Music to my qu-ears

Emily Bi/Staff

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I taught myself to walk. At least, that’s the working theory.

My parents spent hours with a video camera in hand trying to capture those precious first steps on video, but it wasn’t until they turned the damn thing off that I stood up and walked like I’d been doing it for years.

I also taught myself to sing. I started singing from the moment my neck was strong enough to support my fat head and carry a tune at the same time — lilting, careening and screaming my way through any melody that came to mind.

Walking turned into dancing, singing into performing, and all of that became me stealing my older sister’s karaoke machine to demand my family watch me perform B*Witched songs.

At nearly every moment in my life, music has been the water and the sunlight and the rich soil that sprouted this anxiety-riddled mess of a songstress. Music wove itself into my life, secured by all these little lessons I taught myself.

I only seriously started writing music after I taught myself to play guitar. I only started sharing it online because I had a crush on a music-loving boy.

I’ve always been fickle, so when my crush didn’t last very long, no one was surprised, and the resulting songs that I wrote about him didn’t stay on my SoundCloud for much time, either. I chalked that up to my being fickle, too.

The songs I had written sounded like the love songs I’d heard a hundred times before. But the truth is, none of that ever felt right.

Maybe that was because growing up, all I had were the same old straight love songs that had populated the world of music forever. I wasn’t listening to music about same-sex love because I didn’t even know it existed. And if I had, I imagine I would have struggled to stay hidden in the closet if there had been queer anthems in there with me.

As such, it’s not entirely fair to say I taught myself how to write music. Rather, I taught myself to write straight music. Pouring my prose into songs about boys felt like the right way to write, and all of that was reinforced by years and years of the heterosexual music I’d been listening to.

So at this young age, between 16 and 17, I was either writing songs about boys or singing covers about boys, all while not really interacting with very many.

I slowly began to realize that for whatever reason, boys weren’t really accessible to me. I assumed all the crushes I’d get were unrequited because I was operating under the idea that most every boy was out of my acne-riddled, buck-toothed league.

There was also always that gnawing feeling that there was something wrong with me. My first kiss was with a girl, so it’s not like I didn’t know I was queer. But liking boys was my own tactical evasive maneuver — if I occupied all of my thoughts with them, there’d be no room for girls.

Listening to the songs I was writing at that time in my life, it really does feel like a queer slap in the face. One of the songs I wrote about a boy I had a crush on was essentially just about how much I disliked him. I called it “Thorn” — similar to the way heterosexuality poked and prodded at my muses. None of those songs were very good, but when I tried to tap the well that was my identity, those songs weren’t very good, either.

And then I thought about all of the experiences I’d had across my life and realized my queer writer’s block was because I’d never trained that muscle. I’d taught myself to walk, but I had to practice before I could run. I’d taught myself to sing, but it took practice to find my voice. And I’d taught myself to write love songs, but I never practiced writing about who I loved.

So I started practicing.

I wrote songs about the pretty girl who picked up my notebook for me in a coffee shop. I wrote about the stunning girl with a voice like silk at my local open mic. And when I met my girlfriend, there wasn’t a well deep enough to hold the flood of lyricism she inspired.

Now, when I write songs about my girlfriend and about being unapologetically queer, I can appreciate how much I’ve grown and how when the world didn’t have a space for me, I made space for myself. When I allow myself to let my music reflect who I am, without fear or shame, it’s music to my qu-ears.

Areyon Jolivette covers queer media. Contact her at [email protected].