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Giving Voice to the Voiceless

by Dana Maxwell 2 months ago in Empowerment · updated 27 days ago

My Top Ten Pride-full Songs

Giving Voice to the Voiceless
Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

Somewhere, amongst my belongings in my mother’s apartment in Israel, are boxes and boxes of cassette tapes that span several years. Tapes I recorded and sent to my best friend at the start of my junior year of high school, upon moving to the States from Israel.

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I can still picture myself in the apartment I shared with my dad, sitting at my desk in the corner of my bedroom, pressing down on the red record button of my radio cassette player. The thin, translucent, brown tape winding around the cassette’s two spools as I jabbered away at the air, as though my friend was right there next to me.

I would update her on the mundane and the dramatic, the ups and the downs, and everything in between. It didn’t matter that she’d receive the tape only weeks later, and that it would take a few more weeks for me to receive her response with an update on her latest happenings. In fact, it gave me something exciting to look forward to during those tumultuous days.

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At the end of every tape, we’d include a short playlist of new songs we had heard and fallen in love with, and we’d ask for one another’s opinion on the songs, the lyrics, the singer and so on. We loved music, and we expanded our musical tastes with each passing month. Music was part of our friendship language.

Though I haven’t listened to these tapes since they were created (and God help me if anyone ever finds this stash), I recall one such tape, a short time after graduating high school, where I confided in my friend about feeling gay. I don’t remember my exact wording, but I remember having this uneasy feeling, this feeling that she won’t "get" me, that she won’t want to stay friends. I think I may have even uttered the words, “I hope you’re not mad at me but… I have to tell you something.”

I knew deep down my friend wouldn't be mad and wouldn't think much of it (which was the case). But the trepidation I felt about voicing who I was to my family and friends was real. This feeling of fear, this feeling of loss - it's a feeling that continues to exist for so many people who don't have a place to turn to when the repercussions may be unbearable. And it is for this reason, above all else, that we must continue to fight the good fight for the LGBTQIA+ community in seeking basic human rights.

One thing I do remember about my coming out, as a whole, is that music played a big hand in my journey. Those songs I kept sharing with my friend? They painted a picture of how I was feeling far clearer than I ever could have known to paint. And I knew I wasn't the only one who could relate. The artists I listened to gave voice to the voiceless. They showed up, with just a touch of a button, and allowed me into their worlds, creating a safe space for me to live in mine.

Without further ado, it's time to listen to the music...

1. P!nk - Raise Your Glass

An ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, P!nk has been writing incredible music for decades – with every new song impossibly better than the last. How does she do it?

Crazy enough, I didn’t discover P!nk until my mid-20s, when a friend of mine made me a get-over-your-break-up CD that had the song Nobody Knows on it. P!nk’s voice was piercingly beautiful and I thought, “who is this?”

Unsure of how I’d been living under a rock for so long, I suddenly had a new artist to explore and I fell in love with her music and attitude. A few years later, Raise Your Glass was released and the most extraordinary feelings came over me. It was such a joyous song. I recall many of my queer friends posting the song’s lyrics on Facebook and sharing the music video.

It was a song I danced to often at the local lesbian dive bar that was busy on weekends, and absolutely packed to the brim during Pride week each year. Raise Your Glass got everybody out on the dance floor. And I mean errrrrbody! I dare you to listen to this song and not get up and dance. It’s fun. It’s badass. It’s freeing.

P!nk always fights for the underdog and it’s a beautiful thing – something I can’t quite put into words. All I can say is I have mad respect for her.

So raise your glass if you are wrong / In all the right ways / All my underdogs / We will never be never be, anything but loud /And nitty gritty dirty little freaks

2. Sara Bareilles – I Choose You

Another ally, Sara Bareilles, wrote a breathtakingly gorgeous song about falling in love. In Bareilles’ video, she showcases a heterosexual couple and a lesbian couple proposing to their significant others. I'm not crying, you're crying.

It’s a song that proves that love is love, regardless of societal prejudices. When I hear this song, no matter where I am, I instantly fill with gratitude for not only the stunning music, but for progressive artists who are able to express love in all the colors of the rainbow with such minimalist simplicity.

My whole heart / Will be yours forever / This is a beautiful start / To a lifelong love letter / Tell the world that we finally got it all right / I choose you / I will become yours and you will become mine / I choose you / I choose... you

3. Tegan and Sara - Nineteen

There can be no Pride Playlist without a song from the talented, hilarious, Canadian twin duo, Tegan and Sara. Tegan and Sara have been there for me throughout all my romantic relationships. Their songs took me through break-ups and make-ups, crushes and new love interests… there’s a Tegan and Sara song for just about any gay occasion. But the song I’m adding to this playlist - Nineteen - is EVERYTHING. The song came out when I was in my 20s and it was on repeat mode dot com. When I look back on being 19 and the relationship I was in, this song summed it up to a tee. And don’t get me started on all their other brilliant songs.

I’d literally be here for days. But for now, I give you Nineteen:

I felt you in my legs before I ever met you / And when I laid beside you for the first time I told you / I feel you in my heart and I don't even know you / and now we're saying bye, bye, bye / now we’re saying bye, bye bye / I was nineteen / call me

4. Ani Difranco – Both Hands

Ani was my first musician crush. Her songs instantly spoke to me. None of them were on the radio, so I discovered her music through a cool friend in high school who was a fan of this hidden gem and thankfully shared her music with me. I was drawn to Ani - there's just no other way to explain it. Her lyrics, her guitar playing, her melodies... I had never heard anyone quite like her. She has endless songs I could choose from but Both Hands instantly comes to mind. It’s ultimately about the demise of a relationship and that feeling of wanting to make it work but just not getting through. There’s something very poetic and romantic about it, despite it being a break-up song.

