Ex-Cinema Bizarre singer Jack Strify experienced bullying as a child because he didn’t fit into the conservative role model. He has now found his safe space and is committed to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Rainbow flags are raised around the world just in time for Pride Month in June. A nice gesture that can make a big difference. However, one month is not enough to be a good ally for queer people. Discrimination and hatred don’t end within four weeks. Artist Jack Strify can sing a song about it and therefore says: “Pride is everyday”. You can find out what he means by that and what he thinks of Pride Month in our BRIGITTE interview.
“Pride is everyday” – Jack Strify on love, work and self-determination
BRIGITTE: We’re celebrating our Pride Week at BRIGITTE in June. We would be interested to know what Pride Month means to you. And how important is it to you that it’s celebrated?
Strify: As a queer person, you never have the luxury of saying you only engage with queer issues and issues for a month or a week because you’ll be confronted with them on a regular basis as soon as you don’t seem straight or cis. That’s why my motto is: Pride is everyday. For many, Pride is superficially the parade, the celebration around the world, but for me that’s just the one party. For me, however, Pride is a constant inner attitude – to be visible, to show your colors. No false pride, but a manifesto about self-love and self-acceptance. Nevertheless, I am happy about the many Pride campaigns, also from brands. However, it is important that brands do this right and that they deal more intensively with what that actually means instead of slapping a rainbow at something. I wish that queer people would be seen as other people and not just as tokens. Brands and advertising can also do a lot. Outsiders are confronted with things that may not take place in their own bubble. As futuristic as that sounds, we depend on algorithms when it comes to social media.
I noticed that you use your personal pronouns on Instagram, i.e. you associate yourself with he and they. You see that a lot in the LGBTQIA+ community, what’s the background to that?
For many people it has long been a matter of course. Even Instagram offers the option for everyone. You always read this big, complicated term LGBTQIA+, but actually it means many different people and identities. That said, in the queer community you quickly learn to be considerate and respectful of people who may not be like you. For example, I’m a queer man, but I know I don’t have the same experience as one trans woman or a black person in the queer community. That’s why people have found ways to communicate better, how they identify themselves or how they want to be addressed. The way I perceive a person at first doesn’t necessarily mean that the person identifies themselves that way. It’s a sign of respect. Pronouns are a sign to say “Hey, I see you, I respect your pronouns.”
You are also part of Pantene Pro-V’s new campaign ‘Hair has no Gender’, which shows, among other things, that for many, for example, the workplace is not yet a safe space. How did you experience that in your work place and how did you deal with it?
I am now in a very advantageous position because I can choose my place and I am my own boss. But I’ve also done it in various jobs, at school or university. From the beginning it is important how you define yourself and whether you fit in. I talk about it with a lot of friends who maybe don’t have the luxury of being their own boss, and I know that there are a lot of people who don’t want to come out at work or wait because they want to feel safe first. The workplace is a place where you spend so much time and your own identity shouldn’t be the biggest stumbling block. That’s why I think Pantene Pro-V’s campaign is so important, because only when people become aware of the problem and queer people are relieved of the fear that they are alone and need to hide can things change.
I noticed in the video that you have a tattoo. It says ‘Boys do Cry? This reflects a slight critique of gender stereotypes. How do you feel about traditional gender roles?
That’s the theme of my life, this question, who am I, what do people expect from me. Being able to express myself has always been important to me. I noticed that this is not as natural and cool for everyone as it is for me. I was recently asked what was the first question I asked myself on my journey of self-discovery. I then realized that the first question was probably: What’s wrong with me? And that’s really sad. I got the tattoo because I think crying is not a sign of weakness. The tattoo is right on my back arm, everyone sees it in the summer.
How did you realize that you are queer? And what encouraged you to do this? Or helped to be able to live it out freely?
The word queer wasn’t in my vocabulary when I went to school. The words girl and gay were happily thrown at me before I could figure out who I am and how I feel. The decision was taken from me, both in the schoolyard and in the family. In the last few years I have discovered the word queer for myself. It describes me best because it describes not only sexuality but also gender identity and that you want to break with certain norms.
