Singer and songwriter Shamir — who just dropped Revelations, his third album — discusses the connection between gender expression and creativity with actor, writer and director John Cameron Mitchell.
John Cameron Mitchell: Do you get a lot of people saying you are their role model, in terms of your masculinity, your femininity, your mix? Do people say, “Thank you for letting me be me because you’re you?”
Shamir: I didn’t realize how important my representation was. I definitely tried to downplay it. One definitive moment for me was in Nottingham, when a queer British kid – he was Middle Eastern or Indian I think – told me how good it was to see a queer person of color in pop music. We’re still people, you know? It feels a little too martyr-y to be like, “I’m like Moses, and I’ll lead you through the water.” I’m still trying to figure out life. I was 19 when I came out. I remember one moment when I was on BBC World News, and this staunch British guy in a suit sitting across from me was like, “Transgender — what does that mean?” I was like, “Honestly, I don’t know because I didn’t make up that term.”
JCM: I remember when people started saying “post-gay” and I was like, “What does that mean?”
S: There are other words! There’s nonbinary, there’s genderqueer.
JCM: We don’t fear anymore – maybe that’s what they’re saying. Gender is a fluid thing but it’s also a very determining thing for many cultures, where you get killed if you don’t fit in. Being kind of a femme-y gay boy, and creating Hedwig, which is not really a trans character, it’s more accidental and he’s forced into a situation by politics. He’s in the middle because of people’s cruelty. It’s an interesting metaphor that a lot of people can relate to. It’s the idea of the Other.
S: When you’re in the public eye, people might think that it’s an aesthetic choice, and that’s one thing that really grinds my gears, especially if I get a David Bowie comparison. I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t like that. It’s not about a character – I’m not a character.”
JCM: He did a fake queer character. Cool, you know, he did it really well, but that’s about performance.
S: It’s performance art! Fine. But it’s not what I’m here for.
JCM: It’s about you recording straight out of your house, and people responding.
S: I feel the most content I’ve ever felt in my life.
Photos by Jason MacDonald & FilmMagic