I first came out over a decade ago, early in the torments of middle school and deep in the cornfields of suburban Indiana. To say I was lacking classmates who were out and local queer role models — let alone national ones — feels like an understatement. The school and public libraries offered few LGBTQ books, most of them academic, clinical and inaccessible to a preteen. The music collection was even slimmer, and I yearned for more.
Back in those days — you know, LimeWire, Yahoo Music and MySpace — it wasn't easy to find many openly queer musicians, given the homophobia and sexism rampant in the music industry. Living in small-town Indiana without access to a local LGBTQ music scene didn't help.
And so, it felt like divine intervention when a few years later in 2007, a Canadian indie duo released The Con just before I turned 16. Tegan and Sara kick off the album with I Was Married, a short and unassuming but defiant tune against homophobia, and I was immediately hooked.
At the time, the United States had just one state (Massachusetts) with marriage equality on the books. Legislative protections in Indiana and nationwide seemed unlikely in my lifetime. The Defense of Marriage Act, Don't Ask Don't Tell and awful jokes about HIV/AIDS were all the rage. Classmates ripped down posters for Day of Silence and spit homophobic slurs behind my back. My hometown's hate radiated from every glance.
It felt hopeless.
But finally, I could see myself — the joy and the anxiety of being queer — reflected in music, a lifeline of mine. Tegan and Sara gave me a reason to hold on because these two talented, hilarious and tiny lesbians showed there was a future for a queer kid like me. Now at The Con's 10th anniversary, it remains my favorite album of all time.
It shouldn't have taken all those years to find hope. Luckily, it has become easier and more common for musicians to be out and express all kinds of LGBTQ stories. There's still a long way to go, but it's been beautiful to see more and more artists safely come out and be supported, giving a voice to many.
Take the work of Perfume Genius, the project of Mike Hadreas and his boyfriend, Alan Wyffels. One of Hadreas' goals, Wyffels told NPR, is to be the kind of "artist that he wished he could have had as a young gay man."
Whenever I listen to music from LGBTQ artists, those notes give me the strength to be proud even at my weakest — even when I feel like that lonely queer kid in Indiana again.
The importance of that visibility brings me to this weekend's all-important Pride party playlist.
While there are many gay anthems created by allies — FYI Carly Rae Jepsen's E•MO•TION technically turns 2 on St. Pete Pride's parade day — I encourage Pride playlists to include as few straight, cisgender artists as possible. This month is about recognizing and celebrating our achievements despite a homophobic and transphobic society, and queer musicians across genres deserve support.
So, consider these LGBTQ artists while celebrating Pride this weekend and beyond. It's not an exhaustive list, especially because I went for hype vibes. And you'll notice it's missing many big names to help shine a light on musicians who deserve more exposure — like Mykki Blanco, MUNA, Alex Lahey and Perfume Genius.
What songs did I miss? Which queer musicians do you really dig? Tweet me at @ashleycdye.
Ashley Dye is a copy editor/designer/social media editor for tbt*; firstname.lastname@example.org.