Senses Fail, with Silverstein | 6 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 8 | The Beacham, 46 N. Orange Ave. | 407-246-1419 | thebeacham.com | $18-$20
Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen is queer.
He is not straight. He is not gay. He is not bisexual.
He is engaged to a woman.
This may be confusing for those who feel the need to label Nielsen’s sexual orientation, but the singer says he identifies as queer, a term once considered derogatory but today has been proudly co-opted by those who feel their sexual orientation is outside the societal norm.
After coming out late last year, he says his own sexual fluidity is often misidentified, even by his own fanbase. So he’s using his music to educate those who “just don’t know,” he says. “I’m trying to further the discussion on sexuality and gender.”
Over the past year, the hardcore-punk band’s frontman, who came out in 2014 as someone who struggled with sexual addiction due to his inability to come to grips with his sexual orientation, has become more aggressive about addressing LGBTQ issues. Although Nielsen’s lyrics have always been autobiographical, his coming-out experience has become a staple in the band’s newer music.
Senses Fail’s latest album, Pull The Thorns From Your Heart, documents the singer’s struggle with the shame and anxiety of coming out. It contains a positive message for those who’ve been through a similar experience.
The 31-year-old Nielsen, a Buddhist, says he wants listeners who identify with the message to know they are not alone, and that it’s OK to be yourself. If people don’t agree with the band’s approach, he says, he doesn’t care – it’s not up for discussion.
“I’m getting it up there for the people who need guidance,” he says. “I’m not doing it for the people who don't care. I'm doing it for the one person that does care.”
If anyone tries to stifle his message, he says, he’ll only become louder.
“It's more about not giving [anyone] a choice on whether or not to be accepting,” Nielsen says. “I want to make to where you can’t actively participate in Senses Fail if you disagree.”
Nielsen’s band members fully support his sentiments.
“From the get go with this record, Buddy has been very clear of how he wants this band, what it means to him and how he wants to portray it to the rest of the world,” says Chris Hornbrook, the band’s drummer and newest member (he’s also the drummer for post-hardcore band Poison the Well).
Nielsen said he sees the most backlash from white males who are sick of hearing about other people’s suffering.
“[Some people] don't have the capacity of understanding what it's like to live with outside of the normal, hetero-normal, white culture,” he says. “It's something that's has to be learned. It's something you have to work toward.”
“I’m lucky,” Hornbrook agrees, “but there are people out there who aren't as lucky. Imagine being born homosexual and being born in Saudi Arabia or homosexual and growing up in Congo or somewhere in Africa. You can't say who you are there, or they're going to kill you.”
Even in the United States, it’s not always safe to say who you are – as of mid-November, 22 transgender individuals have been murdered in the U.S. during 2015. That’s more than any other year transgender murders have been documented. According to the Washington Post, trans people also face higher rates of suicide and are four times more likely to live in poverty compared to the general population.
Since Nielsen’s coming out, he and the band have made it part of their mission to be vocal about these and other queer issues. He addresses the subjects on the band’s social media accounts and even in between songs at shows. Sometimes, he says, it causes a ruckus among fans who don’t care for his so-called “gay rants.”
Nielsen is not afraid to challenge unfavorable comments, and he welcomes the opportunity to talk about how words can, in fact, hurt. Over the years, it’s been part of the punk/alternative tradition to use music as a platform for social change. Hornbrook points out that bands like Anti-Flag, Rise Against and Against Me (whose singer is a transgender woman) have used the stage to give voice to issues that resonate with them.
And if fans don’t like what they hear? Well, nobody’s forcing them to listen. “You can walk away,” Hornbrook says.
“Don't come to shows, don't buy music, don't support the band, don't go to the Facebook page,” Nielsen adds.
Despite that attitude, though, people still respond – even people who don’t agree.
“It's kind of a Howard Stern effect in a way,” he says. “I bother people so much that they have to pay attention, which is really interesting.”
In the end, though, the message is not about arguing with haters. It’s about making people feel OK about who they are. “If you’re born male and attracted to a male, then that’s the way it is,” Hornbrook says. “You shouldn’t have to feel shameful about that.”
Senses Fail embarked on a co-headlining tour with Silverstein on Nov. 18. The tour will make two stops in Florida (Dec. 7 in Ft. Lauderdale and Dec. 8 in Orlando), where they’ll be selling T-shirts that read “Queer Hardcore” on the back. As part of a meet-and-greet VIP package, Senses Fail is giving away patches with the band’s name with the words “no racism, no sexism, no homophobia.”
Andrew Caplan is a reporter in Citrus County and can be contacted at [email protected] or on twitter @CaplanChronicle.