“Hey, I’m Just Like You” Tegan and Sara’s Lesbian Anthem

Hey, I'm Just Like You Tegan and Sara's new album

Hey, I’m Just Like You Album Cover, copyright Warner Music Group

When I first came out, Tegan and Sara were beginning to get big. I saw them in concert in Indianapolis before their mainstream hit “Everything Is Awesome,” so it was a safe bet that most of the audience consisted of lesbians and friends of lesbians. What I remembered most wasn’t the songs, though they were fabulous, but their charisma, their closeness, their authenticity. I’d never been to a show before then where I felt like I already knew the performer, like they were childhood friends I’d forgotten about. I never really connected to the lyrics of their songs as much as other fans, until I heard “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” which was imbued with authenticity and relatability. It’s trailblazing in many ways, including in its amazing potential as a lesbian anthem made for and by lesbians, in its portrait of the misanthropic teenage dirtbag, characterization of youth and rebellion, and the potential positive impact it could have on our community.

Tegan and Sara merely flirted with the misanthropic angle in their single from the new Hey, I’m Just Like You album: “I’ll Be Back Someday,” for instance due to the indulgence of escapist fantasy. “Hey, I’m Just Like You” the song, in contrast, offers us the profile of the misanthrope based on the band’s own experiences and origin story. The lyrics carry an additional weight when we consider the element of sisterly love encased within this heartbreaking time capsule. The song is a love letter to each other, weaving themes like belonging into the fabric of their song. It seems like “Hey, I’m Just Like You” serves as the answer to the questions posed in “I’ll Be Back Someday”, the questions of “when” and “why.” Why the desire to escape? While they escape from the present by delving into the past, Tegan and Sara paradoxically present us with a self-portrait where their younger selves escape from their present reality by projecting themselves into the future. This dialogue between the old and the new, as well as younger and older generations, encourages the listener to reflect on their own origin stories.

What were young Tegan and Sara like? The snapshot they weave for us vividly captures their adolescent years, with allusions to loneliness manifesting as disorientation (“stranded and I’m so lost”), chaos (“dance to screaming in my head”) and near hopelessness  (“my fate is on fire”). These aspects of tumultuousness are contrasted with the solace found in each other, as well as the ability to shift out of that negative space as a result of salvation in sisterhood. The chaotic nature of these emotions is interwoven with implicit elements of nostalgia and innocence. While explaining the origins of the song in an interview with Spire, Sara mentions that she was transported by an acid trip to “the wonder of childhood.” The acid trip plays the role of a time machine, just like the song.

In a new and bold move, they include an explicit drug reference, formulated like a near command: “eat the drugs” and accompanied by a vintage picture of one of the twins in the music video. Sara’s identification with the label “dirtbag” in the interview with Spire creates a fascinating dynamic with our perception of her. Now, only Tegan attempts a more punk look, and they both come across as contained rather than chaotic. It seems they outgrew that chaos and alienation together. It’s heartwarming to know that the unity they present on stage was present in their adolescence as well, and that they experienced all these changes and identity crises together. Sara also praises Tegan, repeatedly putting her on a pedestal in a display of sisterly support and awe. In the interview with Spire, Sara mentions that she viewed Tegan on acid as “the coolest person in the universe.” The fact that they can move one another simply by being themselves and relinquishing control over their surroundings is a testament to the strength of their bond, as well as their readiness to wrestle with identity together.

Speaking of wrestling with identity, the impact that this song will have on the lesbian and gay community has potential to shape the way we interact with youth at risk. Gay and gender nonconforming kids are more likely to endure physical and verbal abuse from their classmates, so creating an anthem that focuses specifically on that vulnerable time can prevent the isolation alluded to at the beginning of the song. Sometimes, knowing you are not alone is enough to alter your reality.  I’m a firm believer in lesbians creating our own anthems. Only we can define our identities and experiences authentically. Tegan and Sara manage here to make a theme song for our community, but which extends beyond the reach of sexuality and into the realms of social isolation and ever-changing identities as well.

Tegan and Sara were acutely aware of the message they were sending, one of compassion and discovery that we can apply to our own relationships. Sadly, not everyone has a Tegan they can rely on or praise, which is why fan networks and  are so vital to our community. Their love for one another perpetuates more love, since we love them as a result of songs like this. Thanks to Tegan and Sara, we now know the secret to to defeating loneliness and alienation: love, music and twins. Check out the release of Hey, I’m Just Like You on September 27.

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