A little over a week ago, I was in my car listening to a new playlist, and one of them – ‘Hold Each Other’ by A Great Big World – caught my attention about halfway through. The singer, it seemed, was singing about love – and he was using male pronouns. Pressing the track back a bit, I listened more closely:
Everything looks different now
All this time my head was down
He came along and showed me how to let go
I can’t remember where I’m from
All I know is who I’ve become
That our love has just begun like ohhh
Something happens when I hold him
He keeps my heart from getting broken
When the days get short and the nights get a little bit frozen
We hold each other, we hold each other
For the rest of the drive, I found myself cycling through the song again and again. The first verse, sung by Ian (who is straight), is a sweet homage to the love he feels for a woman. The second one, sung by Chad (who is gay), is comprised of the words above. It makes perfect sense, and the lyrics aren’t anything revolutionary, but it resonated. Hearing Chad sing honestly about the love he’d felt moved something within me.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people often devote a significant portion of our growing up years to denial and repression, working tirelessly either to erase the feelings burgeoning within us or to hide them away. When we do finally step into ourselves, when we get the chance to experience love at its most honest, I think we are often startled by how ‘right’ it feels. Like we understand, finally, what all these people have been singing about.
But music is largely heteronormative. Gay singers often stick to the second-person format, utilizing ‘you’ and steering away from gender-identifying language. We are left to sing along with the gender-specific wordage of our opposite sex favorites, or – in some cases – flip the words of our favorite songs to match our heart’s orientation. (Even in cover songs, when a man takes on a woman’s song, we are often annoyed to find he has switched pronouns and lyrics around.)
The experience made me think about representation. I felt so unbelievably happy to hear a song that celebrated my experience. To hear lyrics that brought my love journey to mind, without any asterisks or mental corrections. It’s beautiful, I think, to hear the power of Chad’s voice as he sings those lyrics. I wonder how many times he has sung with she and her to fit the expectation. I’m grateful he was brave.
This connects, I think, to Formation, Beyoncé’s recent track which has lit the national dialogue on fire. If you are white, and you are having a reaction of any kind, I suppose that’s okay, but – before voicing it – maybe ask some black people in your life how it made them feel. Because Formation is undoubtedly intended as an anthem for the black community.
This is a bit all over the place, but it’s been on my mind for a bit. Thanks for the time. Be #blessed, everybody.