Are You Ten Years Ago: We Remember Tegan & Sara’s “The Con,” Which Changed Our Lives

Tegan and Sara’s The Con was released 10 years ago today. We’re celebrating by going back into our own vaults, finding the stories of what these songs meant to us then and now. Maybe you can relate?

For even more vintage Tegan and Sara feelings:

For the stories below, authors have included photographs of themselves in 2007, the year “The Con” came out.


Erin Sullivan, Autostraddle Staff Writer, 31

I had a late introduction to The Con. In 2007, my only reference point to Tegan and Sara was that episode in The L Word when Dana and Shane get high to see their show at The Planet and, because they get way too high, end up dancing with them on stage. I actually saw the The Con DVD (in 2009) before I’d even heard any of their music. This is, I understand, a very strange and ass-backwards journey considering I’d been out and exposed to a queer scene for almost half a decade by that point. I don’t know what to tell you. I would have definitely sought them out earlier had someone just told me, “Tegan and Sara are so funny and charming that they will convince you to listen to music that you don’t usually listen to and in doing so you’ll come to love it.” But no one told me that, and so I had come to that realization on my own after stumbling onto a short clip from The Con DVD on Youtube.

I liked that that was my experience! It gave my listens a different perspective. I liked knowing it was recorded down the street from my house in Portland and the same tattoo parlor they passed every day was the same tattoo parlor I passed every day. I liked that, based on the album’s feel, knowing that the weather they were experiencing while recording it was like a Viognier with linguine and clams. I liked knowing what went into it what song and how a certain noise was developed in the studio. I liked knowing about the moments just before or after a song’s recording.

And then there was the music itself! If I can be honest I’m more into Sara’s whole deal because Tegan’s more of the feeler/emoter and those aren’t typically things I can really relate to, which means I’m more primed for songs Sara writes/fronts, but that doesn’t really matter with The Con. It’s such a balance of hits between the two of them. Like, “Nineteen”? “The Con”? “Dark Come Soon”? “Call It Off?” LET’S TAKE THEM TO FULL CAPACITY, TEGAN.

Once The Con made its way into my pod, it stayed on heavy rotation for years. Just morning after morning listening to “Floorplan” on the TriMet to work. Since then I’ve gotten to see all or parts of The Con performed live in L.A., in British Columbia after winning tickets to a live DVD recording, and as recently as last month at an outdoor arena in Raleigh. Sitting there on the grass ten years after its release and hearing them play it to a crowd of screaming lesbians, children, and straight couples was a reminder: this shit still bumps.


Sarah Hansen, Former Autostraddle DIY/Food Subject Editor, now Communications Director for a dog rescue, 30

You ever get your heart broken into a bazillion sharp and painful pieces and then Tegan and Sara write an album about it for you? Welcome to The Con.

I first listened to The Con on a plane flying to my second year of undergrad. I remember this distinctly because I thought I was pretty clever hearing “Hop a Plane” on a plane. I was a huge So Jealous fan, but The Con changed me. A confined space where I couldn’t sob hysterically was probably not the perfect place to listen to this album, if we’re being honest here.

To explain, my first love had just broken up with me with the tenderness of a nuclear explosion, and I was about to spend an entire year having panic attacks, crying in my closet and being promiscuous for all the wrong reasons in order to avoid processing my emotions. Long-term, it took me like five years to finally feel over my first girlfriend.

Oh boy, did this album tear that heartbroken feeling wide open for me, almost to a scary extent. The Con echoed every horrible, desperate feeling I had for an entire year, and so, yeah, I initially hated it. (To be fair, for proof that I always hate musical change, check out Crystal and my review of Heartthrob—now one of my favorite albums ever.) I think The Con was a little too… bare and honest for me at the time.

