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Voices

How this queer nonbinary musician found resilience and self-acceptance through music and love

VOICES - Alexander Millar
Liam Woods

Alexander Millar shares their experience from navigating a toxic record deal to discovering their true self.

I came out as queer in 2017 while in the middle of navigating a rough spot in my life: a mangled record deal, the ruins of a 15-year friendship, and the general collapse of my hardwon rockstar dreams. At the same time, I’d met the love of my life and had never been happier.

Let me back up.

I’ve been performing longer than I haven’t been. In 2015, after much hard work, my friends and I got our band signed to an indie label after a sold-out showcase at The Troubadour in West Hollywood.

Sadly, the guy who runs the indie label - let’s call him Mr. Small Time - wasn’t in it for the music, fame, or money. He’s in it for the emotional abuse of the artists he signs and the people who work for him because it makes him feel powerful. Big fish, small pond syndrome. His staff are terrified of him. He likes that. A lot of the artists he signs are battling substance problems, so he’ll get them into Alcoholics Anonymous and become their Sponsor. He loves that. It gives him control over their professional and personal lives simultaneously. Mr. Small Time grants and withholds label resources without reason or logic to his artists, forcing them to try to guess his motivations. He likes that, too.

The problem for him is that we got signed for the sole purpose of being able to play our music on a larger scale, and boy, are we hungry and ready to work. We ask a lot of questions. He doesn’t like that. So, he tells us to be “patient.” Removes all our music from streaming services. Forbids us from playing shows without his approval. Has us showcase for him, personally. Over and over. Tells us we don’t have “It.” Tells us to study other artists. Anything to keep us in a holding pattern.

Meanwhile, I’m questioning a lot of things about myself. If I’m not playing music, who am I? And while I’m at it, who do I like? Looking back at my history, I’d always cared more about who was traveling inside the person I was with than their current physical form.

I go on this dating website, and under “orientation,” it has “sapiosexual” as an option. Huh. Never heard of that before. It definitely feels more correct than “straight,” though. I’ll click that for now.

A year passes. For reasons I’ll never know, Mr. Small Time finally does something; he releases funds for us to re-record our demo album. While working on that record, I met my now-partner, Kai. We matched. Chatted about Star Trek. Agreed to meet in person. And the first time I saw her? I was done for. Her radiant energy exploded out towards me like sunshine, laughter, and joy all at once. Talking to her was like talking to an old friend. No, more than that, it was like someone I already knew. Maybe someone I’d always known through every life. I was so determined to court her that, occasionally, I wasn’t sure if I liked her. All she knew was that she enjoyed talking to me, too. Don’t worry, we sorted it out. Miles Davis helped.

Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other. We’re an effective team.

The more we learned about each other, the more she helped me put words to the parts of myself for which I had never had language. Words like Queer. Nonbinary. Neurodivergent. And by putting names to those long lost and floating pieces of myself, I felt whole for the first time. We’ve been together for eight years, and she’s a constant source of inspiration.

Sadly, at the time, Mr. Small Time was still in control of my life. And all those songs that he liked before? The ones that got us signed? He didn’t like the re-recorded versions and thought maybe we should just release the demo versions.

So he sat on our record. Refused to release it.

When we demanded that he release it, Mr. Small Time said he could only offer minimal support.

So we refused his offer.

After a lengthy legal struggle, we secured new management who worked with our lawyer. In 2019, four years after we signed with Mr. Small Time, we won. We walked with the rights to our Master recordings without owing a dime.

It was a hollow victory. Nobody remembered us. We went from selling out shows to playing to no one. Again.

It was too much. The folks I played with either departed due to creative differences or threw in the towel. I can’t say I blame them. I, however, couldn’t quit. It’s who I am. So I found new players, booked a tour, and started again.

Then 2020 begins.

Hi, I’m Alex, and I’m a white, queer, nonbinary, neurotypical(?) quarantined indie artist.

My lifelong Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was back in full force after 20 years dormant. And I was utterly unprepared.

So was my partner. Of course, Kai knew that I had OCD when we got together, but neither she nor I knew that we’d smash-cut from subclinical to me washing my hands with bleach so much that they bled. Crying on the bathroom floor because I’d cut myself trimming my toenails, and now there’s blood everywhere. How am I gonna clean it all? What if I have some unknown tropical disease?

Having OCD isn’t funny and quirky like they make it in the movies. It also doesn’t give you detective superpowers. It’s like having a radio on in your mind all the time, whispering the most vile, putrid shit that your subconscious carries around. At the same time, you try not to react as your day job manager waxes poetic about the importance of Google Sheets.

I was lucky. Kai weathered the storm with me. I have an excellent care team, family, friends, support groups, and a great therapist. I’m currently functional as I write this due to a combination of hard work, love, and large doses of medication.

I got an opportunity after crawling my way out of that mind-toilet like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting. I was chosen as one of 33 CA Creative Corps recipients, generously supported by the California Arts Council and administered by Community Partners. This meant that I could work on a very unique and creative proposal.

Every single show or concert I’ve ever played or attended solely caters to the needs of neurotypical folks. I wanted to help make an exciting and entertaining mini-festival experience that centered on the needs of neurodiverse people, both on and off stage. There was nothing around like this when I was a kid. Yeah, there were the rock and punk shows that I cut my teeth on, but even those were mostly cis-het and definitely neurotypical. It was also my experience that it wasn’t ok at all to be openly LGBTQIA2S+, especially as an AMAB individual in the spaces I performed.

I spent the first half of my life trying to fit into a world that didn’t want or understand me. And because I didn’t see myself reflected anywhere, I didn’t understand myself. Neuronite ties into my personal journey. This will also be the first time I’ve ever stepped onstage as my whole, queer, nonbinary, neurosparkly self, let alone in an environment that reflects my values.

Someone smarter than me once said that we never stop coming out, and I think that’s true. This is one of those moments for me in multiple ways.

Hi, I’m Alex, and I’m a white, queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent artist-agitator. It’s nice to finally meet you!

Alexander Millar (they/them) is a queer nonbinary award-winning songwriter, composer, performer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Learn more about them and their work at alexandermillar.com.

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit pride.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at [email protected]. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of PRIDE.com or our parent company, equalpride.

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Alexander Millar