Pride Article: Music is my refuge from a world that wants to destroy me

(Alex Green)

Every week in June, we publish an article by an LGBTQ writer that answers this question: Where do you find pride, joy, and/or comfort in your private life, especially amid a rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation? check back over here Every Monday of this month to read a new batch of the series.

As a child, I spent hours listening to CDs and the radio – sitting in front of a green and black stereo while I completed my homework. I lost in the sounds From Whitney Houston and Tiffany Evans, allowing me to float along, to escape reality for a few moments of sound shooting.

Now, music is still my lifeline, whether it’s frequenting record stores, spending hours searching for gems across musical genres or delving into a freshly written record.

It has been true as I have navigated unprecedented crises – the pandemic, the onslaught of anti-gay legislation, racial injustice and upheaval in my personal life. Looking back, my journey over the past two years has repeatedly revealed one thing: Music is what I clung to for joy.

In 2020, the pandemic hit the United States two months after my twenty-fourth birthday. I’ve made serious New Year’s resolutions to grow my career as a media professional, but things have taken a turn as the world shuts down.

At the time, I was finishing my first year of the master’s program at USC Annenberg. Classes became far away, and I was thousands of miles away from my loved ones in Texas. I’d lie awake at night listening to music, hoping to keep it going without getting high. In the end, I was fortunate to continue doing what I love: I joined Spotify as a remote intern that summer and started turning my passion for audio into a career.

That same year, loads of great albums were released – Ariana Grande’s “Situations”, Amine’s “Limbo”, Kehlani’s “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t” – that would guide me through this strange and unexpected chapter of my adult life.

And through this music that I consumed almost every second of the day, I learned more about myself – what brought me joy, peace, and a sense of security. Over the next two years, what it gave me was the ability to reflect, explore, and discover that I wasn’t binary.

I’ve been out since I was 17 and gay, but something still wasn’t perfect. Growing up, I was always drawn towards femininity while still feeling masculine energy, and music was a medium in which it manifested: I’ve always liked artists who were smooth and rough around the edges, and who didn’t quite fit into certain chests – Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah, Fifi Dobson, Janelle Money and Tyana Taylor. They instinctively pushed the boundaries of what music could be and how life could be perceived.

These artists taught me a lesson: that the listener may not understand it right away, but it doesn’t make the music any less true. The same is what I realized about gender and my interpretation of being nonbinary. I was just creating the soundtrack of my life in the most authentic way I’ve ever known how.

In the past couple of years, I’ve seen that reflected in New Music – in this shift in ideology, specifically, I owe a lot to the musical duo Chloe x Haley. I’ve been a fan of their range of sound and unique contemporary approach to music for years. But on June 12, 2020, they released their second album, Ungodly Hour, a 13-track compilation of work that beautifully showcased their style and charted becoming adults in their twenties. The project was very bold and honest, but weak and soft like me.

The album’s intro spoke one line that stuck with my mind: “Never ask permission, ask for forgiveness.” Yes, I realized I don’t need permission to be fully myself in public. And the forgiveness I felt was for me the death of the person I was—the facade I used to be beyond a sense of duty.

Other tracks such as “Do It” and “Catch Up” with Swae Lee and “ROYL” sparked new self-confidence for being my unapologetic self, while songs “Overwhelmed” and “Lonely” described my anxiety and overwhelming isolation that I felt in that first year of the pandemic. . The first part of “Lonely” had the most resonance.

Who are you when no one is watching?

Close your apartment door

Are you afraid of silence?

Are you afraid of what you will find in it?

I was terrified—afraid of what the reception would be to my true identity as I slowly walked away from the duo. For the first time I felt lonely because of this fear. But it was necessary to recognize when I discovered myself while the rest of the world was on pause to become who I am today.

In 2021, music continues to guide me like flames in the dark – this time as an escape from the constant grief caused by ongoing police brutality targeting the black community, all while anti-LGBT legislation continues to shoot its bigoted head.

Because these intersections of my identity were under attack, everywhere I turned I felt unsafe. But the music allowed me to be away. This time around, I turned to pop/rock via Olivia Rodrigo’s song “Sour” to deal with the anxiety I feel on a daily basis.

Being black and weird means having multiple targets on your back. I am not someone who gets angry or shows me that when I am; It takes a breaking point for me to respond. But I was suffocating because my anger at the ignorance of the world was only growing. When Pictures were released, I would sing every lyric at the top of my lungs around my apartment, choke and play air guitar and sometimes scream into a pillow.

Later that year, Lil Nas X’s Montero appeared to take his place Musical Diary This completely captured my experience as one of the blacks.

Towards the end of 2021, I plunged into a deep depression after leaving journalism and was generally feeling uncertain about my future. In some ways, I felt like my life had run its course, and a part of me readily accepted it. But Adele’s 30 saved me. I was sad. I spent hours crying and letting go of the deep, tense sadness that gripped me while listening to this album over and over again.

In late October 2021, after the atmosphere eased my depression, I realized that not only has music been my lifeline since childhood, it is also powerful enough to make change in others. So I started brainstorming how music and my passion for journalism could provide a form of service to combat the ongoing erasure of gay people. I created my first music column, playlist o, for Xtra magazine. Executing gay people became cathartic for me, my little form of protest obliterating us.

These days, the Q playlist is still going strong. In February, I came out as a non-binary person, finding myself through more gender-emphasizing clothing and the invitation For myself and other gay people in public forums. I’ve come out on the other side of this journey, all guided by music.

And I know going into this next chapter, music will continue to be the sonic haven of hope that recharges my weary soul crushed by the world – my joy, my peace, my serenity.

Darek L. Cottingham is a cultural and entertainment journalist.