June 30, 2017


Future LGBTQ History Month: Olly Alexander Will 'Shove a Rainbow in Fear's Face'

Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage
Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

Fuse has been celebrating Pride Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future LGBTQ History before our eyes. To wrap things up, we're commemorating Olly Alexander, the vitally outspoken 25-year-old actor and frontman of the English synthpop band Years & Years.

Born in Sheffield, England, Alexander has been an avid musician and actor since childhood. His band formed in 2010 and, solely through EPs, won the BBC Sound of 2015 honor—six months before they even dropped their debut (and so far only) album, Communion. In addition to singing for a beloved group, he's acted in films like Gulliver's Travels, Great Expectations and Enter the Void, plus TV series Penny Dreadful and Skins. In 2013 he did the play Peter and Alice with acting heavyweights Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. Two years later he headlined the indie Funny Bunny, which he also co-wrote.

Just as high on Olly Alexander's list of accomplishments is his endless stream of vociferous real-talk about sexuality, privilege, mental health, bullying, sex education and safety, HIV testing—on and on, and on and on some more.

"As young as 10 I started fancying boys," he told the Evening Standard this past March. "It’s a common experience but I just wished I wasn’t gay up until the age of 18 or 19.” Speaking about what came afterward, he wrote on Facebook:

"I like having sex, being able to assert myself and talk about my sexuality is an empowering thing for me. It’s a difficult road from shame to acceptance and part of making that journey easier is owning and embracing it all."

Striking down negative perceptions and prejudices are elemental goals for Alexander. In last June's brilliant "Worship" video, he strips down, dances super-sexy and comes thisclose to making out with several men. "I want to stare down fear and intolerance with the queer eyes in my queer face," he commented on the visual. "I want to try to not be afraid. ...  I know that I’m not going to be quiet about it." Playing Glastonbury with Years & Years that same month, he told his crowd, "I would like to ask you to join me, on Pride weekend, and say 'No thank you, fear.' To literally shove a rainbow in fear's face."

Alexander advocates for specifics like more overt gay sexuality in music, and for same-sex pronouns to flourish, and for the idea of "shoving [homosexuality] in your face" to be equivalent with "the way that lots of straight pop stars get to assert their sexuality." He takes care to get so generously, humanly deep with his comments, and recognizes he's a white man in a white man's world, and that oppression is an intersectional disease. "There’s a huge bias and there’s still a lot of micro-aggression and discrimination, structural discrimination, against LGBTQ people," he told Vogue last fall. "We still mainly have male white artists who are representing an incredibly diverse community."

He continued:

"When we have most of the successful LGBTQ artists being white men, we tend to prioritize that narrative over trans people of color or bisexual women or men or lesbian women, and I think there’s a danger when we lift one part of the community up and we silence another part of the community, and we need to encourage the other voices to be heard. ... Within a minority community, the privileged few, which are the white men, tend to rise to the top. If we just continue to repeat that narrative, it will damage a very diverse community."

Olly Alexander speaks on mental health in a similarly nuanced and vociferous manner, not in a welcome-but-kinda-facile "it's okay to talk about it" fashion. He's quick to scrutinize the paucity of resources and attention given to such a critical part of a healthy life, one so many struggle with. "The biggest killer of men under 45 in the U.K. is suicide," he once informed The Independent. "That’s a mind blowing statistic. And I just don’t know if people are aware of that."

He'll get into the nitty-gritty of therapy with you, too. “[Cognitive behavioral therapy] is really helpful if you have a panic disorder or anxiety, which I was definitely experiencing at one stage," he said in a Guardian profile. "CBT does really help you try and relearn ways in which you can deal with those moments of panic or crisis.”

No matter how intelligent or constant or fearless Olly Alexander's commentary is, he knows he's one piece in a huge societal puzzle, telling Digital Spy in 2015:

"I get asked, 'How do you feel being a spokesperson for gay issues?', and what I've come to think is I can't speak for all gay people, because there are so many different issues, and experiences, and different shapes and sizes. But I can speak for myself, and that is what I'm doing if I'm going to be writing songs and giving interviews, I want to be able to speak about something I care about. ... I also believe if you want the world to change, or you want to see social change, you have to be an embodiment of it, so I am 100 percent for pushing equality and equal rights always. I guess that is as much part of the agenda as the music is really, because it's just who I am."

Get all Fuse's Future LGBTQ History profiles, videos and more right here. It's not too late to join the conversation, either, with #FutureHistory, or to tune in on this final day of Pride Month—locate Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.