“I pledge to make myself, as a bisexual, seen and to make sure that I give voice to those bisexuals who wish to be seen by me.”
2020 has been an eventful year for us all, with the current pandemic, the bushfires that spread across Australia, and remember when World War 3 nearly happened at the start of the year? But for The Subways singer Billy Lunn, 2020 has been wild for a whole different reason, as in February he publicly came out as bisexual.
Speaking to GAY TIMES, the singer praised the “welcoming” attitude that he has received in the three months since coming out and how he has been “touched beyond belief.” However, he also told us about struggles that he had faced growing up, because of his sexuality, something he would eventually repress due to childhood bullying, and how only recently he’s been able to come to terms with his own sense of validity. “The shame in always knowing I was attracted to more than one sex is that I felt I was part of neither community, neither the heterosexual or gay community,” he explained.
Sadly, this is an all too common feeling for bisexuals, who are often marginalised from both within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. It is even harder for those bisexuals in mixed-sex relationships, like Billy, who face accusations of ‘queer tourism.’ He notes that he’s already had to bat aside claims that he’ll be unfaithful to his wife because of his sexuality, saying these comments are “incredibly conservative-minded” and “not accepting the nuances and complexities of a person’s circumstances.”
But he is no longer ashamed of his sexuality, and reflecting on a time in Russia where he wasn’t out, but wanted to tell homophobes about his sexuality, he gleefully tells us how he can now “say that down the microphone, amplified down the speakers proudly and loudly, and if people don’t like that, they can leave or change their minds.”
We caught up with Billy, over a video call to discuss how the past three months have been since he came out, why it’s important to hear more diverse voices in music and why the next album from The Subways will be their queerest yet.
How are you finding the current lockdown?
I’m finding it at the two extremes. I imagine a lot of people are going through this, where I’m actually thankful in some respects that I’ve been given time to sit down and just be. Guilt-free, sitting in front of the telly, with the knowledge that everyone else is going through this and everyone else is probably doing the same thing. Then at the same time, there’ll be ‘I must do something’ so I draw up a list of tasks and as I’ve written them out, they must be done. I find myself rushing through them and suddenly I’m overloaded with work, exhausted. I’m incredibly lucky as I’m here in my recording studio, and I’ve got this space that I can express myself and be creative. That’s another reason why I feel bad about feeling down, as I’m lucky enough to have this space in which I can work and be creative and make things, and also just do nothing like watch Netflix or play my PS4 or just noodle on the guitar or piano. A lot of people have been saying online ‘I imagine what I’d have done if I had the time in the day, I’d be exercising more’ and I’m one of those people, I’m like ‘If only I had the time, I’d be exercising more, I’d be reading more’ and suddenly you’re given the time, and I’m like ‘Meh, I’m just going to do nothing now.’
I saw you started a fundraiser for the NHS, how’s that coming along?
That’s going great, unfortunately owing to the fact we’ve been making some progress on the band’s new album, we’re gearing up for some Facebook Live and Twitter Live events, and I’m also running a Patreon account, I’m a bit behind on the JustGiving acoustic cover versions campaign. I’m cracking on, I’ve currently got eleven recorded and they’re all available on my Instagram page. It’s wonderful, if only to raise money for NHS Charities Together, my sister is a nurse and I’m eternally proud of her, but I’m also frightened for the fact she’s not been given the appropriate equipment so she can do her job properly and make sure people are okay and safe and recovering. Being able to do that little bit for NHS Charities Together has been wonderful and taking people’s requests, that’s a communication of sorts; they’re asking something of me and I’m giving it back. It feels like we’re reaching out to each other, we’re still being social, still making the efforts to make ourselves known and seen to each other, which I think is incredibly important and a human characteristic that’s sometimes massively underplayed.
You mentioned that you were working on a new album, how is that coming along?
