For even more vintage Tegan and Sara feelings:
- 9 Definitive Elements of Every Tegan and Sara Video
- This Letter Crystal Sent Me About Meeting Tegan and Sara
- Tegan and Sara Answer 10 Questions About Love
- Tegan Quin: The Autostraddle Interview(s)
- Tegan & Sara’s ‘Heartthrob’: A Track-by-Track Feelings Festival
- Tegan & Sara do Sydney: Photo Gallery by Stef Mitchell
- Autofocus! with Tegan and Sara at MTV Studios
- Reviewing Tegan & Sara: Sainthood Track-by-Track
- 10 Tegan and Sara Halloween Costumes To Make Everyone So Jealous
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
Yvonne Marquez, Autostraddle Senior Editor, 26
I was introduced to Tegan and Sara by my straight best friend in high school. Vanessa always gave me mixed CDs with all of her favorite music. She and I were obsessed with angsty alternative/pop rock music: Taking Back Sunday, All-Time Low, Boys Like Girls, Every Avenue, Say Anything and the list goes on. She would fangirl over the cute boys in the band and if I’m being honest, at one point, I did too. She would rip 50 songs onto a CD for me because she knew I had dial-up internet and I didn’t know how to illegally download music like she did. In 2007, at the beginning of our junior year, Vanessa gave me a mixed CD with two songs at the very end that didn’t match the rest of the CD. Besides Paramore, they were the only two songs with female voices. The songs were slower and softer and less angry than the rest of the CD. It was the first time I heard Tegan and Sara and I was hypnotized by “I know, I know, I know…” and “So Jealous.” Vanessa heard the songs on Veronica Mars and liked them so much she shared them with me.
Vanessa gave me that CD right around the cusp of when my world would turn upside down. I was beginning to have feelings for my other best friend, E. We hung out all the time, laughed and talked like other teenage best friends but we held our gazes and each other’s hand for way longer than what was “normal.” Every time I listened to that mixed CD I couldn’t wait till the very end so I could listen to the last two songs. I only thought of E when I listened to them.
“The same as I love you
You’ll always love me too
This love isn’t good unless
It’s me and you”
As time passed, E and I couldn’t hold those gazes for much longer and we ended up kissing one night at my house and it made the most perfect sense. But it also confused the hell out of me. We didn’t have the language to put a label on who and what we were, but we knew we couldn’t tell anyone about it. From then on we had a secret relationship. We held hands underneath cafeteria tables, stole kisses in deserted hallways at school, exchanged love notes between classes and made out after school. Every night I would listen to those two Tegan and Sara songs on my iPod nano and thought of her.
I had no idea who Tegan and Sara were and it wasn’t until several months later when another friend pointed out that they were gay that I really started to pay attention to them. I craved more of their music so I used my birthday money to buy their latest album, The Con. I couldn’t wait till I got home to listen so I popped in the CD as soon as we got in the car. I was Christmas shopping with my dad and brother and they really weren’t the best people to have a first listen of this album. “They sound like chipmunks,” my dad remarked, laughing. I was annoyed at my dad but I didn’t care, I finally was listening to new Tegan and Sara.
The album immediately became a beacon to me in my lonely, closeted world. The lyrics were simple yet punched me right in the gut with all its emotional complexity. “I felt you in my life/ Before I ever thought to” Yes, I could relate. I found The Con at a time when I had so many intense feelings I could burst but I had to keep them all in. I was peak, head-over-heels for a girl but I had to stifle the giddiness and excitement that comes with a first love. I was so afraid of what others thought that I didn’t show my affection to E in public or to my friends or family. The only way I could process it all was through listening to The Con.
Later that year, my parents gave me a car so I was able to drive wherever my friends and I wanted on the weekends, which was usually to go eat or to watch a movie. I always dropped E at her house last so I could give her a kiss goodnight. On my way home, I would scream sing along to the majority of The Con since we lived pretty far out of the city limits. I felt on top of the world. The Con isn’t necessarily backdrop music for a young lesbian romance —it’s actually really heart-wrenching — but it reminds me of the time I was falling in love. It reminds me of when I was just coming into my queerness, with all of its messiness and sweet, fun moments. It’s an album that’s forever etched in my memory as the soundtrack to my baby gay years.
