Hidden tracks: Queer films and my path to women
How music brought me out
A woman caught me by surprise, and I fell in love.
Loving women was foretold to me like a prophecy I had not imagined. There is B.W. (before women) and A.W. (after women), marked like the beginning of a new era and an opening of worlds. I grew up and went through high school as what might be perceived as the typical all-American girl. I played sports nearly every season of my youth and when I wasn't being a “tomboy” on the field, I preferred to be in dresses (still do) with my nails done, and my long straight hair hanging down. My best friends were girls who I talked to about boys and clothes and feelings. I dated boys, went to prom with a boy and then went off to college with my then long-distance boyfriend back home finishing his last year of high school. But before I set out for this adventure, a strange thing happened. Both my boyfriend and my sister issued a warning, or perhaps a premonition, that at the time seemed random and without precedent. Odd that I can't remember the precise words, but the sentiment has stayed with me and has come to mind frequently over the years. In essence, they thought I might become a lesbian. I found it interesting or curious, but took little stock in the idea, as it had not occurred to me. Little did I know.
A couple months later came the a-ha moment as I emerged into a world I didn't know I had longed for. Suddenly, the memory of practicing kissing with my best friends in junior high, and the feeling of being drawn inexplicably to the one girl came, into focus. Suddenly all I wanted to do was kiss girls. Jill Sobule knows the feeling.
My queer and curious journey of exploring women-loving-women, was played out like a musical. In fact, the way I perceived my path was framed in part by reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I had grown up watching and loving the film (a must-watch film in the Black cannon, with the unspoken, or sometimes, spoken rule, that if you’re black, it is required watching- as it should be for all). In her other writings, which contextualize the The Color Purple, she describes this life of women loving women. It was sexual and not sexual. It was friendship and kinship and intimate relationship. It was defined by an honor and love of the spectrum of what it is to be female in its many beautiful forms. After going off to college, I watched the film with fresh open eyes. The much more subtle lesbianism in the film, as compared to the book, is most evident in the performance of the song, Miss Celie’s Blues, which Shug seductively sings to Celie in a crowded jook joint.
"Sister you been on my mind,
Oh sister, we’re two of a kind
So, sister, I'm keeping my eyes on you
I bet you think I don't know nothing but singin the Blues
Oh sister, have I got news for you
I’m something, I hope you think that your’re somethin too…
So let me tell you something, sister, remember your name"
Before college I had never heard of the Indigo Girls. Now I own all their albums. Previously the only lesbian artist I was familiar with was Melissa Etheridge, who helped pioneer lesbian celebrity activism as a popular artist, out and proud. Less mainstream and more indie, I had not realized that the Indigo Girls were doing the same. When a friend introduced me to the album Swamp Ophelia, I was struck by how the songs resonated with me both musically and personally. It is no surprise that their music was featured in a film which would also deeply impact me. But Boys on the Side comes later. For now, let's talk about what's least complicated. Just love who you love.
Foxfire is another film that helped me see what could be. Like dipping my toes into imagination, having a vision of girls dancing around the edge of possibility and quietly exploring loving girls in another way, stoked the fire in me. This film resonated with my soul. And oh, how I love early Angelina Jolie. I am still a sucker for the mysterious rocker rebel girl. Short hair with that magnetic feminine androgyny that will not be confined to a single place or label. The song, “Me and My Charms," by Kristen Hersh is about yearning. And I did yearn.
"when I kiss the angels I have a taste of me and my charms…
I haven't left you yet
all I have in my hands
me and my charms…
when I kiss the angels
I have a taste of you"
My higher learning came from a film by that same name. From Rage Against the Machine’s song, "Year of the Boomerang,” protesting racism and sexism to the Eve's Plum song, “Eye,” this film covered the expanse of who I am, both in my musical tastes and personal predilections. Again, the subtle exploration of lesbianism piqued my interest. And while I appreciate now, many years later, that being queer is often shown in understated ways because of how it is perceived or conceived in the limited imagination of writers and film makers exploring our themes, the film still has its charms for me.
And then there is Ani. I can scarcely make any playlist that doesn't include Ani DiFranco. Ultimate indie girl folk-rock against the world. Little Plastic Castle, about two girls in plain sight.
And just for fun, here's Kasey Musgraves telling us to follow our arrow….and kiss girls if that’s what you’re into. I am. And I second the motion.
Like the struggle to connect, be accepted and find your place in anything, coming out was a process of cobbling together the safe, the familiar, the comforting. Sometimes the thing we associate with our journey is just the feeling or impression we got from them. For me, I associate the films and music with this time of transformation and often the connection may not be seen by others because they” had to be there.” Reba McEntire singing, “You Got It,” may not be at the top of anyone's pride playlist (or the bottom) but hearing it sung by Whoopi Goldberg’s character to Mary Louise Parker’s character, picturing them and their love for each other in Boys on the Side, always takes me to that place of becoming.