Songs for the silent majority: God Des and She deliver a queer state of the union

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“‘The United States of God Des and She’ is a place where freedom and liberty are real,†says God Des (right) of the inspiration behind the duo's new album. “We want to create an environment that is... equal for everyone." “‘The United States of God Des and She’ is a place where freedom and liberty are real,†says God Des (right) of the inspiration behind the duo's new album. “We want to create an environment that is... equal for everyone."
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Queer hip-hop icons God Des and She see no line between the personal and the political. Over the last 10 years, they have thrilled audiences nationwide with their conscious, danceable hip-hop, in the process making deep bonds with their enthusiastic fan base. Between their mid-February stops in Salem and Portland, PQ chatted on the phone with the rap troubadors to get their take on the modern state of music, feminism, spirituality, queer rights — and the horror that is Ann Coulter. PQ: You just released a fantastic new album, “United States of God Des and She.†Can you tell me a little about the album’s inspiration? God Des: We feel that our society and American culture can be really depressing and backward. We felt that we needed to address some important issues — so we did it though humor, satire, and brutal honesty. “The United States of God Des and She†is a place where freedom and liberty are real — we want to create an environment that is very equal for everyone. PQ: I hear you — simultaneous to all of these dark, sad things going on, we’re in an interesting and historic time for queer people. What do you see as the next steps for the queer community? God Des: I think that for a lot of queer people, situations like the recent controversy around Chick Fil’A left them feeling very depressed and as though a lot of society hated us. We feel that is the minority — for example, we do think that marriage equality will pass federally. There are serious changes coming, but it needed to be dark in order for people to rise. There needed to be serious injustice to catalyze the marginalized to rise up strong in order to overthrow the power. We’re really proud that so many gay folks are stepping up to the plate, with lots of gay celebrities coming out for visibility. It gives us hope for the gay community and the next steps we take. She: In one of our songs, we talk about the “silent majority†— regular, hardworking folks who don’t really care if someone is gay or straight, but not really vocal about it. They just go about their business, without a thought in their head. We hope this majority would start to speak up, and that the bigots would shut up. It’s absurd that in 2013 we’re still talking about people not having basic human rights. It’s time for this to become a non-issue, and to do that we’d need these folks to speak up.... I think of the example of my father, who’s been a factory worker for 35 years. It took him a minute to come to terms with [queerness], but he’s learned — he came to Vegas Pride with us and was hugging drag queens! I could have never imagined, when I was 15 years old, that my dad would be comfortable hugging and being kind and loving to drag queens! There’s hope… [but] it’s going to be a matter of people being free to come out and be who they are. That’ll be the big shift.
God Es and She God Es and She
PQ: During your years in the music industry, the nature of the industry itself has changed dramatically. How have you observed these changes manifest, and have they helped or hindered your creative process? She: It’s a blessing and a curse. There are so many different things you can do to get your music out and create, but it’s kind of hard to navigate sometimes what works and what doesn’t. We’re super grateful for it, though. We built our fanbase from handshake to handshake over the years through personal interactions with our fans, but having the social media like Facebook and Twitter have opened up the whole world to us — for example, we’re touring Europe in April and have a ton of European fans, but have only played [twice in Germany before]. It’s a whole fanbase that connected with us via Facebook and Youtube. It’s absolutely wonderful to have the resources. PQ: I think of someone like, say, Ani Difranco, whose sensibility was to tour incessantly and build her base in person. I question whether that strategy would work as well in an era of high gas prices and social media; I wonder if it’s necessary, you know? She: We feel it is. As much as we always personally answer our fans on [social media] — we don’t have anyone else do it for us — we know that actually looking someone in the eye, hearing their story, and giving them a hug is essential. We always stay after our shows and meet our fans, take pictures with them, show them love and appreciation, because their support is the reason that we can do what we do.… However, it’s definitely nice to be able to have both! PQ: In this album, you touch on some interesting spiritual themes — I think of “God I Know You Love Me†in particular. What are your spiritual lives like nowadays? God Des: My family’s Jewish, and while I didn’t grow up practicing, I’m spiritual. I think the universe is an amazing and great place, and we can’t take that for granted, and need to be as kind as possible.… Neither of us are really into organized religion, though. We wrote that song because, even though I don’t believe in heaven or hell, I still had that fear [growing up] — “Is this wrong what I’m doing? Am I going to hell?†While I don’t believe that anymore, if I went through that, I can’t imagine how many people are and have gone through it, especially those who are religious.… We wanted to make people aware of the fact that [reparative therapy] is still going on. We want people to know that you can be religious or not, whatever you want, but it’s okay to be gay — you’re not the devil, you’re not going to hell.… Queer people are everywhere, millions and millions of people. We’re not a freak of nature. We need to look at it as something natural and okay. PQ: Do you consider yourselves feminists or a feminist act? She: Absolutely! I wouldn’t say we’re first-wave or anything like that, but we are all about empowering young women in particular. So much music out there is so sexualized and degrading … and people underestimate the impact that can have. We try to be the antithesis of that — of course, we have our sexy songs and such, but we want to give young women as much agency, strength, encouragement, and empowerment as we can. PQ: Beyond the music scene, what are your thoughts on the modern state of the feminist movement? God Des: There’s some strong feminism in the world, and I’m proud to be part of that movement. I think people, men in particular, are becoming more comfortable calling themselves feminists. People are scared of things that they don’t know — when the movement started, it was quite radical, but now it’s such an important part [of the political landscape].… However, what does scare me is that now there’s so much entertainment and music that … is setting us back, making young women feel like they can’t say no. I wish that we had mainstream artists who were good role models — I think Taylor Swift is the closest one. We want young women to feel comfortable setting limits and saying no to abuse. She: I’m worried! I’m scared when I hear the Michelle Bachmanns and Sarah Palins of the world who are fine with other people making the decisions, not being strong role models for young women. It makes me uncomfortable and sad. However, we do still have Tammy Baldwin! We have Elizabeth Warren! We’re lucky to have some strong women leading, but some of the vocal ones are so regressive and scary — it’s like, what the hell are you talking about, sister!? Hell, Ann Coulter! I mean, she’s the worst human.... I have to believe it must be an act to sell stuff! How can you really be that ignorant and that abusive to women? That extremely racist? It just disgusts me. PQ: And yet still embraced by some queer conservatives! She: It’s absurd. It blows my mind.
For more information, check out god-desandshe.com.