It’s coming along great, actually. That’s probably because of the lockdown, we would have been on tour for the re-issue of our first album, Young for Eternity. We managed three dates in the UK, and they were amazing, there was so much joy being back on stage again, playing to audiences. Then the lockdown came in place, and we were like ‘cancel all dates’, we rescheduled for September and October, but I’ll doubt they’ll go ahead given how slowly things are moving and how drastic the death toll seems to be. Coming into lockdown, we dispersed to our own homes, and I was able to come in and continue recording guitar and vocals. We found a way of recording drums over in France where my brother lives, and Charlotte [Cooper] is managing to record her bass, guitars and her vocals up in Sheffield underneath a little cubbyhole under her stairs that she’s decked out into a mini-studio. They send me the files, I put them in and we’re making the songs that way, it’s turning out to be a great way to make an album. Even before that, when I was studying at university for three years, I was writing and demoing during that time and I set up a DropBox page where I would send them acoustic versions of the ideas, and they’d send files back with their recorded parts over the top, and we’d slowly but surely build a complete song, and then come into the studio and do it proper. We’re essentially doing the same formula, but this time we’re all confined to our respective spaces, trying to make the best kind of recording that we can given the equipment we all have to hand.
Congratulations on coming out! It’s been a few months since you wrote about it, how has it been?
It’s been beautiful and odd and it fluctuates like everything. I’m an addict in recovery, I’ve been sober for over six years now, and since escaping the clutches of drug and alcohol addiction, I’ve been able to process my thoughts and emotions in a lot of healthy ways. I go through these natural fluctuations of being loquacious about my emotions and thoughts, and the circumstances that I’m going through, and then there’ll be periods where I completely clam up and I don’t want to confront, let alone talk about, how I’m feeling or thinking. Over these past three months, it’s been amazing how welcoming the LGBTQ+ community has been to my narrative. I have been touched beyond belief, and by the same token I feel endlessly unworthy of such generosity. More than anything, it’s helped me be at ease with my sense of self and that’s only because people have been so wonderful about it. This would mean nothing without the well-wishes and acceptance of people I care about, and that would be the LGBTQ+ community. It’s now coming out in my songwriting; I’m finally able to express that part of myself through songwriting which had been locked up for so long. That had been because of the intense bullying I experienced during school because of my effeminate nature, which I had never been able to take control of, and my loving nature, which at certain points of my life was considered a weakness, but now I accept it’s a strength, like my bisexuality. It’s not something I should be ashamed of, but something to be proud and accepting of. I’m looking forward to people hearing the songs off the new album because it’s going to be a more accurate representation of myself in those songs. I keep messaging our manager saying ‘Can I please share a snippet of this one song, it means so much to me?’ and he keeps saying ‘Keep it under wraps, eventually people will hear it, it’ll be great, but you have to hold on a little longer.’ But there have been certain people in my life that I’ve been able to share these lyrics with, who are truly understanding of my situation and they express real pride in what I’ve done.
You mentioned it there, but how much more do you think your sexuality will influence your music going forward?
I think more than anything just being more seen is the prime objective here. Taking into account I’m married to a woman, and asserting the fact that my being bisexual doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and be unfaithful. Unfortunately, I have had to stress that to certain people who’ve been messaging me on Instagram and the like, but they’ve been very understanding when I asserted that. There are points in our career, like when we went to Russia during the time the LGBTQ+ community was being so harshly oppressed over there, and obviously they still are to a much worse degree, but it’d just started coming to the attention of the UK, the US and Europe. So, I wore a rainbow guitar strap and rainbow shoes to stand in implicit solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community over there. And even then, I was facing some slight aggression from crowd members. At the time, all I wanted to do was kneel down at the front of the stage and whisper in their ear ‘You know that I’m bisexual right? If you hate them you hate me.’ And now I can say that down the microphone, amplified down the speakers proudly and loudly, and if people don’t like that, they can leave or change their minds. That’s going to be a marked message for this next record, Charlotte, Josh [Morgan] and the band, and Ben, our manager, have been delighted with my coming out and been incredibly supportive and encouraging that I express myself to my own needs and desires within the songs. They’re happy to contribute in any way they can, artistically to those songs, as they know our best work is the work that’s the most honest.
You spoke about how you’d repressed your sexuality from bullying, how did you finally overcome that, and what was the realisation process like?
