People we Admire: Nathan Gray (The Iron Roses, Boysetsfire, The Casting Out, I am Heresy)

Nathan Gray: Unveiling the Authentic Self Through Personal Liberation

In the world of punk and hardcore music, authenticity is paramount. It's about more than just the music—it's about the raw, unfiltered expression of the self. For Nathan Gray, singer of bands like Boysetsfire, I Am Heresy, The Casting Out and The Iron Roses, this authenticity extends far beyond the stage. Gray shares insights into their journey of self-discovery, the transformative power of music, and the ongoing struggle for acceptance and liberation.

Embracing Identity

Gray's journey towards self-acceptance has been a long and challenging one. Born Nathan Gray on June 15, 1972, in Wilmington, Delaware, they have navigated a tumultuous path marked by struggles with depression, addiction, and a deep-seated sense of identity crisis.

THEY? Wait, isn’t that a spelling mistake? It’s not: If you look at Nathan’s Instagram channel you’ll see two names at the top. Why that?  “Nathan/Natasha are sorta interchangeable to me. I honestly go by both or either. My pronouns are they/them/she/her, and I identify as both trans and non-binary.”

Nathan Gray, Natasha Gray: Singer of The Iron Roses, Boysetsfire, The Casting Out, I Am Heresy), Queer, non binary, trans punk rock haardcore punk role-model

(Photo: Nathan/Natasha Gray)

In recent years, Gray has undergone a profound transformation, embracing their identity as both pansexual and gender-nonconforming/nonbinary. Breaking free from the confines of societal expectations, Nathan Gray now identifies using the pronouns they/them, embracing a fluidity that reflects the complexity of their true self. And that was everything but an easy path, as one can imagine:

I must first state how awesome it is to look back and see my true self shining through…struggling to be seen and revealed. I see it and I’m glad others do as well - it helps me to remember not only how difficult this journey has been, but also how real that struggle was. Coming out and showing my true self has created a joy within me that shines through all I do now, but it has also caused sorrow. I’ve been abandoned, threatened, mocked, shunned and ignored by many folks who I counted on to still love me when the news finally broke. Many quite literally walked away. I find I’m still in grieving over this reality, but the joy and peace I have with myself has really helped me navigate that grief beautifully. I am trans, I am non-binary, I am weird, and I am beautiful, and I have found a love and appreciation for myself I’ve never felt before. No false ego. Simply falling in love with the person that needed me all these years.”

Growing up in a religious household only added to the complexity of their journey, with Gray wrestling with feelings of shame and unworthiness instilled by their upbringing: “Oh goodness, without a doubt. I not only suffered sexual abuse in one particular church, but to be honest… the emotional and mental abuse I suffered in literally every church I was in is staggering. The fear, the shame, the unworthiness… it was crippling. I felt so hopeless. And I still hold some of that lingering hopelessness with me and fight with it every day. I have absolutely zero trust in religion or really anything of a religious or spiritual nature because of what was done, and I honestly hate that. There are some very lovely folks who lead very spiritual and religious lives, and it’s just completely lost on me. At times that anger has even led me to hold very bigoted viewpoints which I regret and have both apologized and separated myself from.”

Nathan Gray, Hardcore Punk Rock Singer of The Iron Roses, Boysetsfire, The Casting Out, I Am Heresy), Non-binary trans sexual hardcore punk role model

(Photo: Per Schorn)

Music as Salvation

Throughout their life, music has served as Gray's saving grace—a lifeline amidst the darkness. From the anthemic hardcore punk of Boysetsfire to the melodic power of The Iron Roses, Gray's musical journey is a testament to the cathartic power of self-expression. In a world where words often fail, music becomes a vehicle for navigating the depths of emotion and finding solace in shared experiences.

For Nathan Natasha Gray, music is more than just a career—it's a calling, a means of channeling their innermost thoughts and feelings into something tangible and transformative. It's a lifeline that has carried them through the darkest of times and provided a beacon of hope in moments of despair: “It means the difference between life and death to me. It means having a way to guide myself through the darkness, the struggles, the anger… having a way to express myself… to pour out the depths of myself on the floor and learn from the many broken pieces. I literally would not still be here without music. It is my soul, my heart, my everything. It’s the only way I can truly express myself.“

Challenging the Status Quo

Gray's journey towards self-acceptance has been met with both support and resistance. In a genre known for its radical politics and progressive ideals, the punk and hardcore scene has provided a platform for Gray to amplify their message of inclusivity and social change. However, as Gray candidly acknowledges, the scene is not immune to its own shortcomings, with issues of discrimination and marginalization persisting within its ranks.

“Much like the larger and pervading cultures, our sub-cultures often bring in a lot more of what we claim to rebel against than we’d like to think. I think many would be shocked at the discrimination people of color, women, and folks within the LGBTQ+ family face within the punk/hardcore scene… but… those who would be shocked would mostly be white, male, straight, and cis-gendered. So… that should sorta tell you all you need to know. Marginalized folks are not shocked that “safe spaces” are never truly safe, and we have all grown used to the idea that we are sadly fighting on our own.”

