CONTENT WARNING: This essay contains discussion of transphobia and targeted violence. Resources for those affected can be found at the bottom of the page.
Last year, it was reported that between 2017 and 2021, the number of people murdered for being transgender had risen by a harrowing 93 percent. And with anti-trans sentiment surging in political spheres all around the world – particularly in the US, UK and even here, where a TERF rally in Melbourne ended with police bashing trans activists and shielding their antagonists (including avowed neo-Nazis) – the death toll is only growing… Yet earlier this week, Thy Art Is Murder frontman CJ McMahon felt emboldened to say that a mother “should be burned to death” for appearing to affirm her child’s non-cis gender identity.
According to Reddit user Dubble0Donut, McMahon took to his Instagram Story with content sourced from Matt Walsh – a controversial right-wing figurehead known for spouting dangerous (and demonstrably false) anti-trans propaganda – wherein footage showed an unnamed woman reacting neutrally to her child’s declaration of identity. In the video, the woman asked her toddler, “Are you a boy or a girl?” The toddler responded, “Both,” so the mother laughed and told them, “Okay, you’re both.”
Assuming the mother in question was affirming her child’s answer – and not responding to it in a joking manner, as was implied to be the case by her laughter – McMahon said she “should be burned to death”. Though I’m unable to verify as much, Dubble0Donut said this was “not the first thing [McMahon has posted] that could be interpreted as transphobia”.
The post was removed from McMahon’s Story after a short while, and in a statement posted to his main profile (which has since been deleted altogether – shoutout to Twitter user @ProgPro for archiving the content), the vocalist wrote: “I am going off social media for good. I will only post band-related things on here and will not be contactable, I will start an [OnlyFans account] with my own content and no it will not be nudes or sexual soon.”
Many commenters seemed to side with McMahon, with one writing that he “shouldn’t have taken [his] Story down” because people “need to call out that movement”. He responded directly to that comment, assuring his bigoted fan that he didn’t delete his Story, but it was removed by Instagram after being reported. “I got messages off four stupid people and 100 people backing to protect children from this behaviour,” he wrote. “I’m just ducking done with it all [sic] so I’m gonna go do my own thing.”
After some gentle backlash on social media, and reporting by the likes of MetalSucks and Metal Injection, Thy Art Is Murder acknowledged the controversy by posting the transgender pride flag to their social media platforms, accompanied with the quote: “Setting the record straight, we stand with you.” Comments on the post were initially limited, but they’ve since been opened and – unsurprisingly – flooded with transphobic sentiments. Thankfully though, many commenters have also pointed out how pissweak the post was to begin with.
For starters, limiting the comments at first proves Thy Art Is Murder knew to expect backlash – both from their queer-friendly fans who saw through their flimsy, quarter-arsed attempt at damage control, and from their bigoted fans who would leap at an opportunity to sneer at the trans community. The post itself also failed to even address the situation – McMahon is not attributed to the post, he has shown no remorse and made no apology for the comments he made, and there is no sign he’s willing to take accountability for having said something so dangerous.
The optics here are quite atrocious. Thy Art Is Murder have thrown the trans pride flag up as an attempt to cover their asses after their frontman called for violence against that community – specifically, in case you accidentally glossed over it above, saying a woman “should be burned to death” for merely accepting someone who might be trans. The fact they thought that would be enough to make things right, without even acknowledging what McMahon said, is beyond embarrassing. As a trans person, it’s insulting.
What was the thought process here? Were the band worried they’d miss out on a few sales of their new album (which they have coming out in just over three weeks)? Because they shouldn’t be: transphobic vitriol is in vogue right now – see everything going on with JK Rowling, Graham Linehan, and even locally on the ABC (Four Corners and Media Watch have both platformed anti-trans rhetoric over the past year) – and ultimately, their sales will be fine. Thy Art Is Murder won’t face any longterm consequences for sharing their hatred of people like me – it’s just us that will.