It’s been a strange feeling, because even though certain members of my family would deride me for my nature and would say incredibly hurtful things, as if they thought saying such a thing would make me not what I am, I’ve always known. The shame in always knowing I was attracted to more than one sex is that I felt I was part of neither community, neither the heterosexual or gay community. I felt split four ways, and I didn’t know who to talk to, as I couldn’t talk to my girlfriends or any of my friends, as I went to an all-boys school and to be gay was of the highest shame. I went from second year in my state comp as being the gay kid, so by the time I reached Yr. 11, even the Yr. 7s who didn’t know me would point and shout at me. I got out of that school as quick as I could, but the sense of marginalisation and isolation I felt in that school has never really left me and I have been reacting against that ever since, by being in a rock band, by being hedonistic to a degree, and only recently through social media platforms I’ve been able to realise what I am is okay, that it’s valid, that it’s a true and crucial part of me that I should be proud, not shameful, that I should be outspoken about rather than silent. The last three months have been a process of making sure that I’m providing some sort of network for people like me to be seen and heard and understood so they feel true to themselves, that their inclinations are valid, and that it doesn’t make them half a person or not part of the community, it makes them part of something bigger than themselves and they should feel welcomed in that community. The suppression has been a destructive part of my life, and I do believe it’s been one aspect that I sought the abyss when I indulged in drug and alcohol addiction. That was a period when I purposefully went out into the world with a view to destroying myself, ending myself in the most harmful and painful way possible, by killing my body, killing my brain. That’s why from the government downwards and grassroots upwards we need spaces, voices and organisations to make it known that we are okay, that we are right, that we have a justifiable place in society and we deserve to be loved.
I remember the struggles with my coming out journey, not knowing you could be anything other than straight, then hearing ‘gay’ as an insult and repressing my same-sex attraction as I knew I still liked girls, and this held me back from understanding my own bisexuality…
That’s so sad to hear. It’s a mirror of my experience and it asserts the truth that it occurred and makes the experiences more vivid. I’m angry that we had to go through that, but yet again it’s we on the margins who have to be the understanding ones and accept it in a conservative-minded culture that can only be addressed with love and understanding. Institutions have been so lagging in these respects, even when I was at Cambridge during LGBTQ+ Awareness Week, Trinity College refused to raise the rainbow flag, and you think ‘Really?’
Whenever we see flags raised it’s always the rainbow flag, and everyone forgets the other parts that make up the spectrum.
That’s an important part of the debate, the word ‘spectrum.’ What needs proliferating is the idea that maybe we don’t fit into these guidelines that seem to be established. At the same time, the guidelines work as introductory measures for people to come to terms with the fact that we’re more fluid than the pigeon-holing might suggest, it’s a part of human nature that we’re in a state of flux, always growing, always learning, always making mistakes, always never learning from those mistakes. The rainbow flag itself is a spectrum, and what I think needs to happen more so is the various colours represent the broad spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s it’s inclusive, a collaboration of marginalised communities to work toward a greater purpose of acceptance. That’s what it should stand for: acceptance. Any part of the community that is not accepting of a splinter section should be mindful of that, that it is in fact a spectrum.
Some people accuse bisexuals in mixed-sex relationships of a sort of ‘queer tourism’ – what do you make to people saying that?
It’s incredibly conservative-minded, yet again. It’s not accepting the nuances and complexities of a person’s circumstances in that given time and space. Who are we to say who we’re bound to fall in love with? And that’s the thing about being bisexual, it’s not even equally; like anyone, I go through periods of liking men and women of a certain style, and I go through a couple months of fancying guys of a particular style, and whether I form a relationship and end up marrying that person is up to me. It’s up to the gay community to understand that that’s that, that’s how things are. I’m not going to appease someone else by falling in love with someone they seem to approve of, that’s not how this works. I’m a bisexual person who happens to have fallen in love with and married a woman, who I must admit I married for her androgynous qualities and she married me for mine. That’s my business, and that doesn’t detract from my inherent bisexuality, it’s just the result of falling in love with a certain person in a time and space and following that through and being willing to work hard in that relationship and it quite easily could have been a man. But at that point in my life, when I was deciding whether to follow-through with attractions to certain people, I didn’t feel that my attraction to men was valid or acceptable or my family would approve or society would approve. I had oppressions, conscious and unconscious that I was unable to address, and I fell in love and followed through with a relationship with a woman and that’s how it turned out. If people can’t accept that, then it’s owing to their limited perspective on my narrative then anything else. It’s my choice and my reasoning and the problem lies in their court, not mine.
Do you think when it comes to LGBTQ events and spaces that bisexuals in mixed-sex relationships are accepted and included enough?
I’ll be honest, I’ve not attended all too many events for the community. I was part of Facebook groups when I was at university, which was the first instance that I consciously decided I was going to be aware of who I was. I never attended any events as I felt like an imposter, I felt like a fake and that has to do with how bisexuals are made to feel in the community at large. It also has a large part to do with the obstacles I faced when growing up. All I can say at this point, is that I pledge to make myself, as a bisexual, seen and to make sure that I give voice to those bisexuals who wish to be seen by me.