Casey Stepaniuk, Autostraddle Contributing Writer, 32
Since I’m Canadian, I had known about Tegan and Sara since they were a tiny Canadian band who played in small Canadian cities. I had heard a few of their albums before 2007, but I didn’t own any. Listening to them after coming out, though, gave them a whole new meaning. The Con didn’t quite coincide with my coming out to myself and close friends, which had happened about a year and a half earlier, but it did arrive right around the time that I started to really tell people. A large part of my idea of telling people meant cutting my hair really short. The picture I shared is pre-short hair cut, but it was taken on an exchange to Germany where I was around brand new people who knew me as queer right from the get-go for the first time ever. As you can probably tell, I was pretty ecstatic at that time in my life.
I have visceral memories of walking around where I lived at the time, Victoria, B.C., with my newly short hair and wearing this red leather jacket I had just bought on that Germany trip and listening to The Con on my discman. (I think even in 2007 I was very behind by still having a discman). I remember walking and walking to nowhere in particular thinking over and over “Oh my god, everyone can tell.” It was an exhilarating but terrifying feeling that I’m sure was mostly in my head. I mean, no one could tell I was listening to Tegan and Sara, although I probably did kind of look like the baby dyke I felt like. It was such a strange and painful mix of emotions because I wanted people to know, but I also didn’t?
The Con made me feel so bad-ass and powerful at a time when I wasn’t feeling either. Even now, when I hear the opening guitar notes of “Nineteen” or “The Con” it gives me this weird surge of energy. It takes me right back to that period of my life. I think I could walk forever in the dark on the streets of any city feeling strong and fierce if I was listening to The Con. I know this is maybe a bit weird compared to other people’s experiences with this album, which is admittedly heart-wrenching and about all kinds of love that was lost or unrequited. It’s not that some of the songs don’t gut me; they do. Maybe it’s that I drew strength from their radical vulnerability. Maybe it was just that they were out queer women at a time when I so desperately needed to see women out there in the world like them.
Alexis, Autostraddle Staff Writer, 23
Sadly, as a baby closeted lesbian I didn’t know anything about Tegan and Sara or how much they’d change me. I was in ninth grade when The Con came out. Aside from not knowing where to look for music outside of my family (I could choose the music I wanted but I didn’t have the money to be sneaking around and getting my own CDs), I shared computers with my parents and little sister at home and my grandma at my grandparents’ house during most of the school week, so I wasn’t going to have a chance to know about Tegan and Sara anyways.
It’s hard for me to sit long enough with the thought of how things used to be and contrast them to what they are now. Maybe if I had known where to look and had someone like me looking our for little me, I would’ve gotten a mix CD with some of their songs and kept it hidden under my mattress. Maybe by the time I got to high school, I would’ve learned to let Tegan and Sara howl about my anguish instead of doing it (embarrassingly, unforgivably) myself. Instead, I mistakingly described the script of But I’m a Cheerleader to a friend, trying to play it off as a mistake that I ended up watching. When they said, “So you watched gay porn?” that put a stop to any exploring I was gonna try to do.
I didn’t really know about Tegan and Sara until after I graduated. After coming back from college attempts several times, I moved from the living room to the basement and made a little desk right next to my bed and books. I figured now was as good a time as any to really get into the lesbianess of it all, so I ordered Imagine Me & You off Amazon, found fanfiction, and pressed PLAY ALL on Tegan and Sara’s profile on Spotify.
I played “Nineteen” over and over again as the oh, this is how it feels of “I felt you in my legs before I ever met you” hit home. When I think of kindergarten and my best friend, and then high school and how I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings I had, and some of the friends that I didn’t know I shouldn’t have such friendly feelings for. A lot of times I was sitting next to them, close but not too close, and every time they did something that made my heart flip I felt that lyric: “I was yours right?”
Vanessa, Autostraddle Community Editor, 28
The thing is, in 2007 I thought I was straight.
I hadn’t met Emily yet and I hadn’t had my heart broken by a girl yet and I had no idea what the fuck was yet to come. So The Con existed but I didn’t know about it – not really, I mean. I vaguely knew there were twin sisters named Tegan and Sara who sang songs and were Canadian and gay (did I even really know they were gay? Do straight girls pay attention to these things? I don’t remember) in the same way I vaguely knew there was a show called The L Word and a bar in New York called Cubby Hole and an LGBT center at my university. These things were far away though, and didn’t concern me. I had an unrequited crush on my best boy friend from high school and a college dorm room in downtown Manhattan and a seemingly permanent hangover.
I did not have any feelings about queer heartbreak.