In each other's shadows we grew less and less tall / And eventually our theories couldn't explain it all / And I'm recording our history now on the bedroom wall / And when we leave the landlord will come and paint over it all /And I am walking out in the rain/ And I am listening to the low moan of the dial tone again /And I am getting nowhere with you / And I can't let it go /And I can't get through

5. Melissa Ferrick – The Stranger

Since it was a Melissa Ferrick concert that sealed my fate as a lesbian, my playlist would be incomplete without a song from Ferrick. As I searched Spotify to reminisce over songs I hadn't heard in a while, I came across The Stranger and could not remember it for the life of me...until I hit play, and the memories came flooding back. The Stranger, then and now, is a beautiful, raw, romantic, honest song. It’s a reminder of how vulnerable falling in love is, and on the flip side, how rewarding it can be.

You the stranger who took a chance / Held me at a distance so I could see myself / So thank you for everything you gave without knowing / And thank you for letting me fall in love / Without withholding

6. Taylor Swift – You Need to Calm Down

I love Taylor Swift. I’ve been listening to her music for as long as I can remember. She has become one of LGBTQIA+’s biggest allies, which has been heartwarming to see, especially given her huge, young fan following. After watching her documentary Miss Americana, I have even more respect for her journey and her willingness to share what she has gone through. She is a true example of personal growth, resilience, open-mindedness immeasurable talent, ambition, and compassion.

Adding You Need to Calm Down to my Pride Playlist is a no brainer. The song’s rainbow-color-infused video is an homage to the LGBTQIA+ community with fun celebrity cameos from all walks of life, all showing their support. Not to mention it was a catalyst for a petition Taylor created on in 2019 to support the Equality Act, which has garnered over 835,000 signatures, still counting.

Sunshine on the street at the parade / But you would rather be in the dark ages / Making that sign, must've taken all night / You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace / And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate / 'Cause shade never made anybody less gay

7. Indigo Girls – Closer to Fine

Can there really be a Pride Playlist without Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls? I feel like this song is mentally tattooed to every lesbian I know. It’s not necessarily a song I listen to often, but when I do, I feel empowered. The song has a familiarity I can't explain - like visiting over a cup of coffee with an old friend. I am lucky enough to have heard this song live in concert. I drove down to Tucson years and years ago with a group of friends to a small venue to see the Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile, no less! It was a knock out show and everyone sang along to this one:

Well, darkness has a hunger that's insatiable /And lightness has a call that's hard to hear / And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket / I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it / I'm crawling on your shores

8. Brandi Carlile – The Story

Speaking of Brandi Carlile, I have to include one of the most mesmerizing songs I’ve ever heard – The Story. Funny enough, when this song came out, I was living with one of my close friends and she played it nonstop. I can still picture her, sitting on her bathroom floor, holding up a mirror as she put on mascara, and bolting this song at the top of her lungs. I’m so glad she didn’t quit her day job. The song, to this day, brings a smile to my face because it reminds me of our friendship, my 20s, my relationship dramas, and the music that coursed through my veins.

I climbed across the mountain tops / Swam all across the ocean blue / I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules / But baby, I broke them all for you / Oh, because even when I was flat broke / You made me feel like a million bucks / You do, and I was made for you

9. Melissa Ethridge – Come to My Window

What can I say about this classic? It’s such a culturally iconic song that it really needs no explanation. I wish I could remember the first time I heard it so that I could associate it with a specific memory, but by now it's become part of the fabric of lesbianism. It’s truly one of those songs that will outlive the test of time for generations to come.

I would dial the numbers / Just to listen to your breath /And I would stand inside my hell / And hold the hand of death / You don't know how far I'd go / To ease this precious ache /And you don't know how much I'd give / Or how much I can take/ Just to reach you / Just to reach you / Oh... to reach you

10. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this final anthem in my Pride Playlist, which gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s the kind of song you dance your victory dance to. It’s the kind of song you blast at full volume to celebrate yourself and everyone around you. It’s the kind of song that lets you know "you got this," and the world is a remarkable place. Whether you’re a Little Monster or not, it’s a song you just can’t help but sing along to and be in awe of artists like Lady Gaga who just plain "get it." Gaga gets it.

I'm beautiful in my way / 'Cause God makes no mistakes / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born this way / Don't hide yourself in regret /Just love yourself and you're set / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born this way

I hope you enjoyed my top ten Pride-full songs, curated with artists I respect, admire, and owe deep gratitude to, for having the ability to share personal parts of themselves and for recognizing the LGBTQIA+ community, whether through membership or allyship.

To anyone reading this who is terrified of coming out, know this: it's OK to get there when you get there. And when you’re ready, there will be a whole lot of people routing for you. Until then, play that funky music, baby.

Dana Maxwell
Dana Maxwell
Read next: Gluteus Maximus
Dana Maxwell

She/Her. Coffee and cat lover. Film and television enthusiast. Random thought thinker. If only every decade could be as cool as the 90s.

T: @danamaxwell30

IG: @danamaxwellsmart

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