Queer artist Morgxn on growing up in the South: ‘I was a rainbow flag in a bowl of gravy’

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‘I’ve always been drawn to the West,’ Morgxn tells me as we settle in at the cafe.

It’s located in North Hollywood and looks like it came straight from the set of a Western movie in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Morgxn, who hails from Nashville, enthuses about its character and detail.

Sitting across from me, I can’t help but take in his own character. He’s wearing a green jacket with pink sunglasses and his nails are painted white. He radiates warmth and ease and openness.

‘Growing up, I could never look in the mirror and say I’m beautiful,’ he says frankly. ‘It was never something I was told you’re allowed to do.’

He brings up this up while talking about Pride, and envisioning the month as a time where he can look at himself and love the version he sees.

When I ask him if it felt like ‘beautiful’ wasn’t a term that was meant for him because it’s often coded as feminine, Morgxn responds quickly: ‘Absolutely, 100 percent.’

Loving yourself for who you are

As an artist, Morgxn’s music is vulnerable and raw. He puts everything out there. His video for Translucent, a single on his recent album, directly tackles the ideas of gender and people’s limited views of masculinity.

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‘In the South, I remember being told, literally, “You can’t say a man is beautiful, you can say a man in handsome.” Now, it doesn’t serve me anymore to label which of my traits belong to which spectrum of gender.’

Labels aren’t something he thinks about for himself. It’s clear when I ask him directly how he identifies.

‘I use he/him pronouns for myself,’ he says easily. Then there’s a long pause. ‘I’ve never been asked the question. People just assume.’

‘When I was 18, I came out. It was such a struggle for me to find the words for what I was feeling and what it meant for a Southern kid.’

He jumped straight into the label of gay, and it didn’t work out the way he expected. ‘When I jumped so deep into this label so suddenly, I didn’t allow myself the time to spend with the grey area.’

The word he settles on is queer, but with some reservations. ‘Still it’s a label and I still think there’s something with labels. Life was so painful for me, because I just needed to come out. I first came out as bi, and then that transitioned into gay. It gave me a place to land, but there are so many different colors to sexuality. That’s what I feel deeply about, exploring what sexuality means.’

Ultimately, he recognizes the profoundness of this moment in the cafe.

‘The privilege I have to sit here and talk about my sexuality and not have fear it will hurt my career, that is a privilege.’

A rainbow flag in a bowl of gravy

Nashville is a ‘melting pot of music’, as Morgxn describes it.

It was a great place to grow as a musician, and it became an outlet for him before he could actually get out of Tennessee.

‘I’m a rainbow flag in a bowl of gravy,’ he says with a laugh. Despite the humerous image, there’s a seriousness to his comment. Music was the only thing for him to get in touch with his own truth.

‘When I was 9 or 10, I ran away from home. I didn’t get very far but I got far enough to scare my family and scare myself. It made me realize, “You want to get out, but you also feel safe in that bubble, which is all you know.”‘

He calls his family beautiful and that was the hardest part. Growing up, he loved his family — still does — but knew he didn’t feel at home in Nashville.

Morgxn eventually did get out, first to college, and then traveling from New York to Los Angeles to make his dream come true and become an artist.

Giving back

Now, he’s miles away from Nashville, and embracing his life as an out and proud artist — and giving back.

‘It’s always been important for me to connect and collaborate with his community,’ he says.

He works with Covenant House, an organization who helps homeless youth, including several LGBTQ youth who find themselves without a home. That’s what drew Morgxn to Covenant House in the first place, the idea of home.

One of his tracks is called Home, and it’s personal for him.

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Recently, he did a performance from his new album, Vital. It became so much more when he asked the kids at Covenant House to create art for the performance space. He gave them one instruction: make art that says what is ‘vital’ to you.

‘What is vital to them is often vital to me,’ he continues, saying working with homeless youth has always been a passion of his.

He’s also doing a project with students called What Is Vital. It includes giving students disposable cameras and having them shoot whatever’s vital to them.

‘I’m a messy queer’

‘As beautiful as it is to see a version of queer displayed in the mainstream, it’s important to show there’s many shades to what that looks like,’ he says as we get on the topic of out artists and movies dominating the waves right now.

This is Morgxn’s shade of queer:

‘I am not just valuable to queer spaces, I belong in mainstream, straight spaces too. Because you will find the young me in those straight spaces.’

He thinks it’s about time there are more queer artists.

Alternative music festival Firefly begins tomorrow and Morgxn will be there. When he got a message from a fan saying how exciting it was that an out artist was going to be performing there, he did his research and discovered how limiting these spaces can be to artists who aren’t straight, white males.

On the topic of representation, he says: ‘Love, Simon is great. It’s great there’s a queer movie about falling in love, but that’s only one shade of our stories.’

Still being scared

‘There’s still a fear of being seen, especially when you spent so much of your life trying not to be seen,’ Morgxn admits.

He doesn’t shy away in his music, but he’s still afraid he’ll put out a song — and they are all personal and real — and it will ruin him.

‘I don’t feel as afraid as I did when I started, because I’ve identified there’s a fear inside but a choice to stand up anyway. By connecting with people, I have realized that I, too, am not alone.’

Morgxn in the cafe | Photo: Anya Crittenton

It’s a journey within himself.

Coming out was only the first step. ‘Love comes from within, it starts with yourself. Does coming out solve everything? It doesn’t.’

Still, he doesn’t think of himself as brave. For him, it’s about learning when you think of your weaknesses, asking yourself: Who is the one ascribing weakness to this trait?

‘I remember struggling with this,’ he admits, before diving into experiences he’s had with people both good and bad.

He participated in New York City’s Women’s March for its first year with his family. While walking down the street carriyng their signs, a man suddenly shouted out and called Morgxn a ‘faggot’. He says it was the first time his mom had ever witnessed something like that. ‘I didn’t even notice it at first, which is both sad and telling. Why was I so desensitized to it?’

He calls it a defense mechanism, but he also wishes he could have said something.

Not every experience is like that, though. Another time, a woman approached him in an Alabama grocery story. He thought for sure she was going to sneer at his pink hair.

‘She comes up to me and she says — and I’m ready for it — she says, “I just want to say, it is so wonderful to see you walking around with your pink hair. It’s so beautiful.”‘

Softness and strength

It’s the kindness and softness he keeps with him, and why he does everything in lowercase. It’s not about aesthetic, it’s about embracing softness and strength working together.

When we part, he leaves me with something I’ll never forget: ‘Sometimes the softest voice is the loudest one.’

Morgxn’s debut studio album, vital, is available now.

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