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

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