queer

Two confessions. The first will make me look a little queer, as my sister called me last night, when I started to cry. “Oh, shit, Les, you’re so queer,” she said. And the other will make me look, well, queer.

First: Beautiful music makes me cry. Set aside, for a moment, that the notion of beautiful is subjective. The first time I heard Charlotte Church’s giant voice erupt from her tiny body, I cried. I cried when I heard Sungha Jung, age ten, play U2’s “With or Without You.” And I cried watching the Indigo Girls at the Ram’s Head last night. They start strumming chords and singing righteous harmonies, and I have to hide that intensely private moment when beautiful voice meets soul.

Sometimes words will do it: I see them in a beaker, added one at a time, and starting to smoke, like some potent elixir of love, and that concoction is so gorgeous and too big for its container. I spill, too. The first time I hiked Zion Canyon and looked down over the West Rim Trail, I cried; I still cry at the same spot. I am overwhelmed by the awesome power of beauty. I am sure there is another, better way to say it. Nothing can adequately capture that momentary shock of ecstasy. I imagine it must be what people mean when they say they saw god.

So I cried at the start of the Indigo Girls concert last night, and I cried again when they played “Power of Two,” the moment the first note began. I told Beth that my daughter, Serena, would get in the car when she was a tiny little girl and say, “Power of Two,” Mommy, “Power of Two.” She knew all the words. I buried my face in my hands. “Uck! You’re so queer,” Beth said.

Second: I sometimes go chick shopping at the lesbian mall.

That’s not a particularly sensitive thing to say, but I liked how it sounded when I thought of it last night as the title to a funny song I would write later. Ladies, you know you’ve done this. A year ago, I went to see a local male musician and wound up talking to my friend about what women would be our type*, if women were our type at all. (I’m not going out on a limb here when I say that straight men probably don’t do this about other men; even if they think it, they don’t share.) Some friends approached in mid-discussion, and we asked them if they’d ever given it a thought. One had; the other vehemently denied having ever done so.

That game gets replayed at every girl-band concert. You know how you got a contact buzz when the people around you at the Bowie concert were smoking pot? There’s a sort of contact-sexual-orientation thing that goes on in a room with two thousand lesbians. (Even the men at these shows are lesbi-men—not gay, but pro-woman and not afraid of their feminine side.)

The Indigo Girls (with Julie Wolf last night, W00T!) are some hard-working broads. Though they played some of my least favorite songs, they outplay nearly everyone I’ve ever seen. Seeing a woman lord over a guitar the way these women do, the way Jonatha Brooke and Brandi Carlile and Missy Higgins and Nancy Wilson and Suzi Quatro and Chrissie Hynde do, just makes me proud to be a girl.

Women are powerful—in pairs, in groups of a thousand, by the dozen, individually. But while a woman guitar player can push my happy button, it still matters what she’s saying. I can’t get behind her if she makes a lyrical demand that I put my faith in Jesus or help take away women’s reproductive freedom. It’s not enough to be a tough, strong wearer of lipstick. You don’t score with me by virtue of your vagina. It’s not enough to be named Hilary or Sarah.

It’s when our ideals match that your womanhood can—and even should—give you the edge.

Nothing queer about that. Only beautiful.

*Brandi Carlile

* * *

What I like most about the Indigo Girls is their duality. Amy is dark; Emily is light. Emily is often associated with the prettier melodies, while Amy writes the more brooding songs. Two of my recent favorites are Amy’s “Tether” and Emily’s “All That We Let In.” My daughter is actually learning to play that one, her favorite.

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12 Comments

  1. jennifer September 18, 2008 at 3:56 pm #

    i cry from beauty too! three things stand out: the first time i saw the chief joseph scenic highway in wyoming; the first time i saw van gogh’s self portrait in the chicago institute of art; when i entered the gabriele münter room in the murnau schloss, filled with the very paintings that had turned me on to color.

    beautiful essay, leslie. seriously. and suzi quattro! i haven’t heard that name in decades.