And what helps you to live out your queerness? What helped you to take the harder path?
Friends and my therapist say it’s admirable that I had such strong resilience and assertiveness so early on. I was lucky enough to find that strength within me before I found this community to have my back. An important start for me was actually the internet in the small town where I grew up. It changed my entire life – from MySpace and forums to Instagram. When I first went to queer clubs or had drag queen encounters I was extremely nervous and scared and today it’s my safe space, my home.
The Internet offers a lot, but it is also a place of hate speech and bullying. How do you deal with hostility online?
I would prefer not to have to deal with it at all. Because I experienced a lot of bullying as a child and teenager, I built up a thick skin. Unfortunately, most of the criticism I get is just because of my existence, my being, that I claim to be happy and visible. That provokes a lot of people and it becomes a political issue, which I find very incomprehensible. I didn’t go through the tough school of bullying to have people on the internet I don’t even know tell me who to be or go into hiding. That’s why it’s a luxury to be able to put your cell phone aside. I didn’t have that at school. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother me anyway. Because people politicize you so often, they forget that I’m human and that I really only want the same thing as everyone else. I just want to be happy, I want to be treated with respect. The collusion of my existence should not be an opinion.
In 2015 you talked about your time at Cinema Bizarre in an interview with “Bild”. Among others about not being allowed to openly communicate that some of the band members are gay. How bad was the pressure, or is it still today?
A lot has changed, but it’s changing more slowly than I would like. Just four weeks ago I met someone from my old record company and I told him that sometimes it was a bit difficult. He said he hadn’t noticed it at the time and that it would be unimaginable today. I think the industry wants that to be unimaginable today, but I’ve noticed from other artists that there are discussions – at least to what extent queerness should be held back. You just aren’t very marketable. I also have the feeling that Germany is slower than other countries. German record companies have always been so good at finding equivalents for American artists. Why don’t they do the same with queer artists? Why is there no Troye Sivan, Sam Smith or Lil Nas in Germany yet? There are queer artists who are successful, but not at the level of the UK and America. And I have to say, we never had a ban. They were rather absurd discussions about how to pronounce something or what kind of make-up to wear. We were very young and insecure ourselves. We didn’t want to make that big of a deal ourselves at the beginning either, before we were sure who we are.
You also said that biological sex or gender identities would not play a role for you when dating. Is that correct? And how do you define love for yourself?
I don’t have to define it because love and sexuality are two completely different things for me. I have a lot of love in my life, also through friendships that give me a lot of support and are super important in my life. I believe that a partner does not always have to fully meet this requirement. Love is unisex and sexuality is something else again. When it comes to sexuality, there are certain qualities that attract me more than others. That might be masculinity in a lot of things, but it doesn’t matter if it’s a cis man or a trans man, for example. If you meet and are attracted to one level, you can figure out the rest as well.
A question that may interest users who have little contact with the queer community: How can a heterosexual cis person support the LGBTIQA+ community?
I think it’s super important that there are people standing up for people who don’t look and feel like you. The queer community is a safe space and it’s important and it’s great, but the community can’t do that much without it Ally’s It starts with being empathetic, i.e. listening to people, understanding, not doubting people when the experience is different from your own. You can find a lot on the internet these days. So many people tell their stories, have great tips. As a queer person, I can also be an ally for trans people. For me, the first step is to listen and then, as a second step, not to be afraid to speak up. In the last few years I have noticed how little civil courage there is. Don’t be afraid of issues and have honest conversations, hold up a mirror to yourself and then understand how to advocate for people. I don’t get tired of this! If friends mismix people or use terms that I know they might find trans people offensive, I say so. And I don’t come out with a big bang, I say it again and again – it sticks at some point.
Maybe it can be better accepted without the big morale club?
People don’t change from one day to the next. I also noticed that with my father, who had a lot of reservations. Because I gave it the space to develop, but also demanded it, it came about over a period of time. It’s not about prohibitions or not being allowed to do things, it’s about understanding why it’s not cool to do that.