- Queer Responses to Sexual TraumaThe Voices of Tori Amos’s “Me and a Gun” and Lydia Lunch’s Daddy Dearest
This essay explores the solo musical voice responding to sexual violation. When an artist’s solo voice provides the entire musical fabric of a piece about sexual violence, how is the trauma’s impact on body and soul inscribed onto that voice, inflecting the words and shaping the piece? In the two analyses below, we will see how various nonverbal and bodily/rhythmic dimensions of music and performance, especially vocal timbre, communicate in ways that language by itself does not. As Yvon Bonenfant explains, “Timbre carries connotations of touch through its relationship to the notion of texture. We can perhaps imagine timbre as a complex form of tissue or a touchable fabric. It is layered, multi-faceted and rich with complexity and information.”1 My analyses also focus on the ambivalence present in each artist’s intuitive response to sexual trauma—the embracing of contradictory perspectives, the ambiguous blurring of “harmful” with “healing”—in these two very different presentations of trauma and transcendence. Note that although “ambivalent” and “ambiguous” are often used colloquially to mean “not caring which of two choices is made,” my essay retains the stricter sense of the prefix ambi-, meaning “both”: each piece constructs its complex and ambivalent subjectivity by juxtaposing contrasting aspects of negotiating trauma. Ultimately I seek to articulate a sex-positive feminism capable of reconciling Tori Amos’s more mainstream presentation in “Me and a Gun” with the far more radical stance taken by Lydia Lunch in Daddy Dearest. The first half of this essay introduces the main analytical issues I will explore: emotional ambivalence, performativity, the queerness of trauma, and sex positivity. I hope this discussion will both adequately prepare the reader for the analyses that follow and allow the works [End Page 1] themselves to resonate sufficiently. Readers are strongly encouraged to listen to both works, which are readily accessible online.2
Feminism, Sex Radicalism, and the Queerness of Trauma
Sometimes, counterintuitively, embracing a traumatic experience provides a way to move past it. Put another way, the difference between that which harms and that which heals is not always so clear. An example of this fruitful ambiguity can be seen in recent therapeutic developments for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) who are being successfully treated with “immersion therapy” in what amounts to virtual reality video games that re-create, as realistically as possible, the various sights, sounds, smells, and physical sensations that characterized their wartime experiences. The theory is that revisiting the trauma will rid it of its overwhelming psychic power, as repeated exposure eventually brings desensitization, “disconnect[ing] the memory from the reactions to the memory” so that the subjects need not inevitably continue to relive the trauma. Though gaining traction, such therapy remains controversial, for it is seen as both “intuitively obvious and counterintuitive”: one major fear is that repeatedly immersing a traumatized subject in such a potent form of revisitation might actually cause further damage. The ambiguity at the heart of this therapy illustrates the contradictions and connections that exist between healing and trauma, states that can seem indistinguishable from one another.3
Working with autobiography, Tori Amos and Lydia Lunch have created fierce artworks that “pull their own masks off and use them to pan for universal gold.”4 Amos’s 1992 a cappella song “Me and a Gun,” about rape, and Lunch’s 1984 monologue Daddy Dearest, about childhood sexual abuse, are two recordings that differ greatly in the stories of sexual violence and the visions of empowerment they present. Yet in both pieces, I argue that personal transcendence is performed via multivalent presentations melding victimhood, “reliving,” and healing.
Tori Amos (b. 1963) is an alternative rock diva, singer-songwriter, and pianist. Her songs frequently portray a defiant yet vulnerable woman who often takes a personal, “confessional” stance in problematizing aspects of modern Western identity such as sexuality, archetypal female roles and relationships, [End Page 2] and the uneasy role of the church in her life.5 “Me and a Gun” responds on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels to...