By Sara Gougeon
Grow up. Get married. Have kids. That was the story. The story I was told again and again by family, friends, and teachers. Even, and especially, the media: movies, books, music.
When the story is always the same (especially when it’s the only one you know), you begin to visualize it as a reality for yourself. At least I did. When music and media lack queer representation, LGBTQ+ youth don’t feel like there is place for them in this world. And that can be catastrophic.
That’s why songs that make it cool to be queer are a big deal. These song show us that there is a place for us in the world. That someone else understands us, has gone through the same thing, and encourages us to keep going. They also show queer youth that they can and should strive to accomplish great things.
That’s why we’re bringing you these 9 songs that make it cool to be queer.
“First Time,” Becca Mancari
Opening with “I remember the first time my dad didn’t hug me back,” this song hits hard. Mancari normalizes the process of coming out: “I remember the first time I tried to tell you the truth / On a Sunday drive with my heart stuck in my chest.” Opening with images of a baptism, carrying a young girl out of a lake, it feels like Mancari is trying to save and care for her younger self.
“To Talk About Yourself,” Izzy Heltai
Heltai, a cis-passing trans man, dares to talk about himself in a world where talking about yourself is hard. Although, as the song shares, “It doesn’t pay the bills to talk about yourself,” Izzy does, in hopes that it makes a difference in the world and helps even one queer kid. We think it’s working.
“Blueneck,” Chris Housman
Picture this: you’re in a lesbian bar in Tennessee, a singer-songwriter hops on stage to play a tune that she just co-wrote with Chris Housman (who’s sitting behind you). You’re grabbing a drink with a friend, but a lyric catches your attention: “I’m a red state Blueneck.” This happened to me. That lyric is impossible to ignore and feels especially relevant to folks living on the shiny liberal buckle that is Nashville on the Bible belt of the south. This song celebrates queer folks living in the country and affirms that you can be queer anywhere.
‘Normal,” Katie Pruitt
The song “Normal” comes off of Katie Pruitt’s album Expectations, dedicated to her experience growing up as a queer person in the South. The entire album explores and normalizes what it means to be queer, but the song “Normal” directly addresses it, beginning with the first line: “What’s it like to be normal?” Towards the end of the song, Pruitt sings, “The world told us to fit in, but we did the opposite,” finding her pride.
The sheer number of queer people who have struggled with shame and being pressured to choose between religion and sexuality is overwhelming. Oladokun captures this perfectly: “Sunday / Carry me down to the water / Wash me clean / I’m still struggling.” Way to break our hearts, Joy.
“Drag Queens In Limousines,” Mary Gauthier
Raise your hand if these lyrics resonate with you: “I hated high school / I prayed it would end.” Us too, Mary, us too. Mary Gauthier is an artist who paved the way for the LGBTQ+ community. She stood up and spoke out long before it was socially acceptable. “Drag Queens In Limousines” was released in 1999. The chorus highlights the openness and kindness of queer community :“Drag Queens in Limousines / Nuns in blue jeans / Dreamers with big dreams / All took me in.” Mary quilts together detailed, inviting stories.
“Rattlesnake Girl,” Jaime Wyatt
“Rattlesnake Girl” is queer-coded in an incredibly clever way. The lyric, “I see my sweet friends out on the weekend / They all look happy and gay.” Wyatt continues, “They keep their secrets all covered in sequins / People have too much to say.” Brilliant. As a whole, it shows queerness to the folks who are looking for it, but it also conceals it and could be brushed off for anyone who isn’t accepting.
“She” holds a special place in my heart. This was the first lesbian song that resonated with me. Seven years and a degree in music later, I still regard it as beautiful songwriting and one of my favorite queer songs. It’s a stunning tune about discovery, questioning, and the young experience of falling in love with a straight best friend who could never love you back.
“Queer AF,” McKain Lakey
Proudly, McKain’s main lyric declares, ”We’ll be queer as fuck and cute as fuck!”
The first verse is filled with anxiety-ridden lyrics, and the second with political statements. We are indeed queer as fuck, and glad as fuck that this song exists!
Sara Gougeon is a Canadian-grown, Nashville-based singer-songwriter, writer, and organizer of queer events. She’s now developing a new music company to create spaces for queer music, offer songwriting courses, and provide writing services. She is the founder and host of Queerfolk Fest.