It seems like it’s hard this summer to find a festival lineup that doesn’t have Grant Kwiecinski, AKA GRiZ, prominently featured on it. The hard hustling funk electronic legend has a huge fan base and is ever present on the scene. Yesterday afternoon, in a beautifully penned editorial for the Huffington Post, the Detroit-based legend came out to the world as a gay man. Although he had never made an official announcement regarding his sexuality, this was, until yesterday, considered to be one of the industry’s “worst kept secrets”, so to speak. Almost immediately, the response from fellow musicians, music festival organizers, and fans was overwhelmingly positive.
— JAUZ (@Jauzofficial) June 6, 2017
Recently, in sharing this article, I was presented a question by a colleague:
“Why is this news?”
I can understand why someone would be confused, although I couldn’t disagree more. It’s easy for someone who isn’t gay to not understand why someone like GRiZ publically coming out is so monumental for the gay community, and even for society as a whole. Societies viewpoints on gay rights issues in many parts of America have rapidly evolved. If you are an urban dweller in a liberal city such as myself, sometimes it’s hard to believe that discrimination (this coming from the viewpoint of a cisgender gay white man) even exists anymore.
Unfortunately, this is not a universal truth.
The experience of “coming out” is unique to each person who ventures on this journey. For me, it came much easier than it did for others I have met. My parents, who had inklings before I even did, were extremely supportive of me. Even among my more conservative relatives, the announcement was essentially a non-issue. I grew up in a small (albeit relatively liberal) town in rural Minnesota, so there were some bumps in the road, but for the most part, people were cool- and I had friends to back me up when they weren’t so cool.
It’s important for me to recognize how lucky I am.
The rate of suicide in gay youth is much higher than that of their straight counterparts, and a giant part of that is feeling different and alone. Had I grown up in a different town, or with different parents, or perhaps if I had experienced my coming out just a few years earlier, things would have likely gone over differently. And even though my experience was just about as good as it gets, I really did struggle with coming to terms with my sexuality. In a way, the hardest person to tell that I was gay was myself.
I remember the first time I was able to admit it to myself. Much like GRiZ speaks about in his editorial- it centers around media representation. I was 13 years old, at a female classmates birthday party. It was a rough time for me. I was waking up in the middle of the night all the time. I was really moody, but I didn’t know why. I was close friends with all of the girls, yet didn’t feel any sort of desire towards them, like my male classmates.
Towards the end of the night, my friend Sarah’s mom came into the room and announced that it was time for all of the guys to head home. As the boys loaded into minivans and the girls got comfy for the sleepover portion of the party, Sarah informed me that her mom said it was okay for me to sleep over, too. Geeze, I wonder why.
I’m a few years younger than Grant, so instead of Will and Grace, my exposure to the concept of “coming out” was Marco Del Rossi, a character on Degrassi: The Next Generation. I had never seen the show, but the girls loved it. It seems planned now, but the episode that played first was the one where Marco comes out to his friends. I remember being surrounded by my giggling, chatting girl friends, as I watched on in complete silence. It all made sense to me pretty much at once. I wasn’t ready to come out yet, but I did ask a couple questions. “So, he’s gay?“. “Yeah, he is”, the girls nodded, matter-of-factly. “And his friends don’t hate him?”, I asked. “No”, they said, “everyone loves Marco”.
That night, I slept comfortably for the first time in weeks. That’s how important media representation of someone similar to me was. Even for someone who, all in all, had it pretty easy. Luckily, this kind of representation on TV and in movies is becoming more prevalent. Just about any new TV show you watch these days has at least one GLBTQ character. Moonlight just won the Oscar for Best Film. Coming out narratives are being told from different perspectives, and that makes a huge difference for people.
It’s one thing when a character on T.V comes out, but when a real life person, a role model of sorts, comes out of the closet, it’s much more powerful. Grant Kwiecinski is the kind of guy that everyone should aspire to be like. Besides being an extremely gifted and popular musician, he’s a phenomenal dude. He loves his fans- his entire discography can be downloaded for free off of his website. He gives back to his community– hosting a plethora of charity events in Detroit yearly, even playing free shows around town for his fans, leading up to his annual “Grizmas” celebration at the Detroit Masonic Temple.
Photo by Josh Hanford
I have a lot of musician friends who are gay. Not all of them are “out”, so to speak. While their friends and families know who they are and who they love, they don’t all feel comfortable making statements regarding their sexuality to their fans. It’s not because they think their fans won’t accept them. It’s because, even with societies rapidly changing viewpoints, there is a fear that the industry itself will typecast them as a “gay (insert genre) artist”, rather than a musician who happens to be gay.
GRiZ coming out is certain to make waves in the electronic community and in the festival circuit. While I wouldn’t consider the scene to be a hostile environment for gay fans, few examples of gay performers come to mind- and certainly, none have reached the level of mainstream success as GRiZ. It’s not because they aren’t out there- it’s because many of them either haven’t come out or have been relegated to playing to a specific audience. I expect (and hope) for that to change. If there’s anyone who can make that happen, it’s GRiZ.