We see biphobia in both heterosexual and homosexual communities, how do you think the best ways to combat that would be?
As with anything, a mixture of love and righteous anger. Frustration and anger when warranted are incredibly important and helpful, but most importantly we’ll get nowhere without love and understanding. The most important thing to understand about people who doubt our existence, let alone our right to express our existence, they might be suffering from a lifetime of oppressions themselves, a feeling of marginalisation and non-existence, and that their voices are important, but we make sure they know our voices are important. Cynicism might be the right way to describe that mentality and it’s born of ignorance, but one that might not be wilful but born out of circumstance. All we can do is continue to assert our validity, and that comes from patience, patience from our partners and our wives and husbands and spouses and lovers. I think an inherent part of all of this is that we think beyond ourselves and the network of people around us who are affected by our actions as much as we are affected by theirs. Battling cynicism and doubt and uncertainty with love and understanding and a healthy portion of anger and frustration is the right way to go about this.
You are a big supporter of women in music, particularly those from marginalised backgrounds, why is it important that we hear their voices?
I’ve been a white, male, outwardly heterosexual for most of my life, so I’ve benefitted with the privilege that’s endowed me for an incredibly long time. I’ve seen contemporaries of mine go long-ignored because of the colour of their skin, or their sex or gender of their being and it’s always factored into a larger frustration and revulsion of inequality that’s been ingrained in me since I was quite young. I remember being at school and wondering why the kids in the nice clothes were picking on the kids in the shabby clothes, simply by virtue of them having nice clothes. I found it perverse, and it was something I pledged to fight from an early age. Whenever I see that perverse inequality, that’s largely held in place by people like myself, white males in power, as soon as I see those barriers set up, I naturally want to break them down. There have been experiences where I’ve been in the heads of a record label by myself, and they’ve said to me ‘Charlotte, the bassist and singer in your band should not be on the stage, she should be in the crowd, as should all women.’ It’s moments like that that have shaken me out of my apathy and ignorance and turned me into a fighter for those members of the community who are thought of in that way. For a long time now, The Subways have only taken on tour bands that feature at least one woman, preferably all women, as we understand at the very top, there are people who are actively working against the idea that women should be in rock and roll, that women should be up on the stage expressing themselves and defining themselves as powerful and creative individuals. Fighting inequality, taking down the bastards has always been a top priority of mine and championing women in music, particularly women of colour, trans and non-binary factors into that.
It feels like we’re starting to see under-represented groups in music finally break through into some form of mainstream success, do you think we’ve crossed that threshold yet?
Absolutely, over the last five years it’s been so heartening to see the narrative changing, the system, whether knowingly or not, is changing. That’s because the narrative from the ground up has been changing. Bands have been taking it upon themselves to champion those in more marginalised communities, as have journalists. It’s not been the major record labels, it’s been the independent ones who have provided platforms for the more marginalised members of society, especially in the music industry. It’s been changing and going against the grain of society, we’re finding from the top-down, society is becoming more fervently conservative and bigoted. You look at the Conservative government we have at the moment, they’re doing their utmost to make sure oppressed and marginalised communities and societies are kept there and more than that, punished for being kept there, even though they’re not able to move out of those marginalised positions. It feels like the network of small communities, like the LGBTQ+ community in music, are locking arms and forcing their way into the larger narrative that defines the music industry, and it’s fantastic to see. It makes you feel that people can change the system, whether the system wants it to or not. It does feel like the four white boys in leather jackets and sunglasses in a rock band fad is thankfully waning, and we are getting a more diverse representation not just on the stage, but in the song’s narrative as well. We’re hearing different kinds of stories, from people of colour, women of colour, who have their crucial, humourous, tragic, beautiful and heart-swelling stories to tell that have until this point not been given the space to have a voice. As a white male, I am more than happy to step back and hear those voices of marginalised communities ring through. I’ve been lucky enough to have my time in the sun, and although I’ll keep making and producing music, I’ve pledged my time and energy to giving a platform to those who haven’t gotten it because of their respective demographics.
Next month is Pride month, despite lockdown, how will you be celebrating?
With lots of Instagram stories of me dancing in my studio. It’s up to us now to flood the social media sites with Pride and make it as colourful and beautiful as possible. I enjoy sitting down with my acoustic guitar and drum machine, so I might even make a song for Pride and release it for free for the community.