Returning from the rally for marriage equality on the Supreme Court steps, I read a beautiful piece by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. In it, he recalls the love songs of his youth, music that “had a refrain of disapproval, however minor, however muted.” He says:
“I long detected that refrain in all of those silly love songs, which dominated the pop charts of my youth and dominate the pop charts now, because they traced a landscape that I would almost certainly have to tiptoe across, that was only partly hospitable to the likes of me.
“So while they filled me with longing, as they were meant to, they also filled me with an unintended sadness. With envy, too, because I knew that for other people — straight people — worry and shame didn’t intrude on the melodies.”
Most queer people have felt that sadness. I know I have. Our stories rarely make it into popular songs. Sure, there are the genderless songs full of “yous”, but precious few – if any – have broken into the charts with a guy singing about loving a man or a woman losing her gal.
When Tom McCormack and I created the Gay/Lesbian American Music Awards in the mid-’90s, we had a simple goal: create a cohesive LGBT music community that would nurture and challenge out artists as they created songs specifically about our experiences (women and lesbians had a vibrant music community for years before that time, but it by and large excluded men). I remember saying from the stage that if we were even just five percent of the population, we should demand a commensurate percentage of songs about us.
As queer people, we’re adept at translating non-gay songs for ourselves, so much so that even today I suspect that many of us don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Bruni talks about Sam Smith’s song “Stay With Me” (above) and how everyone knows it’s about a male one-night stand. Except that the song itself doesn’t say that, nor does the video show it. We are left to figure that out on our own, knowing that Sam Smith is openly gay – though he has said he doesn’t want to just be a gay spokesperson, but “a spokesperson for everybody.” In an earlier interview with Digital Spy, he said he’s “…really just trying to live my life and write music about it.”
A life that’s universal and devoid of gender.
Bruni ends with a sentiment that’s as lovely and heartfelt as a Sam Smith song about such universality:
“And with any luck, that [Supreme Court] judgment will turn all the love songs of yesterday, today and tomorrow into universal anthems that make the same promise to every listener, no matter the object of his or her affection.”
Wedding bells may indeed ring at same-sex weddings all across America come late June, and that will be an incredibly beautiful thing. What would be even better for me, would be to someday have the first song I dance to with my eventual husband sung by a man to the man he loves.
No translation; just authentic words celebrating a shared, authentic life.
(featured image via Scrole Vision Photography)
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In addition to being a founder of GLAMA, Michael Mitchell has been the executive director of Equality Utah and the National Stonewall Democrats. He is now a coach and non-profit consultant, and is in the DC area, but not of it.
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