TW: Mentions of homophobia
In Queer and Now, Eve Sedgwick said that ‘objects of high or popular culture, objects whose meaning seemed mysterious, excessive, or oblique (…) became a prime resource of survival’, and it’s an idea that’s stuck with me. I think as queer people, we grab art with both hands and completely lose ourselves in it, whether that means escapism through film, television, books, music. Queer representation prevails through the arts, even if they are pushed into obscurity by the naked straight eye; sometimes it just takes a queer eye to liberate it.
My parents grew up in the time of 80’s pop and were consumed by the 90’s grunge era, so I was raised on some of the weirdos in music; the ones who didn’t really care for gender roles or capitalism or 9 to 5 jobs. I remember a lot of Prince’s flamboyance, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine’s angst, Björk’s quirks, The Cure’s gothness. Even before I had my own taste in music, an understanding of sexuality, music didn’t just teach me that it was okay to be different, but it was better to be different. Colouring outside the lines of the binary and the norm is embraced and celebrated.
But, not being able to do anything in moderation, this turned into the emo phase that I never one hundred per cent grew out of. I embraced the sweaty swoopy fringe, the shitty eyeliner, the My Chemical Romance Tumblr pages (because I missed out on the golden era of MySpace). But social media can be a wonderful place for discovery, and its where I learned a lot about myself from the words of kind strangers on the internet. It’s where I discovered Hayley Kiyoko and Halsey, who made a point of saying ‘finding that girl incredibly attractive is not gross and it’s completely normal’. Kiyoko’s This Side Of Paradise EP provided me with a space to unlearn all of the internalised homophobia – the weird contradiction of ‘everyone else is allowed to be gay except for me’ and ‘lesbian’s a dirty word’; the absorption of ‘lesbians being in the changing room is predatory’ and the experience of having ‘dyke’ shouted at me in a park. Kiyoko brought me back to earth after feeling like I was unhinged and floating solo for a while.
It was during this rocky time in my life where I saw the video for ‘Take Me to Church’ by Hozier for the first time, which simultaneously presented the tenderness and purity of same-sex romance and the cruel forces that want to rip it apart. To be in a place where you’re feeling so ashamed, filthy and sinful, it was a wake-up call in the disguise of a punch in the face. Because, how can something so beautiful possibly be wrong? The song awoke a strange sort of spite inside of me, wanting to become loud and gay and unapologetic just to piss off anyone who thinks it’s disgusting. If my existence was going to become political, then it meant I was going to fight for it. But, I wasn’t quite there yet, the shame was still manifesting inside of me.
“There’s no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin’ – Hozier, ‘Take Me to Church’
If devouring all those emo and pop tracks helped me to come to terms with my sexuality, it was Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE and Blonde that kick-started my journey of embracing it. In both albums, especially in songs such as ‘Forrest Gump’, ‘Thinking about you’ and ‘Good Guy’, Ocean sings about his experience as a queer man in his first romantic relationship. He explored queerness in all of its obscurity – the innocence, the subtlety, the intimacy, and all the other nostalgic qualities. The album is the musical embodiment of brushed fingertips because you’re too scared to hold hands.
On the complete opposite of the spectrum was Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, which was a game-changer for me. Throwing all subtlety out of the window in ‘Make Me Feel’, Monáe was electric, sexual, unapologetic; but above everything else, they were loud. Their love for women wasn’t understated: it was apparent. It was clear. Their queer, non-binary, black identity shines through every single performance and song, and they refuse to shy away from it.
If I wrote about every artist and album that made me feel seen, I would be writing for pages. Bury Me At Makeout Creek by Mitski was angsty and gorgeous, Melodrama by Lorde was understated and soft, Igor by Tyler, the Creator was sincere and defiant, She by dodie was illuminating and delicate, and Joy as an Act of Resistance by Idles was rebellious and hostile.
But art – especially music – is integral for queer survival and celebration. Regardless of whether its the emergence of disco and ballroom in the ’70s; Elton John, Queen and Bowie in all their queer greatness; or girls on the internet asking each other if they listen to Girl in Red. It’s been integral to my journey of self-acceptance. From my throat closing up as I attempt to say the word ‘lesbian’ to being able to proudly type it in an article for the world to read. From sweating at queer representation to openly seeking it.
From shame and embarrassment to pride.