Beth Ditto Loves Wal-Mart, Sagittarii, and Her Queer People
If there’s one thing Beth Ditto loves, it’s Wal-Mart. “I go 100 times. It’s just the only place to go.” The Arkansas native and frontwoman of the post-punk-meets-electro-dance-meets-indie-rock band Gossip says her upbringing was strangely down-to-earth—in a “backwoodsy-liberal” kind of way. Growing up in the American South, Ditto says she knew she was queer, but didn’t quite know where to go from there. “I remember there was this Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue commercial that came on, and I, to my sister, I was like, ‘I want that.’ And she was like, ‘Ew, why?’,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘Ooh, don’t say that again.’ I think we all have that story, and for a lot of people it’s worse.” Ditto, who has been vocal in her support of feminist causes and issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, moved to Washington in 1999 and soon after formed Gossip with Brace Paine, and later, Hannah Blilie. The band, which came up under similarly transgressive, late-Riot Grrrl groups like Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, recently announced a reunion tour to mark the tenth anniversary of their fourth album, Music For Men. This Saturday, Gossip is headlining LadyLand, a two-day music festival created by New York nightlife legend Ladyfag. As the festival happens to coincide with World Pride, Interview spoke with Ditto about what Pride means to her in 2019, the legacy of Stonewall, and passing the proverbial torch to the next generation of queer firebrands.
MACIAS: I wanted to talk to you about headlining LadyLand and reuniting the band, because when I first saw the announcement, I was really, really excited. How did that all happen?
DITTO: Aw. Luckily, this all worked out around Pride. When the idea came up, I was like, “Yeah, that is exactly what I want to do.” There’s been a lot people asking, “Do you plan on playing a show a here?” No, we’re not getting back together or anything. We’re just doing a show. It just sounded like the nice thing to do to make it not just another show—to do it for my people. Feels good. I prefer the word “my people,” because I feel like “my community” has been really taken over. Did you notice that? My boyfriend, Teddy, watches this show called Forged in Fire. It’s a competition show about making a knife. Basically, its dad TV. I was watching this show, and I swear to God I heard someone say, “In the forging community…” and I was like, somebody needs to get the hell out of there with that. I get it and it’s cute and it’s sweet, but I’m also, “Wow. That does not mean what it used to.”
MACIAS: It’s your first day in the U.S. for your tour and you’re headlining this hyper-femme, non-binary festival, alongside the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. What sort of feelings or emotions does that arouse?
DITTO: I don’t always go to Pride celebrations. I do a lot of parades, but our parade in Portland doesn’t have any floats or anything fun. It’s only three really cool things. The rest of it is, for some reason, Comcast bands and the Comcast employees wearing Comcast Pride t-shirts walking down with the band. It’s so weird. You’re like, “What the hell is this?” I think we’re living in an era when we’re talking about trans rights and what we are going to do to protect our friends and the people that we love. That’s one of the scary things, being a documented trans person. It’s parallel to the DREAMers Act, where it’s like, “oh, now these people are in the system and now they’re targeted.” What the fuck are they supposed to do? It’s a scary time to be a person who has something to lose.
MACIAS: Oftentimes when we talk about Pride, we immediately think about just gay men celebrating and partying.
DITTO: Which is cool.
MACIAS: There’s room for that. But with this festival, I feel like it’s opening up a necessary space.
DITTO: I think it’s punk. It’s not playing a rooftop show for Smirnoff, which I would do in a heartbeat because this girl does not have shame. I feel so exhausted, and I feel like we all need this festival. We need it to be put on by people who are really cool. It’s an example of resilience. We’re not going away. You can take away whatever you want, you can pretend that we don’t exist, you can try to erase us, but we’re not going fucking anywhere. We’re the most flamboyant people. I have to remind myself that you don’t wake up and everything is okay one day. I think that’s how we felt when Obama was elected, right? We were like, “Well, change has already come.” We’ve seen a shift in electing an African-American president and his middle name is fucking Hussein. It felt like we all had so much hope, and then forgot that, actually, things don’t change overnight. The queer community is one that’s always changing and shifting, and has so much to include, so many identities. That’s what’s so beautiful about us. One out of every 20 kids. We’re this large umbrella that includes literally every race, every religion, every group, every ability. It’s a really special culture, and protecting it and advancing it and the way that we’re always changing, is the beauty of us. It’s not just a rainbow flag. But we’re to the point now where we’re just like, “I will wear that fucking flag. I will get that fucking cake. Whatever it takes to make you know that people see me and know we are not going anywhere.” I don’t know, I’m caffeinated.
MACIAS: I am too. But you’re articulating it in a really nice way.
DITTO: What’s your sign? Are you a Virgo? What are you?
MACIAS: I’m a Sagittarius.
DITTO: Oh my god. The bosses of my life.
MACIAS: What are you?
DITTO: I’m a Pisces.
MACIAS: Oh, awesome.
DITTO: I’m surrounded by Sagittarii, and they’re always the people who are in charge of me. “Okay, Beth, turn right.” Oh, yeah, thanks. People like me need a Sagittarius in their life. Or, like, seven of them.
MACIAS: There’s probably a big chance that there’s going to be young, queer kids at this festival who might be hearing Gossip’s music for the first time. What is the message that you hope they get from this experience?
DITTO: Music with guitars is necessary, kids. Let them have the little EDMs. The thing I would want to get through to them is… What are we talking–is it all-ages?
MACIAS: I think it might be 16-and-up?
DITTO: That’ll do. 12-year-olds don’t really need to see my titties. Or do they? Hopefully, they realize to keep paying it forward. Not to get complacent. You don’t do it for your generation now. You do it for what’s going to happen in 10 years.
MACIAS: Are you excited to see anyone else? Do you know who else is playing?
DITTO: I do, but then I don’t. I looked at the flyer and then forgot. Who else is playing?
MACIAS: Yvie Oddly and Violet Chachki are performing. You were a judge on RuPauls’ Drag Race in 2012, right?
DITTO: Yes. I’m the worst judge. Unless it’s like, I don’t know, a crochet contest. I’m really bad at telling you the bad things. I’m just like, “Who am I to tell this person that made this fucking huge great effort that’s like, ‘Girlfriend, your walk was all crazy.'” I don’t even walk in heels. I’m really happy that we’re going to play, and I can’t wait to be in New York around all the queers. Hit me up on Instagram if anybody reads this. Let me know what I should wear. That’s what’s on my mind right now.