JD Samson’s journey to queer and feminist icon was perhaps an unlikely one, beginning in America’s heartland – Ohio, specifically – where gender identity, sexuality and rock and roll are an explosive trifecta ripe more for finger-wagging than enthusiastic cheers. Still, the now Brooklyn, New York-based Samson would find herself at the forefront of riot-grrrl movement with electro-punk troupe Le Tigre, alongside riot-grrrl heroine Kathleen Hanna, and later as one of the co-founders of art performance collective MEN, who address a bevy of social issues (gender norms, civil liberties, economies of war) with backbeats that dare you not to dance. Hive rang Samson, following New York’s passage of the same-sex marriage bill, to discuss the bill’s impact, her own wedding plans and what’s next for the LGBTQ community.
Where were you when you heard that New York passed the same-sex marriage bill?
My story is kind of interesting. This was the first year in a really long time that I wasn’t in New York for Pride. I was scheduled to DJ in San Francisco, which I was really excited about; that’s like the be-all and end-all for Pride. My flight kept getting delayed but it was really awesome that [Virgin] had MSNBC, because Rachel Maddow was on. So, I was on my flight, watching Rachel Maddow, and being happy to share the moment with her. I turned around, and no one on the plane was watching [the live vote]. It was a funny moment for me. I felt super lonely in my queerness. It was this really weird juxtaposition because I was crying so much, and it felt like a really great moment [when the bill passed]. I got on the internet immediately, because I felt like it would be better to be around …
Yeah, totally. So, I got to San Francisco, but people didn’t seem too excited about it. It was a really interesting weekend for me. I found a lot of apathy at Pride in California. But I think I was somewhat depressed that I wasn’t in New York.
Had you been following the weeks leading up to the final vote in New York?
I’ve had an interesting relationship to the whole thing. Obviously, I feel that everyone should have equal rights but I feel that my personal ideas about marriage have been really shifting over the years. It’s this tradition and cultural figment of our imagination that’s been encoded among us. It’s questionable to whether or not it serves a purpose in our new lifestyle. Not just queer, but everyone. That’s been on my mind a lot recently. But yes, I had been following the vote. I was really excited and the roar of applause that happened when the vote was called, it was just so … life-changing.
Walk me through exactly what you felt.
All weekend … it’s such a crazy thing; you don’t even realize how much you want it, really. That was part of it for me. I’ve been thinking about the institution of marriage so much; I told myself I didn’t need it. I do believe in love, and I believe in commitment, like my grandparents. But when the moment happened, everything became real to me. This is a moment that I was never going to forget.
How long have your grandparents been married?
Since 1945 or 1946. They are both still alive, and they’re both my idols.
It’s really interesting to hear your view on marriage as an institution has changed over time. Was there a point growing up where you envisioned marriage for yourself?
Totally. I still do. I’ve always wanted to have a wedding. Every time I go to a wedding, I cry so hard. I always thought if I had a wedding, not this many people would come … if I was at a straight wedding. I always felt this deep sadness that it was never going to be the same for me. But I’m so happy for kids who are coming out. They are going to live their lifetime with that same excitement that straight people have [about marriage]. But I’ve definitely always wanted to get married. I think that also has to do with watching my grandparents, and seeing a marriage work.
How do you see that marriage working? What is it about the two of them?
They have a lot of patience, and they have a good distribution of power [laughs].
And separate bathrooms?
Yeah, exactly. And separate bedrooms [laughs]. No, they wanted it. That’s it; wanting to be with someone for the rest of your life, and making that decision.
President Obama was in New York last week, as the New York Senate was in session, and he was asked to speak to his opinion on gay marriage. He fell short of fully endorsing it, saying he believed in “equal rights.” What’s your reaction to that?
I’m really sad, actually. I haven’t felt much support from him in general. But the thing that has affected me the most in his relationship to the advancement of equality for queer people has been his “It Gets Better” video. It was a statement for him to do that but … 50 Cent did one, Ke$ha did one. It’s fashionable. On one hand, he’s done so many things no other president has done, but if Bill or Hillary Clinton were president right now, they would be much more supportive.
Many believed the bill wouldn’t have passed if it wasn’t for the religious exemptions they built into it. Do you think a time will come when religion isn’t really a factor in determining civil rights?
I hope so. A true separation of church and state is really not going to happen very soon. This country was based on Christianity and that’s unfortunately where we are. But there is freedom of speech, and there is something about me that feels that if somebody doesn’t want to recognize [gay marriage], that’s their choice. You have the option.
Why do you think so many people are threatened by gay marriage?
I think a lot of people have been afraid of that separation, exactly. I actually heard on NPR that all the people who did not agree with it were over 64. It was the only age group that came out with more people not in favor. I think there is a fear of some loss of control, some loss of conservative belief. I mean, a lot of people who are in that age group [also] don’t agree with interracial relationships. As time goes on, there is going to be way more space for open-minded people.
Do you think there is more pressure, or incentive, for those in the gay community to come out and be visible now?
It’s interesting. As soon as it happened, I tweeted, “Go outside tonight, make yourself visible.” I wanted to see these people. Everybody wants to see the cover of the New York Post of people fucking celebrating in droves. That’s what we need to do. It was really hard for me to not be there but I tweeted and Facebook’d as much as I could. Obviously the internet has changed all of our lives; Not only has it helped us create a platform for community, but it’s really separated us. Now more than ever we need to be visible.
What does it mean for you to be a member of the gay community right now?
It means a lot of things. I’ve seen so much change happen. I’ve been a member of the gay community before the internet existed, and went to college without a cell phone. I’m really lucky to be in the place I am. I feel the gay community is very instrumental in my life, in terms of my friendships and my learning process and my culture. But I also feel really lucky to have straight people around me so that I can have some sort of balance, or understanding of where I fit in.
A lot of second day stories were asking what comes next for the community. I’m going to pose that question to you.
I think the natural next move would be to give people the same rights for adoption. That’s another frustrating thing. My band MEN wrote a song about how expensive it is for queer people to have children, whether that’s through dealing with legal fees or insemination and so on. It’s something that I still find to be really frustrating as a lesbian. This was this incredible push forward, and I’m not sure when the next thing is going to happen. People are going to reeling from this for awhile. The most important thing to do is stay visible, and get out on the streets.
MEN’s debut album, Talk About Body, is out now on IAMSOUND Records.