Kurt Cobain, Identity and Sexuality

Kurt Cobain on Identity

This floated around about a month ago, generally focused around a single quotation “I even thought that I was gay.” The problem being that it’s not the crucial point of what he’s discussing.

To be gay, to be homosexual, is specifically an expression denoting sexual orientation and the romantic and/or sexual linkages resulting from it; for Cobain to be gay would have meant describing himself as romantically or sexually attracted to men. He doesn’t do this. The full statement is “I even thought that I was gay, that it might be the solution to my problem, although I never experimented with it.”

This section of the conversation was an extension of an overall discussion of his family difficulty, his difficulties fitting in at school, his difficulties forming social bonds to other males, his hatred of the way women are treated by a society that continues to promote misogyny. What he’s discussing is teenage identity rather than sexuality. His rejection of the traditional male formulation of self – i.e., expression via sports, via exclusively male activity, via the desired or actualised subjugation of women and a sense that they’re just another form of sporting achievement – is what leads to the “there’s something different about me” teenage blues in the case of Mr. Cobain.

What’s interesting though is his idea that self-defining as gay would have been an improvement in his circumstances – like receiving a pass allowing him to opt-out of the norms he was rejecting; defining oneself sexually in order to escape a sense of being in some way warped and being attacked for it. Of course he retreats from this – being known as an openly gay male would, I imagine, have been a fairly hazardous experience. It shows a distinct shortcoming in Cobain’s knowledge and understanding of homosexuality that he seems to be adopting his ‘abusers’ beliefs as his own – they think that his absence of desire for traditional male pursuits and attitudes makes him gay and teen Cobain, instead of saying that they were wrong and he obviously wasn’t gay it was simply that he didn’t agree with them, he says “maybe they’re right.” It’s a telling indication of the internalised values Cobain had learnt growing up and had been unable to shed at the point in time he was discussing.

It’s also a curious indication of his views on the purpose of identity; identity to be adopted as a veil to keep others away and to avoid being criticised. The idea is one in which being gay is a way for him to be ignored, to not be thought of as simply weird or wrong. Later in life he’s described as such a pleasant, decent and funny guy by those he knows but is often considered taciturn and socially withdrawn by others who only casually come into contact with him – again, becoming known for this allows him to evade and avoid exposure and discomfort. Similarly, toward the last year or so of his life, having discovered that withdrawing just led to increased intrusion into his private affairs – he tries the same thing, to adopt a positive identity and to say positive things, again, as a way of simply keeping people at a distance from his real thoughts and feelings.

In the case of teen Cobain, rather than arguing for the virtues and value of his beliefs and way of being – it seemed an easier solution, at least at one point, to just say “yeah, I’m gay, whatever you say.” For later Cobain there was still this tendency to use identity as a form of hiding.


4 thoughts on “Kurt Cobain, Identity and Sexuality”

  1. I thought this was an outstanding understanding of Kurt Cobain’s comments about his teen years & confusions. Your article provides the clearest interpretation of how Cobain internalized his youthful anxieties, & how continued to find masks that allowed him privacy throughout his life. I am very impressed by your work here! Thank you!

    1. At some point coming to that realisation that one’s heroes were just as prey to the confusions inherent in growing and enduring as anyone else and just trying to be honest about that – pleased people are cool with my speculations. In some ways its a mark of his great honesty and self-awareness that he’s aware of and can comment calmly on something that many men might seek to suppress or explain away…

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