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Billy Bragg opens up about making song lyrics trans inclusive: “I’m reflecting the changing times we live in”

Billy Bragg has changed the lyrics to one of his songs in order to make it more inclusive for trans fans

By Elizabeth Aubrey

Billy Bragg leaning on a stool and smiling to camera
Billy Brag (Credit: Alamy)

Billy Bragg has opened up about the reasons behind why he’s made the lyrics to one of his songs more inclusive.

Bragg, who is currently in the middle of an extensive UK tour, has changed the lyrics to his 1991 track ‘Sexuality’ from “Just because you’re gay, I won’t turn you away/ If you stick around, I’m sure that we can find some common ground” to “Just because you’re they, I won’t turn you away/ If you stick around, I’m sure that we can find the right pronoun”.

In an article for The New Statesmen, Bragg explained in detail about his reasons for changing the lyrics after he received criticism online for the decision.

Bragg said: “Last week, I found myself under fire from gender-critical activists on Twitter, who were agitated to discover that I had changed the lyrics to my 1991 single ‘Sexuality’ when performing the song live on tour. Although music cannot change the world – it has no agency – it can change your perspective and challenge your prejudices.

“Throughout my career, I’ve used my songs to promote allyship among my audience: for the female victims of male violence in songs such as ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Valentine’s Day Is Over’, and for the gay community in ‘Tender Comrade’, as well as the aforementioned ‘Sexuality’.

“The latter was released at a time when a combination of the Aids epidemic and the Tories’ Section 28 legislation stirred up a moral panic against homosexuality. Thirty years later, however, encouraging your audience to find common ground with the gay community is no longer such a challenging statement.”

He continued: “We’ve come a long way since then. Equal rights legislation has given gays and lesbians the same benefits and protections as everybody else. But for all our progress, there remains one group of marginalised people whose legitimacy can be questioned among liberal circles: transgender women. The comments of a few high-profile gender-critical feminists has created a quandary for some leftists. Those of us who formed our political beliefs in the 1970s and 1980s are instinctive supporters of women’s rights. Our moral compasses are confused.

“The younger generation can see that we are conflicted. Every night on tour, I frame ‘Sexuality’ with a plea of support for Stonewall, the UK’s premier defender of LGBTQ rights, which is currently under attack from powerful anti-trans elements within the government and the media. Witnessing the response at one show, someone tweeted how amazing it was to see people who grew up in the 1980s roaring in approval at a statement of support for trans rights.”

He concluded his piece: “I’m not erasing the gay community when I change the lyrics to ‘Sexuality’, I’m simply updating them to reflect the changing times we live in. My hope is to encourage others of my generation to do the same with their long-cherished notions of an inclusive society.”

Bragg will continue his tour this week with dates in Cambridge, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield.

A full list of his upcoming dates can be found here.