‘I identify as queer, although most of my life it’s been pretty old-fashioned gay. I identify as fluid also, and outwardly I present as a woman.’
Sam, Troye, Hayley: we’re lucky to have are many LGBTI pop stars in 2019. But few speak, write or sing with such confidence and clarity about sex, sexuality and gender as Kat Cunning.
With a slew of folksy, soul-searching ballads addressed to queer lovers under her belt (stream Wild Poppies and Make U Say immediately), 2019 could be the singer-dancer-actress’s breakout year in more ways than one.
The Portland, Oregon native will soon return for the third series of HBO’s the Deuce – about the ‘Golden Age of Porn’ – opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco, as well as upcoming LGBTI drama Trinkets.
‘You guys are gonna flip,’ says the 20-something of the new Netflix show, dropping this spring. ‘It’s so good. I get to be the rock and roll rebel who comes in, fucks it up. It’s a gay story with the main girl, Brianna Hildebrand, who’s the awesome rebel girl in Deadpool. She’s also out in real life. Two gay people telling a gay story? That fucking rocks. And two of my songs are integral to the plot and I perform them on the show!’
Here, Kat talks LGBTI-inclusive lyrics, misogyny in ballet and how having a gay mom informs her worldview…
How did you come out?
I grew up in a liberal household. When I was 11, my mom came out. I was so upset! I think my actual words were: ‘Well that’s a slap in the face!’
I was a really OCD kid, a hardcore dancer… My family was going through a divorce. I was craving structure, control. I didn’t even care about her sexuality. It was just another change. I value that memory. It helps me remember why it’s hard for other people to accept things they don’t know.
[As a teen], I had this one friend who’d come over: we’d make out, grind on each other, watch scary movies… We took this photo making out and got 200 MySpace likes. Someone sent it to my dad in an anonymous letter! He calls me down and with tears in his eyes says: ‘If you’re gay, you can tell me!’ It didn’t even really cross my mind I was actually gay, but it was so cool to have that endorsement from him.
I went to college, fell deeply in love with an older, butch rockstar. She breaks my heart so hard! Then, I came out to my family. My brothers were like ‘another one?!’ My family were cavalier about it. I’ve experienced micro-aggressions – in my career, from men who’ve wanted to have sex with me – but I’ve been lucky to have an accepting family. And [with hindsight], to have have dealt with someone from a much older generation have such a harder time than my generation… I’m lucky.
My mom’s partner was also an incredible woman. Unfortunately she passed away, but she became a part of my family, and my mom’s queer friends became these icons to me.
Is your mom a confidant now?
Honestly, it sometimes feels a little close to home between us. We’re both Scorpios. We don’t talk about it! But obviously she’s met my partners. And in general, we have the same gregarious, gigantic personality. We’re great friends, but I don’t talk to her about the queer world at all.
Also, older people’s idea of the queer world is different. Often, I think she’s just worried for me, how out I am. Her perception of how brave I am about my gayness… Her first reaction is worry.
There’s also a divide. Younger people find it easy to say they’re queer. Another reason I identify as gay is because my mom’s generation worked so hard to ‘be gay’, to seek acknowledgement for that.
I definitely am gender-fluid; in my personal relationships, people know that. But I also have a lot of patience for people who don’t get it yet, who worked hard through the 60s, 70s, 80s to get these rights and are being chastised for not knowing the latest lingo about pronouns or whatever. I feel sensitive to both sides.
Do you embrace the word ‘queer’?
I really do. I definitely don’t believe in the binary. Bisexual doesn’t work [for me] because there’s more than two sexes. I love the word queer because it’s an umbrella term.
You’ve described your music as ‘queer’, ‘sex-positive.’ Can you elaborate?
Addressing queer narratives in my music is safety for me. So many amazing artists have been gay or queer; their fans have found out and felt somehow betrayed. A big thing for me was being upfront about the the life I live.
Could you share a song you’re particularly proud of?
I’m excited to release Beautiful Boys, an anthem for trans men, and/or any woman who’s ever felt like a boy.
You’re trained at ballet. Is it a very queer world?
There are lots of gay guys. Not as many gay women. The people in power in dance – at least when I was trying to pursue it – were pretty […] misogynistic, even though it’s gay men running it. The stories are about waif-like women. It’s such an old art that hasn’t been updated. Any ballet, the girl can’t handle anything.
While there are queer people, it needs to be updated when it comes to strong women. Modern dance is when women freaked out and started dancing like animals. Martha Graham was such an important moment!
You’ve said you have a crush on your ‘The Deuce’ costar Maggie Gyllenhaal. Did you tell her?
I think she just knows… I’m always blushing around her! Somehow we always end up talking about cool sex subculture. She told me I was hot!
What’s it like working with her?
She’s amazing. A generous actor. The word’s ‘nurturing’. She’s intimidatingly gorgeous and I know her whole repertoire of work. She’s so sexy and daring. On set with her, she takes care of young actors.
For more information about Kat, visit katcunning.com.