On my new CD, “People Really Live This Way,” I include a song called “Johnny Ramone” that deals with queer identity. The song has two first-person narrators. One is a male of unknown age remembering how his father and God seemed to be against him for possibly being gay. The other is the father struggling with the experience of having a feminine son. This two-narrator approach might remind you of Cat Stevens’s “Father And Son,” if you’re familiar with that song.
On my 2008 CD, “I Don’t Have Friends Anymore,” I recorded a song called “Everyone’s Just A Little Bit,” joking around and playing with the idea of the Kinsey scale. The scale says that being straight or gay is not a yes/no question, but a spectrum. The second verse also points out that talking about sex out loud is really another way of being “out,” since such frank talk is generally not allowed. It is definitely a song that gets some uncomfortable reactions when played live.
That first CD also has a song called “The Note,” in which the narrator describes a shy boy who writes a note. The note tells the adult narrator that the boy accepts his feminine side.
So how does a straight guy like me end up writing three songs about gender and queer identity on his first two CDs? I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania where boy and girl were rigidly defined. Out of the hundreds of kids in my high school, there was not one kid who was out. All the queer kids were in the closet. I think about the simple statistics, that there were a significant number of gay kids who were afraid and confused growing up closeted in our town. I think about myself, a straight kid with a profound visual impairment, a skinny body, a strong feminine side to my personality, and a terrible feeling that I didn’t belong because I couldn’t compete in sports, the arts, or dating.
I spent about ten years as an evangelical Christian. I went to Bible college and seminary, and I know all the religious reasoning behind the idea that being queer is a sin. And before that, I grew up in a church that only allowed men to be in positions of authority. I heard all the talk that being gay was just as bad as having sex outside of marriage. The only problem was, I also knew quite a few evangelicals who were having sex outside of marriage.
I’ve heard stories from gay friends about how tough it is growing up, and how tough it is to be out as an adult in some places. I’ve also known two people who told me that they used to seek out young gay men just to beat them up.
Questions of queerness and gender are everywhere in America. My conscience and my emotions brought these three songs out of me, because there are just so many people who are not treated kindly and fairly. These songs are my way of taking a stand where few songwriters would dare to go.
You can read the lyrics for these songs at my website’s lyric page: http://www.feelthewag.com/lyrics.shtml
I’d be curious to hear some thoughts from others out there. What do you think?