Fast forward to June 2010. I was about to graduate from NYU and I was the most embarrassing clueless overly emotional baby dyke. 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. (If you ever took a gender studies class at NYU I BET YOU KNOW WHO I AM TALKING ABOUT.) I was also in love with Emily, who turned my whole life upside down when she kissed me the year before but then stopped speaking to me because she wasn’t interested in “being a tour guide for a confused straight girl.” I was reading every gay book I could get my hands on, making my queer friends explain “how to have sex with a girl” at coffee shops, and binge-watching The L Word on Netflix every single afternoon in the apartment I shared with a straight girl from Long Island who didn’t really know what to make of me. I found Autostraddle. I found Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber. I wasn’t sure which label fit me best – bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer – but I knew I was all in. I’ve never felt so scared and so good at the same time. I’m gonna teach myself how to be a dyke, I thought.
And then I met Corey.
Corey was a freshman and I was a senior and she sort of didn’t give a shit about me, except when she did. She was in my gender studies 101 class and I thought she was cute but we never said a word to each other, until one night we found each other on the dance floor at NYU’s drag ball and she exclaimed, “I knew you weren’t straight!” which was irritatingly thrilling, considering how everything went down with Emily. We made out and I was so into her but everything after that was a mess of missed connections and she was really in love with her RA and she made fun of my incessant texting and blew me off but then wanted to study for our final exam together and then she was perusing my bookshelf and suddenly we were making out on my bed but I had to go to a gym class (why didn’t I blow off my gym class?!?!) and she said, “what do you need from me right now” and I said, “a rain check” but we never got that rain check because ya know, that’s how life works sometimes. She ignored me for weeks after that and then we both went home for the summer. I had graduated and was moving to Israel soon and she lived in London and we were so far away but suddenly we were talking all the time, she was sorry for how she’d acted in New York, we Skyped every night, sent each other crazy long emails, said we’d go on a date when I moved back to Manhattan in a year… oh, it was a mess.
And that, dear reader, is when I discovered The Con.
I found the music video to “Call It Off” first, because of course I did. I watched it approximately 47 times in a row on the first day I found it, and then approximately 1000 times a week for the rest of the summer. I couldn’t stop. I was 21 and living in my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house in the suburbs and I had found two (incredibly attractive) queer women who were singing these songs about my life. This is the story of me and Corey, I thought to myself. This is the story of me and Emily. This is the story of all the girls I have ever loved who have not loved me back, and all the girls I will ever love who will not love me back – maybe I would’ve been something you’d be good at; maybe you would’ve been something I’d be good at.
After finding “Call It Off” I devoured the rest of the album. I’ve always loved “Nineteen”, “The Con”, “Back In Your Head”, and “Burn Your Life Down” best (after “Call It Off”, of course), but I appreciate the whole album so, so much. It taught me how to be gay, which is exactly what I was trying to do that weirdo summer of 2010, and it taught me how to be okay when she didn’t like me or love me back.
Corey and I never went on a date, of course. We fought over Skype and hurt each other’s feelings and then I met a girl in Israel and fell in love with her and ended up dating her for almost three years, and Corey got together with her RA after all, and years later we met in a bar in New York right as I was about to break up with my girlfriend and I said, after four drinks, “If we were single do you think we would go home together tonight?” and she looked at me with a smirk and said, “If we were single I don’t think we would’ve made it past the first round.”
I drunkenly listened to The Con on the way home that night; I knew what was coming. I don’t reserve the album for breakups, though. It’s too good. It’s a breakup album, for sure, arguably The Queer Girl Breakup Album, but for me, it’s also a soundtrack that invites me home, back to my queer becoming. The Con means the same thing to me that Buffy means, that the Shane/Cherie Jaffe pool sex scene means, that Riese’s essay about her own sexuality means. It’s all stuff that taught me how to be gay; it all taught me how to be me.
In two years I’ll celebrate the 10 year anniversary of my own queerness. But today, I celebrate a decade of The Con – a perfect queer album that got born two years before I even knew I would one day need it. Thank the goddess for its existence, amen.
Raquel, Autostraddle Staff Writer, 28
Like many, I came to The Con a little bit late. It was more like 2009, when I was receiving my ‘gay-ducation,’ as she put it, from the girl who would eventually become my first girlfriend. Strangely, my journey through the album, the songs that stuck to my gills one by one, paralleled my months-long journey of leaving my four-year boyfriend. This was in part because it was a profoundly toxic relationship, and in part to explore my queerness with this girl who was shaking up everything about how I thought my body worked, this girl I would see walking down the halls and wonder why my heart stopped and my eyes locked on.
