Jenny Owen Youngs explains why she waited to come out


Last week musician Jenny Owen Youngs took to her fiancée’s tumblr to announce that, yes, she is “super gay,” which a lot of people probably thought they already knew. You should really read everything she wrote before going any further. An excerpt:

I didn’t want to come out. I don’t want coming out to be a thing that anyone has to do. A short list of things I’d rather be doing than “thinking about being gay” includes (but is not limited to) writing a song, reading a book, climbing a tree, dancing a jig, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the zillionth time. Don’t get me wrong — I think it is in the best interest of everyone to strive for a greater understanding of the self. I just wish that being gay (or transgender, or asexual, or fill-in-the-blank here) was as unremarkable to the masses as being left-handed or blonde. In a perfect world, nobody would have to experience any of the negative side-effects of figuring out that you’re gay, which can include feeling confused, shameful, afraid, lost, or alone. In a perfect world, everyone could just like who they like, and get on with it.

In addition to writing the post, which she freely admits goes against her natural inclination to privacy, she also graciously agreed to talk with me about it. OK, so obviously part of coming out is doing it over and over with new people. I’ve done it a hundred times and there’s a part of me that actually enjoys it, but sometimes I still feel a little twinge of apprehension over how someone will react. How does it feel to take the coming out experience and multiply it by the whole internet?

Jenny Owen Youngs: Well, so far it’s been how I think you might imagine it: huge and weird and scary and rewarding. On one hand, I’ve said something I can’t unsay, which makes me feel somewhat exposed, and could potentially have some unpleasant repercussions down the line. On the other hand, the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive and affirming, but more than just that — a number of people have made it clear to me that my action was important to them and directly affected their personal progress. That is more meaningful to me than avoiding intermittent discomfort.

AE: You talk in your letter about not really wanting to come out publicly, and respecting those people who choose not to do so. Was there a specific moment that made you want to cross the line between your personal and professional lives?

JOY: It was a gradual thaw. My fiancé Kristin played a huge role in my progress. On an individual level, she’s incredibly comfortable in her own skin, and just being around that kind of energy had an effect on me. She helped me start to examine things about my thought processes and behaviors more critically, to ask questions I’d never realized needed asking. Also, seeing up-close the impact she and her business partner Dannielle have had on so many lives has been very important to my growth.

AE: As a songwriter, do you feel like you (consciously or unconsciously) keep your songs gender neutral so anyone can relate to them?

JOY: I like to leave the backdoor open in my songs so that anyone can just go ahead and let themselves in. I’ve always felt that songs without gendered pronouns were a little easier for anyone to relate to, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. First-person lyrics feel simultaneously more intimate and more accessible to me. I don’t think I’ve written a romantic song that utilized a gendered pronoun since I was in high school, and that includes songs about guys.

AE: You wrote about your religious upbringing being a part of your — I was about to say “struggle,” but let’s go with “journey.” With that in mind are you planning to have a church wedding?

JOY: I am not going to get married in a church, no. I have no issue with church weddings but that isn’t the route we’re taking.

AE: And I can’t interview you without asking where you fall on the really important questions: Spike or Angel (not listed: Riley)? Was Kennedy a stain on the series or a good rebound for Willow? And if you were a Scooby, which one would you be?

JOY: I think Spike, Angel, and Riley all have their positive attributes, and all served to help Buffy experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, learn things about herself as a woman and a Slayer, and ultimately grow. Kennedy is a little ridiculous, but I’m glad the series didn’t end without Willow finding some kind of new happiness. I am given to fits of extreme nerdiness (Willow), righteous crusading (Buffy), valuing practicality over emotionalism (Anya), using humor as a defense mechanism (Xander), putting on a tough show to obscure my delicate heart (Spike), and cleaning my glasses a lot while muttering “Oh, dear” (Giles), so — I’d say that I identify with parts of most. Somebody ought to dropkick Dawn though.

AE: I also want to say that I sought out your music the first time I heard “Fuck Was I” on Weeds, so many years ago. My little sister and I got into you, Mirah and Brandi Carlile all in the same year, and were both, like, a little concerned at how all the artists we liked kept being gay. We assured each other that it didn’t mean anything since we were both so straight, except we both ended up being so gay. I might never have realized that about myself were it not for the friends and artists who told me it was OK. I’m so glad you were and are a part of that.

JOY: Well hey, thanks. I’m glad to be a part of it as well. I can’t wait for the time to come when no one has to be expressly told that it’s “OK” to be gay. But as a species I think we’re closer now than we’ve ever been, we are moving forward every day. So that’s something.

Obviously, she’s amazing. So get ye to your iTunes (or better yet, a record store!) and buy copies of her music for yourself and every lesbian you know because, good god, The Feelings.

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