My Gender is the Fledgling Solo Career of Annie Lennox in the 90’s
Maybe Mom playing “Here Comes the Rain Again” on her tape deck in the shower as one of my earliest memories is why I have such a proclivity to wordplay. Mom blasted music in the shower on her tape deck, even when we lived with my conservative paternal grandparents in the late 80’s. My dad’s mom who made me play her my music in the late 90’s to tell me how “Hit Me Baby One More Time” had dirty messages in it, how a milquetoast hit like “Roll to Me” by the squishy-soft rock group Del Amitri seemed to forebode “roll over me” subliminally, and do I “know what these songs mean?”
(music video for Eurythmics “Here Comes the Rain Again”)
When we were living with my maternal grandfather in the early 90’s I remember my parents, then separated, getting ready to go to a Halloween party dressed as Annie Lennox and Pee Wee Herman. Dad and Mom had similarly gaunt pancake makeup on and Dad was a spitting image of Paul Reubens, even out of costume: a tall, tan, muscled Paul Reubens. Mom had the short blonde Annie Lennox haircut, and she’s half English potentially amping up the arresting cleverness of this eldritch duo.
(music video of Annie Lennox “Why,” 1992)
Annie Lennox’s video album directed by legendary Sophie Muller, corresponding with Lennox’s 1992 solo debut Diva, exaggerate the sphere of gentry, gender, and sexuality as seen and heard in “Money Can’t Buy It” and “Why.” Lennox and Muller curate spaces of gender exploring fluidity, often by creating curious spectacle that’s self-aware of its performance. Reading Lennox’s video album and listening to her music is inhabiting my own story of genderqueer. It complicates my family while investigating the expression of bodies, unrelenting magnitude of small choices through costuming, readying, exploring relationships.
(music video Annie Lennox “Money Can’t Buy It,” 1992)
When I was 9 we went to Daytona Beach, Florida where I met my maternal grandmom for the first time. She left the family when my mom was 13. Her husband, Gian, had 2 granddaughters named Stephanie and Katherine–Katherine was the younger one and the same age as me, Stephanie was the cooler, older one. Katherine taught me what “p-jays” were when she wondered if I brought mine over her house for a sleepover. She said she only saw snow in Daytona Beach once and what an epic tale she wove of it. One day at Grandmom’s we decided to watch Striptease on Cinemax and I was elated to notice Demi Moore dancing to none other than Annie Lennox–”Hey I know this song!” Afterwards we kept up our streak of taboos my newly met Grandmom would allow and watched MTV all afternoon. House of Pain’s “Jump Around!” came on and I was eager to show off and make Katherine laugh, so while jumping in a pogo motion, my dancing turned into annihilation as I knocked over Grandmom’s crystal candy dish. Glass and gold aluminum foil lumps everywhere, Grandmom wheeled over with a dustpan and told us to “just clean it up.”
(clip from the film Striptease, 1996)
My dad was “more of a Eurythmics guy” as in “Would I Lie to You”’s use of the saxophone; I remember him playing sax along to this song on the television growing up. Like Dad, most recall “Sweet Dreams,” but Diva’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” which charms with its sadism, powdered wigs, and John Malkovich equally explores sexual mores, triangulation, and nuance will hopefully be remembered as well.
How much of gender is the space where people wonder about us? “Are they an androgyne?” “Is it our business?” “Do we like them?” “Are they a bitch?” “Why did they have long hair once?” “Do they turn us on?” “Why do they turn us on?” “What does their gender have to do with my sexuality?” “Can I have them?” “Will they have me?” All the wondering as an apparatus to avoid vulnerability, tenderness, asking, and other fears of interpersonal bridge building, learning of each other’s joys, traumas, ennui.
At the end of Diva Lennox sings the ragtime-y “Keep Young and Beautiful.” Originally from 1933 and sung by Eddie Cantor, “Keep Young and Beautiful” was not a satire but a real expectation for femmes, and as Lennox ends on that note of mocking the gendered spectacle, we are left with an album of absolute power to explode common expectations in relationships–with others, media, self.
As Lennox and David A. Stewart disbanded and so did my parents, the solo work of Lennox that corresponded with my family’s separation took on an added significance. As mom got her first cd player she would play Diva while getting ready to go out. The connection between “getting ready” and Lennox’s attention to performance is not lost on me.
Recently, on being a gay icon, Lennox has disidentified herself–she’s said, “the word ‘gay’ is irrelevant,”and many would take this as incendiary, but she continues, “Of course it’s terribly relevant when you are trying to create a campaign. During a human rights movement, it’s terribly important to have labels and to have platforms that are very identifiable, but ultimately we should just be fine with everybody.”
Lennox holds her stance against a strict gender and sexuality binary, one that’s arguably haunted my own family, and, to a palpable extent, me. Though Lennox, or Muller for that matter, are not the first or only artists to facilitate spaces of transparent identity performance, my memories are surreptitiously tied to their specific contributions to these practices as seen and heard on 1992’s Diva forever.
(music video for Annie Lennox “Cold,” 1992)
M. Perle is a person living in Northern Appalachia where they are a PhD candidate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania working on a dissertation about upending carceral logics in the United States. They tweet @mauvelandscapes.