Despite the challenges, Gray remains steadfast in their commitment to creating spaces where all individuals feel seen, heard, and valued. Through their music and activism, they continue to challenge the status quo, advocating for a more just and equitable world where everyone can live authentically and without fear: “I was bullied in school, I was abused in church, and those two things took up most of my life as a kid. So… when I found angry and outspoken music… it spoke to me immediately. All I knew were musicals and the radio, but once I found out you could use music as a way to not just save myself but also others… that was it. Punk/hardcore music especially showed me that music didn’t have to be pretty love songs all the time, and that it was perhaps even my duty to be heard through music to change the world around me. Because of this, I have clung tightly to a poem by a Palestinian poet named Marwan Makhoul:

In order for me to write poetry that isn’t political
I must listen to the birds
and in order to hear the birds
the warplanes must be silent.”

Advice for Others

For those struggling with their own identity and sense of belonging, Nathan Gray offers words of encouragement and solidarity. They emphasize the importance of finding supportive communities and seeking out allies who will uplift and affirm their identity. Gray also emphasizes the importance of self-care and prioritizing one's mental and emotional well-being amidst the journey towards self-discovery: “Immediately find someone you can trust. I cannot stress this enough… even if that person is a stranger (there are counselors and helpers out there that work for organizations like the Trevor project who you can anonymously chat with). You need friends and you deserve friends. You need family and you deserve family. You cannot and should not have to do this alone. Reach out… hell, write to me on my IG page… it might take a minute for me to respond but I will. We cannot afford one more life lost to shame, fear, and self-hate. With that said… KEEP YOURSELF SAFE WITH UNSAFE PEOPLE. If you have to lie to unsafe friends and family until you can get yourself to a place of safety: lie lie lie. Do not put yourself in danger. You are so important. You are necessary on this planet, and how wonderful that you exist and don’t fit in with this dull and sometimes hateful world. Don’t let them clip your wings! Fight for you! 

Freedom on Four Wheels

In a world where pressures mount and anxieties loom, finding solace and release becomes paramount. For Gray, one avenue of escape lies in the rhythmic roll of skateboard wheels against concrete. Gray opens up about their love for skateboarding, its role in battling depression, and the surprising parallels between sports and punk rock.

"Skateboarding… absolutely love it," Gray begins, reflecting on their lifelong passion for the sport. "I skated when I was a kid, took a break, and then recently found my love again." With four different boards at the ready, Gray's enthusiasm is palpable, spanning from classic old school shapes to modern popsicle decks, and even the playful realm of freestyle.

But for Gray, skateboarding is more than just a hobby—it's a lifeline in the fight against depression. " I find that staying active certainly helps with depression, although there are many factors and staying active is only one of them," they explain, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of mental health management. “Seek counseling, find the proper medication, and stay as active as you can without setting yourself up for failure.”

Yet, the connection between sports and punk rock runs deeper than mere recreation. Gray muses on the shared essence of release and escape found in both pursuits. "I think sports for some create the same release and escape that art/music creates for others," they observe. Indeed, whether thrashing through a power chord progression or carving through concrete curves, both activities offer a means of transcendence—a momentary departure from the confines of everyday existence.

And what of the symbiotic relationship between music and movement? Gray chuckles, declaring, "You can't skate without music!" For them, the two are inseparable, with every kickflip and grind accompanied by a carefully curated soundtrack. In fact, Gray's commitment to sonic synergy runs so deep that they jest, "I won't release an album if you can't skate to it!"

In the world of Nathan Gray, the boundaries between sport and art blur, yielding a landscape where freedom knows no bounds. Whether shredding on a skateboard or belting out anthems on stage, Gray's journey is a testament to the transformative power of passion, perseverance, and the pursuit of authentic self-expression.

Nathan Gray Natasha Gray, singer and hardcore punk legend. Queer, trans non binary singer of The Iron Roses, Boysetsfire, The Casting Out, I Am Heresy)
(Photo: Gideon Rothmann)

Looking Ahead

As Gray embarks on the next chapter of their musical journey with The Iron Roses, they do so with a newfound sense of freedom and purpose. With their album "The Iron Roses" already making waves, Gray and their bandmates are poised to continue spreading their message of empowerment and liberation to audiences around the world: “I find that a lot of the work, playing in several bands, and wearing myself out was something that has ended now that I’ve truly found the me, I was running from. The 30th anniversary shows in October will be my last shows ever with Boysetsfire, and I have set aside my solo work to focus solely on The Iron Roses. I have found a great deal of peace in focusing my energies where I feel most creative and at home as who I truly am.”

In a world where conformity often reigns supreme, Nathan/Natasha Gray stands as a beacon of authenticity and resilience – a reminder that true liberation lies in embracing the fullness of who we are, unapologetically and without reservation.

Nathan Gray is unimaginable without music - and the same goes for any kind of sport: Whether on the skateboard or while running, the following playlist has been put together by Gray for that purpose. Take a listen, it's a great mix of music.

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