It took me about a year to revisit it. And again, it made me sink deep into those first heartbreak feelings. In fact, I credit The Con for actually getting me to work through a lot of emotions that I was desperately repressing. I remember really relating to lyrics like “Nobody likes me, baby, if I cry” (“The Con”) and “All I need to hear is that you’re not mine” (“Hop A Plane”). I did a lot of ugly crying to “Soil, Soil” and “Call It Off” and “Nineteen.”

And it’s funny, just when you think you’ve made peace with an emotion and kind of wrung it for all it’s worth, it comes slamming back into you. A few years ago, the incredible Whitney Pow sang “Nineteen” at A-Camp and I sobbed the same way I did back then. The Con is special because the honesty and rawness of the songs holds up, and so many emotions of heartbreak that I pinned upon them have stayed attached. Even now, listening to The Con is a cathartic act, like something I can settle into when I need a good cry.


Heather Hogan, Autostraddle Senior Editor, 38

I was late to Tegan and Sara like I was late to everything else in the wide world of queer pop culture, but by the time The Con debuted I was catching up fast. Hours in front of the TV watching every lesbian movie Netflix would send me and a new season of Buffy on DVD every payday. Downloading The Con, uploading it to my iPod (a lime green mini click-wheel), and then deleting all my music and personal programs off my computer was the last thing I did before leaving my last day at my last accounting job. Well, not the actual last thing. The actual last thing I did was walk into my 67-year-old boss’ office to say goodbye and then freeze up as he pulled me into an embrace and kissed me right on the mouth. I already knew I needed a liberation soundtrack for my hour-long commute home, but he sure did hammer home the point.

The Con is the album I listened to most when I was backpacking around Europe after leaving the business world for good, which sounds like the kind of thing that would make you roll your eyeballs right out of your head if you overheard someone say it at a bar, but wait! I had tried to speak French in Paris but I was terrible at it and the Parisians had no time for my nonsense so by the time I got to Germany I decided I was going to just figure everything out by myself. That included emailing my family some photos from my trip one night when I got back to my hotel, from the computer in the lobby. I had my headphones on and I was listening to “Hop a Plane.” I was doing it, man! I was hopping around Europe ON MY OWN, the first time I’d ever been fully out and openly gay about it to everyone, and I’d given an ultimatum to a girl back home. Everything on the computer in the hotel lobby was in German, obviously, but whatever, man; Tegan and Sara said I was invincible, and so I sent my family some cool pics of me being cool in Europe — only that is not what I did it all. I changed the desktop background of that computer, and every computer in the hotel, to a giant photograph of my face. For the rest of my time in that hotel, the employees exploded into laughter every time they saw me.

The morning after that incident I was taking a picture in front of the Rhine River and just toppled right in. This is that picture.

Heartthrob is my favorite Tegan and Sara album because it’s the one I healed my heart and my lifelong relationship to. But whenever a song from The Con shuffles onto iTunes or Spotify I’m transported back to that spring in Europe when I was such a hapless idiot, but a free one, for the first time in my life. I remember reading a Pitchfork review one time (remember Pitchfork?!) that said Tegan and Sara’s music allows you to suspend your cynicism. At the time in my life when I needed to be engulfed in impossibly hopeful euphoria the most, The Con was there for me. It was my soundtrack for being reborn.


Laura M, Autostraddle Staff Writer, 30

I started listening to Tegan and Sara in 2004, after my secretly queer BFF played and sang along to “Walking With A Ghost,” causing my own secretly queer heart to sing along too, even though I didn’t know the words yet. I didn’t know that Tegan and Sara were gay, but I did know that I was in love all the songs on that album (So Jealous, the one released right before 2007’s The Con). I spent a lot of time shout-singing along to “Frozen.” You know, like straight people do.

