The Third Sex

Sat Jan 10

Meow Meow

The year-end lists have spoken. And, for another year in a row, the most widely covered women artists of 2003 were either at the center of some kind of non-music-related controversy (c.g. the Liz Phair, "Hot Mom" debacle), or splashed half-naked and baby-pink on the cover of a magazine. Earlier this fall, perusing an issue of Rolling Stone, I took on the brief project of counting A. how many articles dealt with women artists prominently and B. how many of those articles focused on the music. The answer was three: two CD reviews (Erykah Badu, Mandy Moore) and one article involving Britney Spears and nudity, in their inextricable linkage.

It is not weird that The Third Sex, a Portland queer/lady band with roots in the original Team Dresch/Bikini Kill era of riot grrrl, is reuniting now, for their first show in around six years. It is exactly the right time. The Third Sex sang in an Anne Sexton style of lyrics--a first-person voice rendered immediate and personal. Their music was punk and melodic, as many bands in the Northwest queer-punk underground were then and still tend to be. They were, in reviews and interviews, often described as "angry" or "pissed off"--obtuse but accurate qualifiers for a band that sang about coming out and growing up, about violence and sexual abuse. They, like most of their peers, aired secrets. I wouldn't call it angry so much as exhibiting the tension inherent in their honesty. They screamed, but it was an implied anger--the audible agitation of a second sex, third sex, a voices from the margins.

Nostalgia is not my bag but there's something to be learned from everything, and riot grrl, existing in its short but powerful blast, taught us this: it's dangerous to keep quiet. With silence, nothing changes. Granted, the Pacific Northwest is blessed with a strong lady presence in its punk scene (though outside of queer and some punk circles, equal representation has yet to conquer emo, hiphop, and electronica). But it's not enough just to show our faces at the shows. It's important to venture outside our safe zones of hetero and homo and lady and man and black and white, into our community, and change a music culture that has apparently evolved very little.