CONTENT WARNING: Article contains sensitive topics including sexual assault.
Kim Petras rose to international acclaim at the age of 16, when she became the world’s youngest person to ever undergo gender-confirmation surgery. A year before her surgery, she released her first single, Fade Away. Since then, she has released three EPs, two studio albums, and an impressive amount of singles. Her bubblegum pop and proclamations of “woo-ah!” have won her quite the fanbase, and her public 2009 transition certainly contributed to an ongoing dialogue. Without a doubt, Petras is a star.
However, her work in bringing transgender people into the public eye by her mere existence is tarnished by the man who helps write her music—Dr. Luke, the man who sexually assaulted Kesha. Her most recent album, Turn Off The Light Vol. 2, released in October of 2019, lists Lukasz Gottwald, Dr. Luke, as a writer on every song.
When the two narratives collide, we see an interesting question emerge. How do we approach the situation of one of the most successful and prominent transgender figures of today financially supporting and furthering the career of a rapist? We see examples of the “Petras problem” all throughout the LGBTQIA+ community. For example, in Caitlyn Jenner’s passionate support of Donald Trump, James Charles’ ebola comments and RuPaul’s mistreatment of transgender women.
Obviously, every single one of these people has done something wrong. At the same time, each one of these people has brought LGBTQIA+ issues into the public eye. Caitlyn Jenner started a national conversation with her transition. However, as the most visible transgender figure in the United States for a number of years, Caitlyn most prominently used her platform to support current president Donald Trump, who has publicly supported workplace discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people, cut funding for HIV/AIDS research and advocated for allowing medical personnel to deny queer people the right to healthcare based on their identity. James Charles made news as the first ever “Coverboy,” breaking down notions about gendered products in the makeup industry. However, he also perpetuated racist remarks about Africa and the ebola crisis. RuPaul has done more than any of these people in bringing the LGBTQIA+ community to light, arguably making drag a viable career choice and supporting queer artists through his show, Drag Race. RuPaul also didn’t allow trans queens to compete on the show, forced Carmen Carrera to pause her transition to participate and misidentified trans icon and LGBTQIA+ trailblazer Marsha P. Johnson as a drag queen in the first episode of Drag Race.
As a community, it’s times like this when we need to take a step back. Where do we draw the line? Which crimes are unforgivable? How do we determine what to do about these situations? If it were as simple as giving these celebrities community service or making them sit behind bars for a few months, our problem would be solved, but as a community, we are the judge and jury for those who represent us on a national and global level. As the people who give these people a platform, we also have the right to take that platform away.
As much as I love earworms like Petras’ I Don’t Want It At All or Hillside Boys, are they worth partially negating the efforts of the #MeToo movement and Kesha herself in raising awareness against issues of sexual assault? In my opinion, I don’t think so. There’s no doubt that Petras is talented, and I respect her and her art, but I don’t respect her decision to continue working with Dr. Luke. The way that we impact change is by forcing these artists to change their ways. It’s not impossible, especially not for Petras. A budding star, she has years of music-making ahead of her in the event that she separates herself from Dr. Luke. In fact, although the “Petras problem” plagues the LGBTQIA+ community, we’ve seen recovery and growth from it. RuPaul saw the light and apologized, and is now actively supporting trans artists and pushing trans narratives on Drag Race. Whether this initiative is genuine or not, at the end of the day, it is doing more good than harm in supporting LGBTQIA+ artists. Petras’ lack of activism coupled with her financial support is not putting her in the same position. So, I ask you to hold one another accountable—yes, Keeping Up With the Kardashians may be funny, and Turn Off The Light Vol. 2 may be perfectly timed for Halloween, but these guilty pleasures are not worth it. They do permanent harm rather than even temporary good. Support LGBTQIA+ artists, but only those who are doing genuine good. Be wary of the Petras problem.