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Shorts Circuit: Tosin Abasi‘s fashion sense tests metal.
Tosin Abasi was walking down the street in the East Village when he ran into New York magazine. Abasi’s outfit had caught the eye of a reporter looking for a subject for the mag’s fashion blog, the Cut. Abasi obliged, and proceeded to detail his street style for the camera: a pink paisley scarf, a Schiaparelli fedora, and khaki linen women’s shorts he scored as a hand-me-down from his girlfriend.
Such an outfit wouldn’t prompt a second thought if Abasi worked as a writer, artist, butcher, salesman, or in any number of other professions.
But Abasi is a metal guitarist, and women’s shorts don’t sit too well with that crowd. Two days later, the shorts had made their way to MetalSucks, a “heavy metal community” dedicated to “intelligent, thoughtful discussion.”
In a post titled “BORN OF OSIRIS’ TOSIN ABASI WEARS WOMEN’S SHORTS,” MetalSucks proprietor Axl Rosenberg opened Abasi’s feminine inseam for discussion. “Born of Osiris are making it very hard for those of us who like their music to defend them against the tr00est of the tr00,” he wrote. “I really, really don’t like to judge people solely for what they wear, but… what the fucking fuck dude. Women’s shorts? I’m at a loss for words. Truly.”
It wasn’t Abasi’s first appearance on MetalSucks—the Web site had previously bestowed a “glowingly positive” review on Abasi’s D.C.-based solo project, Animals as Leaders. Abasi’s personal style elicited a less enthusiastic critique. “The guy was appalled,” says Abasi. “It was like he was personally insulted by my shorts.”
Orea Guthrie, Abasi’s girlfriend, wasn’t concerned with metal fashion commentary when she bought the offending shorts in June 2008 at Banana Republic. She didn’t particularly like them at first, either. “I’m really pale, and I thought they looked too ‘soccer mom’ on me,” she says. Guthrie, who studied fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, had Abasi try on the shorts and deemed them a good fit. “He’s curvy!” says Guthrie. Abasi, who wears a women’s size 8, agrees that the women’s shorts are more than just a good look. “I do shop body-conscious because I have large thighs, and women’s clothes are usually more forgiving in that area,” he says. “But they’re linen shorts. It’s not the most feminine short in the world, really.”
They are, however, a couple of inches shy of metal. “In metal, you generally see kids wearing the cargo shorts and the camo shorts,” says Abasi. The looser, longer versions are more befitting the metal lifestyle. “It’s because of all the moshing. There’s a lot of thrashing and windmills and stuff that goes on at the shows,” Abasi says. The demand for pit-appropriate bottoms is so strong that Born of Osiris even markets its own athletic shorts—a white mesh pair with the band’s logo screen-printed above the right knee. Gym shorts are one thing—having the band’s name associated with Banana Republic casual women’s wear is quite another.
Abasi had just joined the band, after filling in on guitar for the band’s Summer Slaughter tour, when news of his shorts broke. “I felt really bad, actually. I felt like I had brought a negative perception to their band, and I had just joined, literally, weeks earlier. And I was afraid the whole shorts story was going to be a negative hit for them,” says Abasi. “I was hired to work for this band, and if they like to wear black, unmarked T-shirts on-stage, that’s their thing, and I’m going to respect that. It’s not my place to throw this left-field element in there. But some people took that to mean that I was just pretending onstage, and that this thing [wearing women’s shorts] was my secret life.”
Within a week of the New York piece, that “secret life” was following Abasi on tour. At shows, Abasi would hear the call through the crowd: “Hey! I saw your women’s shorts!” Online, fan responses proved more colorful.
There was the derisive homophobic angle: “He looks like he is on a safari for some weiner.”
The supportive homophobic angle: “[Born of Osiris] FUCKIN RAPES ALL YOU HATER FAGGOTS.”
The hypocrisy angle: “If you wanna where women’s shorts and carry a handbag, at least have the balls to wear it on stage.”
The philosophical angle: “He wears women’s shorts, which is so far from metal that it’s actually the most metal thing on this site right now.”
But the most common response to the women’s shorts dust-up was the shredding angle. “I couldn’t care less if the dude mud wrestles in wading pools with midget tranny hookers between sets at their shows, or if he writes music while wearing a garter belt with stillettos and nipple clamps for inspiration,” wrote one commenter, “just so long as he keeps ripping.”
After all, Abasi is not just any man in women’s shorts. Abasi is a man in women’s shorts who can shred. The video “Born of Osiris Guitarist Tosin Abasi Wears Women’s Shorts” currently has 26,587 hits on YouTube, but “Tosin Abasi playing custom 8 string guitar” has nearly five times as many—plus a five-star rating. Abasi’s women’s shorts may inspire homophobic vitriol, but his guitar work has reduced metal fans to fawning same-sex overtures. Back in July, metal music writer John Gnesin hailed Abasi’s eclectic solo album as “brilliant instrumental metal” that will leave the listener “cock-strokingly orgasmic over this man’s talent.”
In metal, the penis fixation is not uncommon. “Metal is a male-driven, testosterone-fueled style of music,” says Abasi. “In metal, you’re more of a man if you hate gay guys. You’re a pussy if you like this band. You’re gay if you wear women’s shorts. I’m straight, but the small-mindedness can get really depressing,” says Abasi. Abasi’s modest resistance to metal gender norms has, at least, been appreciated by some. “The band is fine with it,” says Lee McKinney, 20, who shreds alongside Abasi in Born of Osiris. “To be honest, I’m just a pale-skinned kid with red hair, so I could never pull things like that off. I dress really boring,” he says. “But we’ve all learned a lot from Tosin, as a human, which is cool.”
Last week, Abasi embarked on Born of Orisris’ fall tour, Night of the Living Shred. He says the women’s shorts will remain a staple off-stage, whether or not the metal kids get it. “Because I can play, it opens the door to tolerance just a little bit. Now they can say, ‘we can excuse this, because he shreds,’” he says. “But it’s not that I have the freedom to do what I want because I’m a human being—it’s that I’ve earned it because I can shred at guitar.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery