Happy National Coming Out Day! I thought it would be fun to share a bit of my coming out story through music, and so I outlined my five biggest coming out anthems below.
“Shake it Out” by Florence + The Machine
Flawlessly universal yet deeply personal would be the best way to describe Florence + The Machine’s “Shake it Out,” the intensely liberating lead single to her 2011 album Ceremonials. In truth, the song as a whole thrives off of its contradictions. It opens with church organs that sound at first like trumpets, Florence gasps in pain in the verses but then erupts joyously in the chorus with a refrain that sounds lifted from Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Even the video flips back and forth between innocuously fun and darkly sinister, one minute Florence is dancing gleefully, the next she’s being blindfolded as people gather around her in warped masks, and then another second later, she’s running around blindfolded laughing.
When I was closeted, the song (and the video, in a way) represented my fear of coming out. The yearning for the joy and freedom that I knew awaited always battled with the worry that I would be judged, and in some cases, maybe even persecuted, for my sexuality. In the end though, the song’s message shined through, especially in the middle eight:
“And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat
‘Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, for the devil in me
Well what the hell I’m gonna let it happen to me”
“Free” by Ryn Weaver
Ryn Weaver always reminds me of Stevie Nicks in the rock star’s softer moments, straining the homegrown earthiness of folk-rock through a lustrous pop sieve, somehow the most whimsical of pop stars while being the most grounded of singer-songwriters. “Free” is a love song that seems much more than just a love song, a statement of purpose from the simple act of being able to be open and honest about the one you love. The chorus literally sounds like the first time I went to pride, a kaleidoscope of colors that bursts with positivity.
“I’m slipping up under my feet,
Hallelujah, I believe
Hear my heart beat major keys
Nothing competes when love is free”
“Last Hope” by Paramore
Paramore’s 2013 self-titled may have been their most straightforward foray into radio pop, but one of its strongest moments harkened back to their rock roots. “Last Hope” was about finding strength in letting go, and that living in truth, even if that meant temporary isolation, was better than battling with the forces in your life that you couldn’t (and shouldn’t) change. The promise of a better day should be the driving force in your day to day, despite the strife and sadness that may surround you. Again, the middle eight here is where the song truly shines:
“And the salt in my wounds isn’t burning anymore than it used to
It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, it’s just I’m not afraid of hurting anymore
And the blood in these veins isn’t pumping any less than it ever has
And that’s the hope I have, the only thing I know that’s keeping me alive”
“Change Your Life” by Little Mix
Little Mix’s “Change Your Life” is a bit of a cheesy, on-the-nose pop song – you can get a very concrete sense of the song’s theme from the title. And though the slightly overdone “we’re all in this together / live in love not in fear” message may be a turnoff to some, there’s a sweetness and warmth to the camp that makes the song endearing and lovable. Especially when you feel like you’re lost and confused, the swooping instrumentation and soaring harmonies pierce through the gloom like a shining light. This is the one song I won’t share the lyrics to, because they sound best in the context of the music itself (no shade).
“Trees” by twenty one pilots
Those who know me well know about the tattoo below my left shoulder. It’s the twenty one pilots symbol, a circle with three lines in the center, and it’s filled with purple and red trees.
“Trees” is a track from the alternative-pop duo’s 2013 record Vessel. The cold, stark song is about battling overwhelming internal strife, be that mental health or otherwise. It’s also about knowing there are people out there that could help if you would open up, but you’re not ready to yet. I used to blast that song countless times in the year after I graduated college, as I began to slowly but surely come out to the majority of my family and friends. I knew that there was a community of support and love waiting for me, but I was too scared at first to put myself in the position to be helped. So, I was stuck in a limbo, afraid to fully come out but terrified of what would happen if I didn’t.
On my 24th birthday, I joined a gay rugby team called the Washington Scandals. They rallied around me and gave me the strength to come out to the world 364 days later, the day before my 25th birthday. They were the people I was yearning for when I used to (badly) sing the lyrics of “Trees” in my car, shouting into what I thought was silence.
“I know where you stand
Silent in the trees
And that’s where I am
Silent in the trees
Why won’t you speak
Where I happen to be?
Silent in the trees
I can feel your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know you
I want to see
I want to say