all queer members but came to support the ethics behind the movement and embraced the community as part of the original essence of punk rock.

Gay For Johnny Deep, 2010, www.nme.com

The original queercore movement may be a cultural relic in its own right, but its messages should resonate with a world recently rocked by events like the tragic Orlando massacre. Queer anarchy is not yet at the forefront of modern culture, but LaBruce maintains that hope is not yet lost. “When I go to punk shows in Toronto, things have improved drastically in terms of the inclusion of girls, queers and transgender people,” he says, “There are bands with transgender members and bands with equal numbers of boys and girls, like my friends VCR. I wish things had been that progressive in punk in the 80s!” Davis echoes this sentiment. “There will always be those amongst us who question the status quo and have a rebellious, frenzied spirit. I get invited to art schools worldwide to teach my ‘Framing the Freakazoid’ seminar, where I preach the James Baldwin gospel of the maladjusted rule.” She ends with an observational comment, one which perfectly encapsulates the radical core of queercore. “If you are mindlessly happy and content with this system of things you are a slug, inert, and not prime for advancing culture.”

Queercore to this day urges us to recognize the LGBTQ community as vast and diverse and challenges us to look at LGBTQ folks beyond the heteronormative lens. Pioneers like G.B. Jones and Vaginal Davis remind us even 30 years later that we must embrace the essence of punk by challenging everyone inside and outside of the LGBTQ community to continue the push for progress and equity in society.

Queercore Bands/Artists

Tribe 8
Pansy Division
Limp Wrist
Team Dresch
Le Tigre
Middle-Aged Queers
God Is My Co-Pilot
The Need
Gay for Johnny Depp
The Gossip

The documentary is called “Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution”, and it stars queer directors Bruce La Bruce and John Waters; female musicians Beth Ditto, Kim Gordon, and Peaches; queer performers Genesis P-Orridge, Justin Bond and Jayne County, and many others.


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