The first song already intrigued me — the scream-sung assertion that [Sarah] “was married in the sun.” I guess that meant it was sunny that day, but I imagined her, on the face of the actual sun, shining and burning. I think maybe that’s something of how it felt. I was inching my way into my queerness, and I couldn’t imagine the experience of being able to marry a woman, the heartbreak and the confusion of then, not being married anymore. Of course, I’d heard of divorce before, I’d experienced breakups, but somehow, now, the thought felt more real. Ironically, the account of a relationship between two women falling apart made me realize that maybe, maybe that kind of relationship could be an option for me. Maybe, it was everything I wanted.
Then came “Back in Your Head.” That fucking refrain. That lilting, insistent trill of the piano. This song haunted me. I don’t fully know what it meant to Sara, but it spoke to me of the years I’d spent with this guy, of the years since I felt truly connected. He rationed his vulnerability, giving me glimpses of intimacy before shutting himself off again. As happens at the end of relationships, I’d play and replay our beginning, the feelings I used to have of closeness, the conviction that only we two could understand one another in the world. The perils of falling into a deeply-entwined, overbearing and overwhelming relationship at 18. I was in art school, and one day, there was a moment after one of our morning 4-hour studios, when The Girl in my class started playing “Back in Your Head” and drawing. I was sitting on top of the long, wooden studio table, cross legged, hanging out as college students are wont to do, and I started bawling. Just, embarrassing, wracking sobs of ugly-crying. I did just want back into his head. Everything felt overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I freaked her out, I think, but she was kind and listened to me talk about this boy, tactfully keeping her mouth shut and drawn in a small, sharp line. “I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray. I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.” I looked at her with my red eyes, and my eyelashes clumped in tears, and I knew precisely what those words meant.
And, finally, “Call It Off.” It was the simplest video, and I watched it over and over. I watched as Sara encircled and entwined Tegan with the colorful, knotted wires and understood the metaphor. I watched the pain in Tegan’s eyes echo mine as she sang. I knew it had to be done. I knew it was long overdue. I didn’t want to. I wondered, at the time, if I had destroyed this relationship by my vacillatory nature, with my questions and my queerness. I was causing such pain, was it truly sinful — was I? The phrase “Maybe I would’ve been something you’d be good at. Maybe you would’ve been something I’d be good at” felt aimed at a relationship that was a false start, a connection that never took, but I felt it twice over. I felt it towards the girl, wondering in this past/future tense if it would work out, if it could possibly. I felt it towards my on-again off-again boyfriend, realizing that this back and forth wasn’t working, wasn’t helping, and my questions were too big for the relationship to survive them. I had new questions to ask.
Riese, 35, Autostraddle Editor-in-Chief
It was a queer and sultry summer, the summer my heart broke and I screamed on the rooftop of the Central Harlem apartment I hated nearly as much as I hated life itself, the summer that dark couldn’t come soon enough for me. It was hot IT WAS SO HOT and I was walking so quickly it almost felt like running and I had my blog and not much else. I’ve been eating music, I wrote on my blog. I asked Carly to give me a list; she did, a good long one, I ate it.
Carly ended up being my gateway to my generation’s queer-adjacent musical zeitgeist. I knew that Tegan & Sara existed, ’cause they’d been in The L Word, and I’d downloaded every song that’d ever been on The L Word, including “So Jealous.” But then Carly sent me a playlist of songs to download and I guess she didn’t do it on purpose but every song on it was exactly what I needed — Shiny Toy Guns I can’t forget what you’ve forgotten, Stars I’m still in love with you I’m still in love with you, Rilo Kiley Sometimes when you’re on you’re really fucking on but the lows are so extreme that the good feels fucking cheap.
And! And Tegan & Sara!
I traded in “crying to Chris Pureka” for “never standing still to Tegan & Sara.”
Here, finally, a way to deal with the world. Another barrier between me and it. Here, at last, a soundtrack louder than the mania surrounding me, the psychosis that turned my first relationship with a woman into an abusive, controlling, life-wrecking mess.The pressure of this life is so you can’t be held accountable. If you go, you go.
“The Con,” like so much Tegan and Sara I fell in love with that summer, gave misery velocity, was energetic in its sadness. I’d never heard music like this before, music that understood that despair can mean run-walking sweaty down hot-as-hell streets as much as it can mean lying in bed, staring at the wall.
This blog thing had opened some doors for me, and by “doors” I mean a way to meet girls who already thought I was cool before meeting me in person and thus discovering my sub-par social skills. That’s how I met Carly, she commented on my blog and had a cute picture. It turned out we’d been separated at birth and it was our true destiny to be friends forever, write a lesbian sitcom together, and, for a month or two, drink/plow/starve/flirt/laugh away our breakup-related depression.
