Music is a consistent soundtrack to my life. I’ve always got my earbuds in, feeling the beat to something. And my friends who come over tend to walk in to some mood-inducing vinyl spinning. Whether in times of utter joy or in moments of complete despair, music has been my best friend, there to uplift me and to soothe me. Especially being a gay man, it’s helped me to get in touch with my sometimes conflicting and painful emotions. Lyrics. Some killer melody. A tranquilizing beat. They all touch my soul and pull me closer toward peace.
Growing up, I felt like an outsider. Both for how I looked and for the secret I knew about myself inside. Again, music was there to soundtrack my isolation, and it inspired me out of the darkest of times. I know that I would not be the out and proud gay man I am today if it hadn’t been for certain moments spent with songs.
Here are just a few tracks that made my gay road in life so much better...
I’M COMING OUT / Diana Ross
You can’t get through a gay pride celebration without hearing this one. For me, it’s my childhood. My Mom spinning Diana’s record while cleaning. I clearly remember my tiny self, getting down to it in the living room; singing along, completely unaware of the foreshadowing that was taking place. So many years later, my Mom and I would have the coming out conversation, and she would say how she knew all along. I think my moments with Diana had something to do with that.
PHYSICAL / Olivia Newton-John
My parents referred to Olivia as my first crush. I had pictures of her on my walls and constantly watched Grease. However, Physical came into my life via its video. And that video was essentially my first experience objectifying men. It’s full of hot, muscular dudes working out in bikini briefs. I was not watching it on repeat to ogle Olivia’s lip-syncing techniques. I was watching those men get their flex on. And coming to understand that I didn’t want to be with Olivia, I wanted to be Olivia, in that gym, making those men’s bodies talk.
VOGUE / Madonna
I’m a Madonna queen so I could list a number of her songs. But Vogue was the first time I saw out gay men being authentically themselves on screen. It also came out when the LGBTQ population were taking some steps into the mainstream but were still being met with extreme repulsion. Playing that song behind my closed bedroom door, thirteen year-old me was inspired by Madonna and her dancers to access my own true freedom of expression. I would play that record on repeat, learning that choreography, flailing my limbs and striking them poses. I eventually got comfortable showing my parents how spot on my moves were, unknowing that they were probably taking those moments to cope with the fact that they had a little brown gay boy on their hands.
LOVE WILL NEVER DO (WITHOUT YOU) / Janet Jackson
By the time Janet’s seventh single from her Rhythm Nation album came out, I was clearly gay. I hadn’t come into full acceptance of it, but I knew that men got me hot. Nothing made that more clear (with the exception of Marky Mark’s Calvin Klein ads) than this gorgeous video from Ms. Jackson. Seeing her spin around with Antonio Sabato Jr. gave me all the jealousies. I wanted to be in that hot Italian man’s arms (though now I wouldn’t touch his crazy, conservative ass with a ten foot anything). And then there was Djimon Hounsou, elegantly moving around in those briefs. It was one of the first images I saw of a black man being sexualized in the way we had only seen white men before. And God, it was good.
THERE IS A LIGHT (THAT NEVER GOES OUT) / The Smiths
There’s always been a unique connection between Latinx audiences and Morrissey. I think it’s his torch song vibe and his dramatic, emotional delivery. We relate to his emotional words of longing to be seen and his powerful urgency to break free from isolation, similar to our feelings of our societal place. When this song came out, I was falling in unrequited, juvenile love for the first time. Hearing a man speak so soulfully about his desire for love made it easier to comprehend these new feelings I was having. And being in my own isolation, I felt like here was someone who knew me, and what my heart was feeling, in a way that no one else could.
COME TO MY WINDOW / Melissa Etheridge
In the mid-90’s, I finally began my process of coming out. LGBTQ people were really stepping out into the culture and lesbians were leading the charge. Ellen. K.D. And of course, there was Melissa. Around then, I made my first gay friend, a lesbian who came out at sixteen and got her first job at a lesbian coffee shop in West Hollywood called Little Frida’s. It was the place to be, and Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am album was on repeat. Her bravery to be seen and heard by the world, lead by this breakout song, catapulted her into the spotlight and helped this little gay boy come out amongst the safety of his proud sisters.