When The Con came out, my favorite song from the album was “Back In Your Head.” In my heart, it’s a continuation of “Living Room” — a song which, according to Last.fm, I have spent no less than 9 hours of my life listening to. I love the raw edge in Tegan’s voice, the slightly unhinged intensity, the voyeurism. When I first heard “Living Room,” it made me think of Rear Window, and also driving past the small town street your crush lives on, heart in your throat as you wonder whether they’ll be outside so you can… I don’t know, look at what they’re wearing? In 2004, my teenage feelings were bigger than my body, and I had no place to put them. I did weird things with a strong sense of urgency that I definitely didn’t understand then, and still don’t fully understand now. Thirteen years later, “Living Room” now makes me think of the weird relationships people in big cities have with their neighbors. For example: I’m frequently in the kitchen in my underwear preparing weeknight dinners, at the same time the brown haired woman across the street is doing the exact same thing. I know this because we both look out and see each other through our respective second and third story windows. It’s an intimacy neither of us asked for, but both of us are living with. I think that’s what the song is about: unasked-for-but-not-unacceptable intimacy, colliding with a ferocious yearning for human connection.

Taken literally, “Back In Your Head” seems to be about internalized homophobia hurting a couple’s long-term relationship (“when I jerk away from holding hands with you / I know these habits hurt important parts of you”), but the part I’m drawn to, again, is that “slightly off” feeling as the lyrics limn dysfunction over top a determinedly upbeat number. When I listen to “Back In Your Head,” I’m once again enthralled by that unhinged, desperate and deeply compelling edge in the singer’s voice — Sara, this time, crooning, “I just want back in your head / I just want back in your head / I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray / I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray.” That’s, uhh… an emotionally complex perspective. To say the least. The fact that I’m so very into it is evidence of my deep-seated lesbianism, probably. (Just kidding.) (It speaks to my bisexuality.)

I don’t particularly love the rest of The Con — the overall sound is unappealingly discordant to my ears — but I do appreciate that track. Oh, and “Call It Off.” That song is perfect.


Rachel Kincaid, Autostraddle Managing Editor, 28

I was nineteen when The Con came out, and boy did I ever feel her in my heart; I did indeed fly back home to where we met, I did stay inside I was so upset. I was in college, and the girl I had been in love with for years but never called my girlfriend no matter how many times we fell asleep holding each other was at a different one, far far away. I emailed her and Skyped her for hours on my dorm room floor and called her from the common room and in the meantime I listened to The Con: through headphones while my roommate watched King of the Hill, in the library, through the speakers at the coffeeshop/late night music venue where I would later work. I was being dumb and dramatic and refusing to identify a single thing I was feeling but that was okay because Tegan and Sara would do it for me. I’ll go there every day to make myself feel bad, they sang, with the constant refrain of “call me,” “call, call.”

How are the lyrics so vague and yet so specifically obviously written exactly about whatever my little queer heartbreak was at the time? Why was I drinking half a jug of Carlo Rossi while listening to “Maybe I would have been something you’d be good at, maybe you would have been something I’d be good at, but now we’ll never know?” I didn’t want to know, and I would spend a lot of years trying to avoid thinking about it. Not just that girl, that particular heartbreak, but a lot of small heartbreaks and quiet dark moments, times when I wasn’t sure what was happening but I could hear their voices in my head: call, call. The Con didn’t make anything better, exactly, but it let me know that I wasn’t the only one who had ever felt confused and dramatic enough to compare anxiety to a knife going in.

Taylor and Kip came to visit me and go to PAX East my junior year; Sainthood was out by then I think. My heart had been broken and healed and broken again by all kinds of new things. They sat on the couch in the coffeeshop where I worked and I was on shift alone and it was dead in there that night, so I could play whatever I wanted, and I played hours of Tegan and Sara. It was in the same place I had stayed til 2 AM closing, gotten drunk hiding liquor in coffee mugs during concerts with my friends, fought with people I was dating and also danced with them, had staff meetings while I was hungover and invited girls I had crushes on to hang out with me behind the counter while I worked. We listened to Tegan and Sara sing I was yours, right, I was yours, and I had been hers in a way, but now I was having a beautiful quiet night with two weirdos I met on the internet, and later we would go out and drink a bottle of wine on the T and have a beautiful blurry time at a Boston dyke night that I don’t think exists anymore, and The Con had room for all of it, somehow, still does.


Maddie, Former Autostraddle Staff Writer, Current Copy Editor, Video Editor, 26

It’s unclear to me how Tegan and Sara claim to have made an album called The Con but instead seem to have sharpened daggers aimed directly at the hearts of basically every single queer and somehow digitized them into mp3 files!

Anyway, I was late to Tegan and Sara and didn’t really get into them until Heartthrob was released in my junior year of college (2013), kicking off a semester during which I more or less exclusively listened to Tegan and Sara. It was a hard semester, the one where I finally processed the traumatic end of a relationship from almost a year prior. I worked backwards, from Heartthrob to Sainthood to The Con to So Jealous. My Con phase came along when I was ending a period which involved hiding in my room and crying, and kicking off the period when I cut my hair off, started running, and decided I wanted to smooch people again. It was spring. The world was fresh and my heart was raw and my body felt free.

I think The Con helped me stay grounded during that time. It poked at my lingering heartwounds while I stretched the muscles of flirtation and sexiness again. I met a new person. We made out in the woods and in my bed while the lyric “I want to draw you a floor plan of my head and heart” bounced around in my head. I don’t remember if we were actually listening to it or if that was just my internal music. I was ready to fall for this girl. I was on the diving board ready to launch myself into whatever “Us” would be, but then she ended things as quickly as they began. But I surprised myself, because instead of crumbling, I held onto myself and that made me feel really, really strong.

Listening to The Con now transports me back to my room from that semester, and I’m struck by the pain of heartbreak and rejection, mixed with love and pride for myself. That isn’t a feeling tied to much before that period of my life, and it’s cool to be able to feel what a significant time that was because of the connection it has to this particular album.


Molly P, Autostraddle Staff Writer, 32

The year 2007 was a linchpin time in my life, which always means that the music I was listening to then has imprinted on my brain a perfect schematic rendering of what I was thinking and feeling and wanting and needing and doing. It’s also when The Con dropped, and I was (am) an avid Tegan and Sara fan. Like probably many queers, they were part of me finding the courage to believe the things I’d started to suspect of myself: that I was different from my sisters, that I didn’t want a boyfriend, that I’d rather have a girl touching me, etc.

Finding their music was a fluke; I typed something like “folk music” into a search machine in the early 2000s and honestly clicked their name off a list. It was very random but also, I think, the work of my gay guardian angel. I connected to the music immediately, enough to write them fan emails in like 2002 and 2003 to which they responded (??!). Saw them live in Missoula in 2004, and it was the first concert at which I knew all the words (“Living Room” is still my favorite).

So when I hear The Con, I’m back to having just graduated college, moving to a town where I’d be living near my first real serious girlfriend, starting graduate school for journalism and working in a bakery. It was one of the happiest, most exciting times of my life, and this music was a big part of that. I have memories of sitting with my friend Alexandra at The Break café in Missoula and comparing notes on the songs; I was easily and particularly taken with “Nineteen” because I like ’em moody, but she was advocating for “Burn Your Life Down.”

Also, the song “The Con,” has one of my favorite lyrics ever: “Nobody likes to but I really like to cry” and it’s so true, because I hate crying but it’s also so part of everything. “Call It Off” still breaks my heart in all the best ways, no matter how many times I’ve heard it; it’s so simple, it’s so brutal. “Maybe I would have been something you’d be good at, maybe you would’ve been something I’d be good at,” COME ON.

When I drive the long Montana distances, with the windows down and the wind whipping through the wheat and hay and canola and into my windows, I’m pumping my music and “Burn Your Life Down” is such a screamer. Like, I’m literally screaming the words, because it’s such a common, awful experience.

I will say that anymore, the opening droplet piano notes of “Back in Your Head” will make me want to change the song, but if I can stand it enough to get to the words and guitar, I remember how much I love this song. By the time I’m hitting the “run run run” part it’s a full on sprint, I’m so into the song, and I’m screaming “I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray when I get a little scared.”

What I loved about this album, what caught my antennae then and what still catches them now, is how they’re songs about being disconnected or having trouble or hopping a goddamn plane to come and visit me again. Those are such unifying experiences, but I hate talking about them! I don’t like discussing heartbreak, or unrequited love, or feeling like an idiot when I have a crush and they don’t want me back – but having Tegan and Sara sing about them so unabashedly has helped me so much over the intervening years.

I remember thinking The Con sounded odd, disjointed, maybe a little experimental. And like most new albums, it took me a couple listen-throughs to be totally hooked. But it burrowed into my head through the ears, and eventually under my breastbone, pulsating at a comforting rhythm of a time when I had my shit figured out and happiness ruled. It’s a nice feeling.


Next up: Yvonne, Riese, Alexis, Vanessa, Casey, Carrie, and Raquel


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29 Comments

  1. “I was taking a gender studies 101 class and I was in love with my professor and her terrific brain and her perfect muscular arms.”

    Vanessa. Please write an entire song about this.

    • !!!

      you def don’t want me writing or singing any songs i am an awful singer and every girlfriend i have ever had has told me, sort of gently but also in a truly horrified way, that i “sing every song as if it’s an ani difranco, with ani difranco’s voice, except not good and also off key”, but i will happily write a FULL ESSAY ABOUT THIS HUMAN because dear lord, what a way to realize one’s queerness. BLESS.

  2. I had already fallen in love with Tegan and Sara (one of those rare this business of art fans) and when the Con came out I shyed away from its darkness. I did fall in love with “Like O, Like H” … t&s have this perfect way of capturing a mood and feeling in a few words and “sugar spell it out” was my #1 mood 10 years ago.

  3. I was nineteen when this album came out and I’m hearing it for the first time today. It sounds extremely 2007 and I love it already.

    ‘Burn your life down’ is actually kind of the perfect vibe for being in your late twenties and recently out and exactly ten years late to this party.

  4. Heather’s computer anecdote made me laugh really hard but only because it’s exactly the kind of thing I would do.

    This album came out the year before I realized I was queer by falling hard for a girl, and while I was trying to figure out if she might also be into girls, a mutual friend of ours invited her along to a T&S concert. She showed up with a guy, but then later on made comments about how hot T&S were, and these kinds of confusing mixed-signals went on for the next (large number of) years. So this album reminds me of that whole roller coaster episode of my life.

  5. I enjoyed reading this so much!

    For me, it was in December 2007 that I learned of the existence of Tegan and Sara, I think it was through a post in AfterEllen that named The Con the best album of the year or something like that. Two months later I met my first girlfriend and my biggest heartbreak -long story short, she came to my city in an exchange program, we dated for a few months and we broke up when she returned to her city, but I was still in love with her. I made her a few mix CDs (they were still a thing) and I was obsessed with TnS so of course they were in the list. I was 19 a couple of months after she left, so Nineteen, The Con and Knife Going In were on repeat in my CD Player…I didn’t have an iPod yet.
    I’ll always love The Con, not only for the memories, but because it’s an amazing record.

  6. My introduction to Tegan and Sara was seeing the video for “The Con” that summer on the Fuse. It was right before my senior year of high school and also the summer I realized I was gay. I enjoy all of their music, but this album holds a special place in my heart for that reason.

  7. Riese: “…when I wasn’t nineteen (I was 25) but maybe I was nineteen in gay years”

    I read every single comment, cried. Then listened to the album start to finish for the first time, and cried again.
    I’m 30. I have never had any real relationship, or passionate make out sessions in my dorm room, or knowing the pain of separating from your forever someone.

