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

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