Exploring the queer backstories and personal narratives in popular song. To contribute your own story please write to 

When I was a young teenager I listened to metal somewhat exclusively. The big four: Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica and Megadeth. All of my friends and acquaintances did as well, until I started hanging out with the goths who worked at Le Chateau who introduced me to The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Sinead O’Connor and The Cure. To maintain appearances I would keep my tapes unlabelled in case any metalhead friends came over and became disoriented at the divergent music selection strewn about the floor. One day however I loaned what I thought was a blank tape to a friend and received a call later that to my recollection went something like this. “Hey, I listened to that tape you gave me before I recorded on it and there’s a bunch of fag music on it. What the fuck!” After a panic and a pause I answered, “Yah, we broke into a car the other day and grabbed a bunch of tapes that were in there. Sorry dude.” Satisfied with my deception I figured I dodged a bullet, but nothing lasts forever and over time it became clear I was not really a metalhead anymore and stopped hiding musical interests from the guys I hung out with.

Eventually I was ostracized properly after I went to a party, got drunk, went to bed in one room and woke up in a different room spooning with the guy who’s party it was. I was confused how this happened but he didn’t accept my hungover apology and social situations were weird after that.

Justin Kellam, Vancouver

As with most teens who believed to the bone that Kurt Cobain was the second coming of a mopey Christ, my headspace as a fifteen-year-old was grandiose, depressive, susceptible to hyperbolic thoughts. So when Kurt sang “What else could I say? / Everyone is gay” in “All Apologies” it was a devastating, deeply affirming transmission for someone whose sexuality was only just coming into bloom. “All Apologies” was one of Nirvana’s most claustrophobic songs, its tragic self-awareness (“I wish I was like you / Easily amused”) only contributing to a sense of one’s own existence as a form of imprisonment (“What else should I be / All apologies”). Despite the gloom of it all, as a fifteen-year-old surrounded by straight culture, I drew two important lessons from Kurt’s rope’s-end wail, “Everyone is gay.” The first lesson required some careful decontextualization, but it was my conviction that straightness was never a perfect paradigm; at most, it was an ideal state posited by those who were interested in such a thing. Straightness was no longer an absolute category; adolescent-me thought of course everyone is a little bent. I knew then that our agency comes about from how we choose to respond to our own kooks and kinks, whether we frantically try to bury our bent desires away, or we come to find ways to celebrate them.

The second lesson served also as a kind of induction into queerness. For all the darkness of the verses, the chorus and the coda of the song aim at the experience of a total communion, “All in all is all we are” and “In the sun / I feel as one” in particular. I took this to be less the banal and empty tenet of humanism (that we are all equal as human beings) and more the mystical instant in which the sexual—and love for a particular person—is sublimated into the spiritual, a love of love itself, a love for love’s sake. In the lyric, “everyone” was as important as “gay;” it helped me in finding the language later in life to understand that queerness is first of all the openness to the potential of another person to become and renew themselves, and enfolding them without limiting them in love, in the dreamwish of unity.

Fan Wu, Toronto

True Colours, Cyndi Lauper’s version. A very vivid memory. I was 15 and had moved out west to a tiny valley town when I started questioning myself. I was back in Toronto to visit family and I looked up the village and rode the train there in hopes to just look at people. I didn’t know anyone who was LGBT at the time. I remember walking into the Second Cup in the village and sat down with my coffee when True Colours came on. Every single person in there including the staff stopped what they were doing and started singing along. A couple of people put their arms around each other. I couldn’t help but cry happy tears in my coffee. And I felt like there was a world beyond that homophobic/racist town. That moment kind of saved my life.

Awna Teixeira, New Mexico

In the early 1990s, when I was in the 8th grade, living in Gander Newfoundland, I was sheltered from all that was ‘gay’ - it seemed almost impossible for my closeted boy-self to locate a living, openly gay artist, actor, or musician. But, one thing was for certain, across the world, everybody (somewhat privately) knew KD Lang was a hard-core lesbian.

It was almost serendipitous that my new found queer sexuality coincided with KD Lang’s increased popularity - with a song that I became obsessed with: “Constant Craving”.

However, as a preteen boy living in Newfoundland access to anything slightly echoing my queerness was difficult. I didn’t have any money and even if I did I wasn’t about to enter, stand in line, or face the judging eyes of my small town music store as I skipped down the aisles and gingerly placed my KD Lang CD on the counter with a wink. So, owning the record was out.

Desperate to serenade my new found faggy identity with KD Lang’s confident and Constant Craving, I called the local radio station (95.9 OZ FM) over and over and over again… Requesting they played this song. I called and called and called and called… Waiting…. Poised with a blank cassette tape cued, ready and waiting. My finger quivering over the record button. Days passed. Weeks passed. The summer passed. And still they had not played it. I was patient though - I kept calling. Until at last, my room and my heart filled with Constant Craving. I recorded it and listened to it until the tape broke, on my own, by myself, just me and KD.

Logan MacDonald, Toronto


The prairie landscape of Southern Saskatchewan in the early 90’s provided very few indicators of what a queer life would look like, and indeed if it would ever be accepted at all. The only immediate reference to anything ‘queer’ were the playground taunts of ‘fag’ and ‘homo’ that would cause any young person questioning their sexual identity to skip a heartbeat or two, even if the jabs were not directed at them.  Burrowing myself deep into the closet and rationalizing my attraction to other boys as simply a curiosity as to how I might measure up (it’s interesting what you can convince yourself of when you are young and terrified) I played my best straight man through the theatre of adolescence.

Fortunately I had a brother 5 years older who, though I’m sure he never suspected I was gay at the time, introduced me to a couple of things that I could quietly latch onto and which helped me navigate these years.

Kids in the Hall was on well past my bedtime, but my brother would come up to my room draped in his comforter, hide me underneath it (me bear hugging him from behind and standing on his feet) and sneak me past mom in the kitchen and down into the basement where Scott Thompson and the other Kids would alter my perception of the world with their unapologetic queer characters and outlandish skits.

The other small treasure he gave to me was in 1992 when the Rheostatics album Whale Music was released. The fourth track, simply titled Queer, is a letter from a boy to his older brother, after the elder sibling has been kicked out of the house by their father for being gay and run away to another town. Loyal, loving, and pissed at his dad, the boy’s letter is a touching gesture of acceptance, and the line “I don’t care about the damage, but I wish you were there to see it/when I scored a hat trick on the team that called you a fucking queer” sends a shiver through me to this day.

While it would still be years before I would directly confront my sexuality, this song’s overt handling of the subject and it’s fuck you defiance in the face of that homophobic town elevated me, and the sentiment of brotherly love and loyalty was and is something I strongly hold on to.

Shaun Brodie, Toronto
Artistic Director, Queer Songbook Orchestra