The band can say as many times as they want that they “stand with” us, but McMahon’s comments say otherwise – we know now that we’re not welcome at Thy Art Is Murder’s shows, and if we were targeted or have violence inflicted on us because of our identities, no-one in their camp would come to our defence. The band’s transphobic fans have been galvanised in knowing they can get away with it when they want to antagonise us. And this trickles on well past Thy Art themselves, because those antagonists aren’t just fans of theirs: they’re members of a much broader scene, and they’ll feel comfortable targeting trans people at any show held within it. By making the comment he did, McMahon explicitly told them that violence against trans people is okay. In fact, he encourages it.
Again, the band are unlikely to face any real consequence here, because very few people in the Australian heavy music scene are willing to call out transphobia. None of McMahon’s bandmates are going to address his comments (at least publicly), nor is anyone in the band’s extended camp. None of the bands associated with them will speak out to denounce McMahon or affirm their support for the trans community – they get to stay quiet and watch this all blow over in peace, comfortable feeling like their silence counts as allyship (sidenote: it doesn’t). Nobody comes to defend us when big names in the scene kick us down – Ronnie Radke, for example, is notorious for being loudly transphobic on social media, but Falling In Reverse are still selling out arena tours all over the world.
Trans people are easy targets in 2023. We’re seen as inherently “lesser” than other groups in society; when transphobic sentiments are protested by the mainstream, it’s most often because cis people are also affected by them (like when people criticise anti-trans bathroom laws by pointing to cases where cis people faced violence after mistakenly being read as trans). Recent studies show that as trans people, we’re four times more likely than our cis brethren to be the victims of a crime. And McMahon’s comments only serve to embolden those who commit them.
It’s not as though the frontman called people race traitors for being in interracial relationships, or said that (cis) gay men deserved to face the AIDS epidemic, or that Jewish people control the media; those comments would be met with vocal outcry and McMahon would be forced to address them properly – as should be the case – and Thy Art might even go as far as to fire him (or at least put him in time-out for a while). But nah, McMahon just said a woman should be burned to death because she appeared to affirm a transgender kid’s identity. She wasn’t even outwardly positive about her child saying they were “both [a boy and a girl]” – her reaction was, all things considered, pretty neutral. But according to McMahon, that’s plenty to warrant her brutal murder. And the mainstream consensus says that isn’t worth more than a gentle slap on the wrist.
I’ll get more than a slap on the wrist because of it. Because of comments like McMahon’s, people like me are routinely murdered in broad daylight, the justified excuse being that we had the audacity to exist. Because of people like those leaping to McMahon’s defence, I can’t feel safe being out in public without a weapon on my person. Comments like his put real human lives in real danger, and they shouldn’t be tolerated in the Australian heavy music scene. They shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.
As a public figure – one of the biggest names in modern heavy music, no less – McMahon has a responsibility to protect his fans in marginalised communities. He has transgender fans. His scene is littered with us. And he’s called for violence against us, then had a sook and bailed from the internet after he faced the slightest hint of pushback. As it stands, Thy Art Is Murder don’t stand with the trans community. They stand for cowardice – and we don’t really want cowards in our corner. I reached out to representatives of the band for comment; at the time of writing, they remain silent. A source close to them, however, noted that a formal statement is unlikely to be made.
For now, I’ll leave you on a positive note: while there aren’t many bands in this scene willing to stand up for trans rights, there are some that actually include trans, non-binary and otherwise non-cis members. Some of my favourites include Cherish, Traces, Queerbait, Private Function, The Last Martyr, Hubris, Orpheus Omega, PTL, Stabbitha And The Knifey Wifeys, Ashbel, Adore, Final Girls, Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers, Histamine, Pity Lips and The World At A Glance.
Also keep an eye out for news on TRANSGENRE, a music festival celebrating trans and non-binary voices in Australian music, which will debut in Eora/Sydney at the end of 2023.
For those in need of support, here are some helpful resources: