My best mate introduced me to Owen Pallett almost six years ago, and i’ve been a devotee ever since. If you’re looking for an inspirational start to your week, try out his breathtaking new album In Conflict. Look out, in particular, for ‘I Am Not Afraid’, which is the first song that I’ve heard that uses gender-nonspecific pronouns. For this, I love him just a little bit more.
In the lyrics, the pronouns ze/they/them refer to one person. The song was inspired by Owen’s gender-nonspecific friend who uses these pronouns interchangeably.
Owen explained, “I did not want the aggressive statement of ‘I’ll never have any children’ to be ascribed upon a specific gender. I deliberately kept the aggressive sentiments of this song spread out over a variety of voices; self, other, various gender states. Seeing as the last album dealt heavily with author/subject binary, I wanted to immediately establish that these definitions within In Conflict are more fluid.”
“I posted the lyrics online a couple of months ago, and I know at least three people on my message board who are trans, and they all flipped out, in a good way. As a cisgendered white male, it’s a tricky thing to make statements of support that are actually beneficial to people.”
“I’m not gender-dysphoric or gender-queer, but I definitely do not identify with being a male on any other level than a biological one.”
“I’ve constantly been rejecting my maleness all my life, but unable to actually proceed to identify myself as anything else, to give up the privilege of my maleness. So that sort of state, whatever you’d wanna call it, forms a lot of the inspiration behind this record: being unable to give up one thing to be something else that you’d want.”
In Owen’s view, having children as a homosexual is more of an administrative process as opposed to being a direct extension of his romantic life. While he feels that he wants children, the administrative process gives him pause. The song is in part “a statement of support and sympathy and compatriotism to other people who, by choice or for biological reasons, have decided upon a childless future.”
He gives an outrageous anecdote: “A lesbian couple, friends of mine, asked me if I would father a child for them. I was asked via text message. My heart completely exploded. I’d never felt this feeling before. I remember using one hand to respond to her text, and thinking, how can I continue to text her while phoning my mom? It turns out she was joking! [pauses] And we’re not friends anymore. [laughs] ‘Thank you for showing me that I am a bag of meat with procreative desires. Never speak to me again.’”
I am not afraid, ze said, of the non-believer within me. No delight at the pain of my enemies no tears for any friends I have lost. You are not alone, I said. It is a trial to keep my belief suspended. I leave my violin unattended in a cab or a restaurant. And then when ze started to sing, nobody could’ve called them crazy. Open chord forever unchanging. Holy eternal drone.
I’ll never have any children, I’d bear them and eat them, my children. I’m gonna change my body in the light and the shadow of suspicion. I am no longer afraid. The truth doesn’t terrify us, terrify us. My salvation is found in discipline, discipline.
I haven’t had a smoke in years but I will catch a drag if you are smoking. They told me to chew on a toothpick. They told me to take a deep breath. What is better is to punch a wall, to bin the boxes of your old love letters, to be impassive to the words that could save you, to need to see the world as ash.
And I’ll never have any children, I would bear them and confuse them, my children. And I’m not at all afraid of changing but I don’t know what good it would do me. I am no longer afraid. The truth doesn’t terrify us, terrify us. My salvation is found in discipline, discipline.