I’m up and doing circles I collapse.
She’d just escaped Orlando and the break-up of the long-term relationship she had there. I hadn’t escaped a damn thing but I sure as hell was trying to.
Everyone I love, I need you now.
I was messy, aggressively messy, and looking back I’m not sure if I’m ashamed or bizarrely proud of myself. I wanted to burn my life down but I wrote it all down instead, and I’ll keep writing it down until the day it makes sense to me.
I’ll hold this pain in my heart forever, Tegan and Sara sang like holding pain in your heart forever was a thing you could do and still manage to sing about it.
I can’t stop listening, I wrote, like I need a soundtrack really badly. Silence kills me. It reminds me of what used to fill it, maybe.
“The Con” is forever the summer of 2007, when I wasn’t nineteen (I was 25) but maybe I was nineteen in gay years. Because when I heard I felt you in my legs before I ever met you I knew they were the truest words I’d ever heard. My fucking legs, always walking in the direction of tragic drama, the bones I wanted to shake my ex out of, but couldn’t. The thoughts I hated thinking, but couldn’t not: Maybe I would’ve been something you’d be good at. But now we’ll never know.
The heat of the city, of this new friendship, of THIS MUSIC — it helped.
So what I lied, I lied to me too.
“The Con” was taking the cross-town bus to Pathmark to stare at boxes of food I didn’t feel like eating, because all I wanted to consume were my emotions and Tegan & Sara. It was writing ’til 2am, drinking vodka on the stoop, needing constant distractions. “The Con” was long days and all-nighters writing our lesbian sitcom often followed by late nights in crowded bars for gay boys or girls.
When I feel like this / when I get so into myself I lose track of where I’m going.
It just doesn’t stop being exactly the only thing I can even think about hearing, I wrote. It’s like my life is an elevator and this is my elevator music and the elevator is stuck.
“The Con” was the gallery opening we went to where the power went out and somebody else’s girlfriend kissed me on the mouth and the ex-hookup I’d invited told me she’d just had an abortion and left without saying goodbye and I didn’t even notice she’d left. I’d get twitchy waiting for the night to end so I could put my headphones back in.
I just want back into your head.
We finished writing the lesbian sitcom and nobody wanted to buy it and Carly got a full-time job and let’s be honest I’d never looked for one. So I was alone at my desk again, staring at my keyboard, screaming with my mouth shut.
I knew I was losing it, had lost it, and maybe coming clean, even if I had to air the dirty laundry first, would help me find a way to be still. I won’t regret saying this, this thing that I’m saying. Is it better than keeping my mouth shut? That goes without saying.
Carrie Wade, Autostraddle Staff Writer, 28
The summer that The Con came out was one of the roughest times of my life. I was recovering from a heavy-duty (is there any other kind, really?) spinal surgery, unmoored by the fact that I had to leave school to get better, and going to multiple physical therapy appointments a week just trying to get to know my body again. It was my third time learning to walk and the first where it really stung, because I was an adult and understood that this wasn’t supposed to be happening to me anymore. I was impatient and scared and sad. Both of my parents stood by me like champs, handling my unpredictable anger and setbacks with a resolve I still don’t know if I’d be able to summon. And my dad was the one there with me all day (he’s the stay-at-home parent in our family), trying to figure out how to get me through the next minute and hour. We made a pact, once I was well enough, to get out of the house at least once a day because I was so sick of being cooped up. We curated our own personal taco and ice cream tour of Los Angeles that summer. And more often than not, The Con was on the stereo.
I feel like as a queer woman I’m probably supposed to relate to the lyrical minutiae of The Con a lot more than I do. But honestly, it’s never been about that for me. I love The Con because it reminds me of my dad. He was actually way more into the record than I was at first — he’s always been cooler than other dads and his own kids — and the minute he figured out he had a lesbian daughter, he hopped aboard the Tegan and Sara train and never got off. It’s one of his favorite albums to this day, a sure winner on every road trip or whenever silence needs filling. He loves “Nineteen” so much he makes me shut up whenever it comes on. We’ve been to multiple T&S shows together solely so he can hear that song. I learned to love the whole album just by watching him listen.
By this point The Con has been all around the world with us. It’s part of our relationship fabric. It connects me to one of the people I love most in the world, and reminds me how lucky I am to have such a phenomenal family.