  2. Cybergabi September 18, 2008 at 6:58 pm #

    Movies. And beauty, yes. The desert. Or snow. These are the things that can make me cry.

    Or dead birds. Or dead anythings, depending on my mood.

    I love your essay.

  3. Kim Hosey September 18, 2008 at 7:49 pm #

    This really is nice writing. I only wish more people seemed to care about the message. Too many folks get all caught up in faux girl power, or whatever else feels nice to plug into their identities.

    I know exactly what you mean about crying. I’ve cried at everything from concerts to (I’m not joking) elementary school talent shows. I actually got choked up at Sea World recently. Something particular will just hit me in a way that it seems to be hitting no one else around me, and then I have to play that game where your act like you just happen to be stretching your face and your eyes. Not crying.

    My family thinks I’m pretty weird.

  4. Leslie F. Miller September 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm #

    Oh, lord, Kim! I can’t tell you the number of times I have cried at the school talent show or the school play. Every year, this daughter of a friend plays some magnificent role, and she comes out at the end for the applause, and I am bowled over by her. I’m in tears, and people are looking at me like I’m a loon. Yeah.

    And I’ve got a couple dozen years on you, so….

  5. smack September 18, 2008 at 10:29 pm #

    beautiful . sister..

    xo

  6. Aunt Teena September 19, 2008 at 12:09 am #

    Well, I did cry at the Grand Canyon. I was totally overwhelmed. But other beauty does not make me cry. Only sad things, movies, books. Anything bad that happens to an animal. And when I want something and can’t buy it. So what does that make me????

  7. YNL September 19, 2008 at 12:35 am #

    Unison singing. Without fail. The national anthem, hymns in church (when and if someone forces me into a church), choral music on the radio, a stage full of 4 year olds singing B-I-NGO. ALWAYS makes me cry, and I have no idea why.

    Also? k.d. lang. Hooo BABY that voice. Enormous but somehow also dry. I was just listening to Hymns of the 49th Parallel today.

  8. Rita September 19, 2008 at 12:43 am #

    Beautifully said.

    One of my most reliable crying moments — at Saturday morning services, when the parents of the random bar/bat mitzvah kid go up to give their speech to the child. Let’s just say waterproof mascara is a necessity for me.

  9. LG September 19, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    I like your writing. I found your blog through an alert I have set up for Jonatha Brooke (to say I love her music is an understatement). I’m always happy to find a fellow fan, but even happier when my fellow fan is a great writer. Hope you don’t mind if I come back to visit sometime.

  10. Cory Grace September 20, 2008 at 12:28 pm #

    The Indigo Girls played Rams Head last night? And you went? Without me?
    I’m crushed.
    I love them.
    I agree with you that they are a very powerful duo live. When I saw them in California at an outdoor arena, the second they started stumming the first notes of the first song “Welcome me, to the city of angels..” a great blue heron flew over the stage and circled over the crowd. I believe I did shed a tear.

  11. Stephanie Sylvester September 20, 2008 at 11:18 pm #

    this is some great writing, here. Wow.

    I cry when I hear beautiful music, too. And I also get furious when people claim it’s sexist not to stand behind Sarah Palin.

    PS. I saw Brandi Carlile at Ram’s Head Live, talking about lesbian marriage proposals… it was oddly awesomely chilling to hear the WOOTS of all of the women sharing that girl-crush- even though I was sitting there with my husband.

  12. Art2 September 21, 2008 at 12:20 pm #

    Well add me to the cry baby list. Usually it’s for similar reasons, the sheer beauty of nature, the accomplishments of the young, or my worst is when needy people win a game show.

    I love how when I start reading, I end up getting so transported to other ideas and places.

    Interesting thoughts on the girl power. I think there is definitely some “girl power” and then there are strong, defined women who make a difference. Sadly, there is not enough of the latter and “girl power” is not really a force to be reckoned with.