BELIEVE / Cher
I was young, I always wanted to live in New York, and I was finally taking my first trip there. Hours before my flight, I called my Dad. It was Father’s Day. At the end of our conversation, he told me to enjoy my trip and to be myself. “I want you to know that I know. About you. And I will always love you, no matter what.” He was the last person I had left to come out to, and here he was, doing it for me. I cried all the way to the airport. That next night, I twirled on the steamy dance floor of one of NYC’s largest gay bars. Believe came on and my girl friend took to the stage, commanding the crowd for an impromptu lip-sync. As the whole room sang along, I got all of my now completely out gay life and fully believed in life.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT / Kylie Minogue
It was my first New York City Gay Pride after moving there at the end of 2001, and my friends and I decided to go to the pier dance. I had never really felt like I fit in entirely to the gay community. I was Latinx. I was extremely overweight for most of my life. I just didn’t look like the guys who were the poster children for being gay. But I decided to let my self-judgment go and try to take pride in the community. I remember Kylie’s song was all the rage and everyone was out looking for his or her love at first sight. I was convinced that a guy like me wouldn’t find mine. But that day, I found all kinds of men, dancing and being together. There was a unity there I hadn’t seen before. And at the end of the night, fireworks exploded and I found my love at first sight: an Israeli soldier there on vacation. As Kylie’s song blasted, he leaned into me. “You are so beautiful.” And in that moment, I fell a little bit more in love with me too.
COMFORTABLY NUMB / Scissor Sisters
My friend was dating this DJ/bartender and he told us that his friend’s new band was playing at a basement party in a club downtown. “You have to go see them. They do this insane Pink Floyd cover and the lead guy is so hot. And very gay.” Hours later, we were pressed into this cavernous space, watching The Scissor Sisters perform one of their first shows. Seeing Jake Shears jump and spin about, shirtless, was a revelation. It was the first time I got to see a gay man be his full self, alive in the spotlight and owning his uniqueness. I left that night a sweaty mess and inspired to be more ‘me’.
GET RIGHT / Jennifer Lopez
I had just moved back to L.A. from New York, and for the first time, I had to integrate my new authentic gay self with the life in L.A. In the L.A. gay scene, clubs felt so segregated, and I didn’t quite know where I fit in. At the predominantly white clubs where my friends went, I always got fetishized by the end of the night. And at the Latinx clubs, I felt a longing to connect but usually was pushed aside for not being brown enough. Ultimately though, this Jenny from the block jam would come on and my Puertoriqueño sister would make me feel at home, no matter what dance floor I was on.
HANG WITH ME / Robyn
After years of being single, I gave up. At a dinner party, I proclaimed that I was done dating and, there at the table, deleted all of my dating apps and accounts. Three hours later, through a series of magical circumstances, I ended up on the dance floor of a party swaying side to side with the man who is now my husband. It was three nights later, at a Robyn concert, that I knew he was my guy. We had our first kiss after that concert, on a street corner in downtown L.A. Six years later, we had our first dance at our wedding to this song. “If you’re for real and not pretend, then I guess you can hang with me.” Growing up, I never imagined that I could have a husband. Now I have one. Any gay man in this country can have one. A real one.
ON THE REGULAR / Shamir
Seeing Shamir’s video for the first time, I felt old. Here was this young artist, embodying so many aspects of the current conversation around race, gender, and sexuality. And he has that voice, so unique and full of a quiet but strong power. We now live in a time when young people don’t have to find their liberation behind their closed bedroom doors. They can express it through their art and upload it to YouTube and Instagram. They can speak openly about their journey of self-discovery in a way that my young self couldn’t. And it excites me to hear a young, queer, black man let the world know, “This is me on the regular, so you know.” More like Shamir should be inspired to do so, regardless of their age. He sure as hell inspired me.
AMERICAN / Rupaul
Whoever expected that one of the most famous faces of the LGBTQ community would be a black drag queen. And hell, Rupaul is now one of the most famous faces on television and in popular culture. In the wake of Trumpgate, the release of her latest album, American, has given me an anthem to help dance out my sorrows. Hearing Ru sing, “I am American, just like you too” reminds us that we are all on the same team, regardless of our differences. We must celebrate those differences and own our authenticities, but we also need to open up our eyes and see that we can recognize ourselves in the stories of people who don’t exactly look or live like us. Moving into the currently fragile future, I take comfort in knowing that someone like Rupaul and her sounds of joy and encouragement are leading all of us into a path of progress and change.
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