Nate James explains how vocal coaches can create supportive, safe spaces for LGBTQIA singers.
In the eighties and nineties, even stars of the magnitude of Elton John and George Michael worried that revealing their sexuality would harm their careers.
And the noughties weren’t much better, with gay singers like Will Young outing themselves before the tabloids did it for them.
So here we are in the 2020s, and things are much improved, aren’t they?
Undoubtedly, attitudes have changed with artists such as Frank Ocean, Janelle Monae and Arlo Parks proudly flying the rainbow flag.
But, as Nate James explains on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, LGBTQIA singers still face challenges.
Artist and vocal coach Nate, who is writing a book on queerness in music, admits that early in his career, he effectively “lived two lives”. His public persona was that of a ladies’ man, but behind closed doors, he was in a relationship with a man.
“I think that’s the case for many gay male pop stars,” he says. “There is that whole coded language and coded behaviour thing. You dial down who you really are because people around you may not approve.”
While Nate is now open about his sexuality, he wants to ensure young performers coming through can feel confident expressing their authentic selves.
“Things have got better, but if you look between the lines, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Here are Nate’s tips on how vocal coaches can support LGBTQIA singers.
Provide a safe space
“I went to a wonderful school, but I had a hideous time; I was called all sorts of names.
“Thankfully, there were some great teachers there – I spent a lot of time in the music and art departments – and they were my team. My parents were wonderful and very supportive, but having someone who’s not your mum or dad to talk to is really helpful.”
“Social media is a double-edged sword,” Nate says. “We have these platforms where we can be our true selves, but, obviously, everyone’s watching, and so many things can trigger trolling and nasty behaviour. It can be a blessing and a curse.”
If students are active on social media, advise them to take regular breaks, not respond to bullying, and report and block trolls.
Be a Listener
“As vocal coaches, we’re not counsellors, but you can set a student’s mind at ease. Let them know that what they’re doing is okay and that they should be happy and enjoy it.”
Champion their talent
“Just being someone’s number on fan is so important because it’s a brutal industry.
“Giving them a little brush off when things go wrong and lifting them back up is so important. And saying: ‘It’s not a reflection of your talent or your authenticity or your gender or anything else; it’s just not right for you at this time’.”