Gender Diaries: BIIANCO
As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, Milk will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature LA-based electronic chill-wave artist and producer, BIIANCO. Listen to her new single “GET UP” here.
When I was on tour last year, I sat in an old London book store stacked to the ceiling with musky books about the occult. A woman with dark-brimmed glasses held my hand and told me there was something missing in my life as she croakily encouraged me to draw a card to see what that mysterious thing was. I was hanging off her every English word. The card I drew was adorned with one word: “Feminine.”
In twenty something years, my relationship with my feminine has evolved more than a Darwinian theory.
My adolescence was typical for a rural American girl: punctuated with proms, fender benders and acne, but with two very specific differences: I was queer and I had been sexually abused.
Both of my adolescent outliers had one thing in common: they had played out in total secrecy. In a very quiet way, I was grateful for my queerness. I watched my straight friends place an enormous value on the opinions of the young men around them, and I didn’t blame them. Those all American boys had their hearts and what fifteen year old wouldn’t want their crush to want them back? We spent the earliest parts of our female lives struggling (and always failing) to embody the womanhood men had sold us: confident but never overpowering, sensual but never available, gentle but never meek, creative but never too unique, clever but never brilliant.
For me, however, both Jessica AND Joe had my heart and so I found myself secretly striving to be what both a woman or a man might see as a perfect woman. In theory, this meant that my value system was not solely attached to the white, affluent boys who ran our Connecticut town. I cared less about what they thought and did more of what I wanted. In theory, this was a good thing. In practice, however, this made me a playground for bullying. It was in those early adolescent years, where I was slut-shamed for the make outs I made and called a tease for the ones I didn’t, that I started associating my femininity with vitriol.
To top it off, a fear of bullying had choked all my early romantic relationships with girls. I had secret kisses in the bathrooms of parties, stolen glances, promises not to tell for fear of what people would say, and never any stability. It was in these early queer relationships that I started associating my femininity with yearning.
My pre-pubescent sexual abuse played out at the hands of a much older man. It’s a gut-wrenchingly tired story that too many of the women around me have experienced and bear the scars of. My blooming twelve year old femininity had opened me up to the wolves like a curse. It was in this dark moment that I started seeing my femininity as a liability.
The identity war that was raging in my during these formative years (luckily) gave birth to my music. Singing and writing music became my most of fulfilling loves during my youth and set the foundation for the rest of my life.
I went into my twenties with a vagina-shaped chip on my shoulder. I saw my womanhood as a riddle that had no answer. It was a rubix cube with no solution. It confounded me so I left it alone and charged into my music wanting to be like the artists I saw succeeding: I wanted to be more masculine. I learned all the traditionally “masculine” trades. I learned how to produce. I learned how to program my own light shows. I learned how to negotiate my own contracts. I thought it would be the unlock I had been looking for. But, still, it wasn’t quite right to my male peers. I was too aggressive, or cute and nerdy, or “didn’t need their help anyways.” These men were still the gatekeepers for my lifelong dream and I was still not quite right for their party.
And then, slowly, magic happened. I noticed the female musicians around me were frustrated too. I heard whispers of groups forming to manage female artists. I heard rumors of womxn-run collectives popping up to book female-fronted shows. Women started teaching classes to other women on music production. The Los Angeles women around me were forming a music community where they called their own shots and I was starving to be a part of it. For the first time in my life, there was power in being a womxn.
For more than two decades, I’ve lived in a world where gender is a social hierarchy and men are valued higher than women. We just recently started to let gender exist as a horizontal scale where the masculine and the feminine are equally valued, and our identity can sit somewhere on this plane. We’re eliminating the vertical climb and replacing it with fluidity.
And here I am: back in that London magic book store, flipping a card adorned with the word “Feminine” for a psychic who is hellbent on figuring out what’s missing in my life. And, damn, it’s eerily accurate. I had been rejecting my own feminine identity for so long because I had been sold a theory that femininity was weakness or complicated or came with struggle — and I no longer wanted part of that narrative.
So, I started producing my own music and developing a voice for a solo project that could celebrate my femininity and the power that it holds. I vowed to confidently sit in the producer’s chair on this project — a role I had previously seen mostly occupied by men — and I played every instrument on the song.
BIIANCO is fierce, heartfelt, sultry, complex, confident and feminine.
Images courtesy of Chase Leonard
Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.