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(Credit: Kris Krug)

Music

Billy Bragg explains why he has changed the 'Sexuality' lyrics

Folk-punk icon Billy Bragg has discussed why he has taken the decision to change the lyric to his classic track ‘Sexuality’. Writing in a recently released new op-ed, he revealed that he wants to make it trans-inclusive and for the modern age.

Bragg is currently midway through a UK tour, but this hasn’t stopped the prolific writer from developing the lyrics. He’s changed the lyrics 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 his New Statesman piece, Bragg detailed the reasons behind the lyric change, and revealed that gender-critical activists have been disapproving of his rework. “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,” Bragg explained. “Although music cannot change the world – it has no agency – it can change your perspective and challenge your prejudices,” he added.

The Barking-born singer then drew attention to the fact that across his career, he’s promoted allyship in many different ways. He pointed to highlighting the plight of female victims of male abuse in his songs such as ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’. He also mentioned that he wanted to promote allyship with the LGBTQ+ community in 1988’s ‘Tender Comrade’.

Ever the political activist, of ‘Tender Comrade’, Bragg explained how he released it at the time when the Aids epidemic was at its height, and discussed the homophobia of the Thatcher government’s Section 28 legislation, and how it demonised homosexuality in the face of the epidemic. Showing how times have changed, he said: “encouraging your audience to find common ground with the gay community is no longer such a challenging statement.”

Bragg then sought to pick apart the furore that his changing the ‘Sexuality’ lyrics stoked. He admitted that whilst “gays and lesbians” have the same “benefits and protections are everybody else”, that transgender women remain “marginalised”, not just by bigots but in “liberal circles” as well.

He discussed his personal conundrum, writing: “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.”

One of the most perceptive songwriters out there, Bragg said that the updated version of ‘Sexuality’ is framed as a piece of support for Stonewall, the iconic UK charity that has defended LGBTQ+ rights since the days of Section 28 and is now under fire from homophobic elements in government and the mainstream media.

He concluded his monumental piece by saying: “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.”

Listen to the original ‘Sexuality’ below.