    And that’s o.k. I don’t really remember the last 12 years. I numbed half of it drinking, and lost the other half desperately trying anything I could to rid myself of myself. The world told me I wasn’t worthy of love, and I believed that with all my heart until very recently.

    So now, Riese – your line really resonated with me. I’m not 19 either. Yet, in a beautiful and unique way, I feel like now at 30, I finally am experiencing all the growth, and love, and truth that many of you share so readily. I love reading all of your stories. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your journey ^__^ It makes me that much more excited for my own.

  8. The first first time I heard them was on a mix CD that an obnoxious art major boy gave me in class freshman year… he bragged specifically about how he’d seen them in LA and they were going to be a huge deal. I couldn’t stand Sara’s voice and always skipped the song when it came up.

    But then I transferred schools and made my first-ever queer friend and she gave me all their albums and we went to a concert that fall. It was winter of 2007, so The Con must have just been released. I’d never seen so many queer people in my life, and I don’t remember much of the show because I was basically blacked out in panic and euphoria. I was just finally started to accept my own queerness and it was totally overwhelming just to exist in that space. I spent the rest of that school year watching every single video I could find of them on youtube, and seeing two queer women be open and funny about their gayness and weirdness and anxiety and idiosyncrasy was literally what made it seem possible for me to be an out, queer person as well. Like, gay people were real people I could relate to, and I could come out and still be accepted and have friends and be a whole human with an identity that was more than just “GAY”. I’m not that level of obsessed any more, but I still love everything they do (except maybe Sainthood). I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

  9. I love this, it’s beautiful. I have never been a fan of Tegan and Sara and actually never thought I would like them, but then I went to a concert of them with a person who was the first intense queer crush I had and also my first dysfunctional love I had intentionally lost contact with for more than five years, which did not stop me from accepting their very random invitation, which is the gayest thing anyone could do. “Maybe I would have been something you’d be good at/maybe you would have been something I’d be good at” is a very intense thing to sing with a person who never told you they were, in fact, totally in love with you and vice versa. (also, at that same concert, I met a girl I had been on five very awkward dates with two months prior. so…one of the gayest experiences of my life. Even when you’re not a fan, Tegan and Sara end up playing a very weird role in your life.

  10. Thank you all for putting this together. It’s so interesting how so many people have such vastly different experiences at the same time with the same music.

    I think I had known about Tegan and Sara for a while before I listened to any of their stuff. I think the first song of theirs I knew was “Closer”, and then I didn’t hear the “The Con” until about a year later from Rock Band 3. I do need to go back and listen to the rest of that album and this post may have given me the push that I needed.

  11. I heard of Tegan and Sara from an article I read in a music magazine, I think? I thought they looked and sounded cool, and I felt cool for knowing about them even though I’d never heard one of their songs. I remain totally unfamiliar with their music to this day, so I’m listening to The Con right now and I JUST REALIZED SOMETHING:

    Turns out I DID know one of their songs because it played on my local indie radio station. I used to rock out to “I Just Want That Kitty You Had.” Apparently that’s not how it actually goes. Mind blown.

    (In retrospect, if you’re going to be clueless about a lesbian band, mishearing one of their songs and thinking it’s about a cat is a pretty gay way to do it.)

  12. Late to the party but wow do I have a lot of feelings about The Con.
    Mostly what you all already said about not being nineteen but relating completely to that song.
    The Con being the first real bit of gay pop culture I absorbed.
    The Con being the soundtrack to my coming out and being able to look back at enigmatically quoted The Con lyrics on Facebook that narrates the internal turmoil I was going through. “I know, I know, I lied, I lied to me too” was one standout.
    I’ve moved on from my T&S obsession (did anyone else get WAY too invested in their fan message boards?) but they will always have a special place in my heart. Here’s to 10 more years of Tegan and Sara bringing hope to little baby queers.

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