The 26-Track Soundtrack to Your Big Gay Awakening

the gay awakening (n): a time-honored tradition of existential anxiety and homogay panic at the onset of more-than-friendly feelings for a same-sex person intimately involved in one’s life.

This playlist is composed of 26 songs, only a couple of which are specifically about queer feelings (*cough* David Cassidy *cough*). However, playlists – as with so many things in life – are really about intent. And the intent of these songs is to evoke the stages of gay awakening that many of us go through or can identify with to some degree. Even if your parents are Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, even if they are gaymos themselves, your inner dialogue might run something like this for the next several days/weeks/months/hopefully not years because this mix will get repetitive quickly.

So, examine the anatomy of a gay awakening. Let it marinate. And then make a new playlist that doesn’t include any Eisley because that would be against the rules.


Stage One

OMG we’re totally going to get a flat in London and have tons of cats and send joint Christmas cards and grow old together like best friends but definitely not like your lezzie aunt and her “life partner.”

1. Wouldn’t It Be Nice–The Beach Boys
This represents the beginning of the first phase of your not-quite-gay-yet relationship. Likely, you spend all of your time with one girl and 15 minutes without a text message feels like 15 years, particularly if you are, yourself, 15. It’s a time of innocence and simplicity and holding hands and forehead kisses. Maybe you refer to yourselves as sisters or best friends or platonic soulmates. You probably talk about being old maids together as you stroke her hair while she falls asleep.

Mostly, you think it will be so nice when you’re older and can do whatever you want together which, although you don’t know it yet, includes fucking.

2. Laura–Girls
There’s this thing that happens when two people are mutually attracted to one another but completely unable to formulate the words necessary to communicate that attraction. That thing usually involves irrational anger which presents itself as fighting over things like spending time with other people/delayed text responses/pretend concern over “co-dependency”/etc. However, these miniature blowups caused by latent sexual frustration are often resolved by more forehead kisses which, at the moment, substitute for boning.

I really wanna be your friend forever, friends forever

3. I Think I Love You–David Cassidy
Yeah, something is definitely knocking at your brain at this point, probably keeping you up at night with an uncomfortable tingling in your lower half in relation to your friend’s eyes or elbows or earlobes etc. Potentially, you wake up from dreams thinking, “Shit, I think I love my best friend and I have an irrational desire to punch her boyfriend in the face repeatedly.”

I just decided to myself, I’d hide it to myself…I think I love you so what am I so afraid of? A love that I’m unsure of, a love that there’s no cure for…it worries me to say that I’ve never felt this way

Clearly, CLEARLY, David Cassidy had a gay crush when he wrote this song as literally every single lyric applies directly to a gay awakening.

This song is actually a 3-minute gay panic attack.

4. Can You Tell–Ra Ra Riot
Things are getting bad. They’re getting bad in a really, really ecstatic sort of way where every single thought you have is about your best friend and none of those thoughts are particularly platonic or sisterly anymore…You’re in full-out gay love and you’re trying to convince yourself to play it cool but at the same time you’re really hoping your BFF notices and says something so you don’t have to.

Oh have I been too discrete? How long am I supposed to wait? I think about you nightly. Oh can you tell I’m losing sleep? Oh what am I supposed to do? It’s hard to stay cool. Oh when you smile at me and I get nervous every time you start to speak. My bed’s too big for just me…


Stage Two

The first kiss that does not include the forehead, the chin, the cheek, the corner of the mouth, or the adorable dip between her nose and her top lip.

5. Hands Down–Dashboard Confessional

Something’s going to happen; someone’s going to make a move because the tension has reached a literally unbearable high. You guys are doing fine, you’re doing nothing at all but still…

My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me. So won’t you kill me? So I die happy. My heart is yours to fill or burst, to break or bury, or wear as jewelery, whichever you prefer.

And then it HAPPENS and it’s actually an explosion and probs you’ve never kissed anyone like that before, no matter how little or how often you’ve kissed. So, you know, you’re kissing behind locked doors and slipping your hand under her shirt and making tiny markings in that place where her neck and shoulders meet, completely unsure what this kissing means or why you want to keep traveling down her neck or why it seems so imperative to bury yourself around her midsection and stay there until someone physically removes you.


Stage Three

The Calm (otherwise known as that place in the middle of a hurricane)

6. Brightly Wound–Eisley
For all of the sadnesses, there are so many tiny treasures in the gay awakening. You’re in love, even if you don’t want to be and every day is a new day of new reasons for being in love. You love how soft she is; you love the slightly breathless sounds she makes; you love the way she fits into you or the way you fit under her shoulder, turned against her breast; you love that every part of loving her is different than loving anyone before her. Being presented with a hundred thousand reasons to love someone is always so beautiful, even when it’s terrifying.

I shall never grow up, make-believe is much too fun. Can we go far away, to the humming meadow? This place is so lovely; it kind of makes me very happy.

7. Glass Vase Cello Case–Tattle Tale
There’s this movie that you should probably see at some point in your gay awakening and that movie is But I’m a Cheerleader. There are a lot of reasons to see this bizarre little film, including (but not limited to) RuPaul, Clea DuVall, that kid who played Sunshine in Remember the Titans, and a completely blue/pink color palette. However, possibly the most relevant reason for you, at this point in your cycle, is the scene accompanied by this song:

It’s basically the softest, sweetest, most tender representation I’ve yet to see of two girls nervously searching each other’s bodies for something they haven’t found with anyone else.

Are you still … still breathing?

8. Of Angels and Angles–The Decemberists
Every day now is a slow progression toward some previously unimaginable happiness. There’s a swallow, there’s a calm; here’s a hand to lay on your open palm today. You are in this quiet place where the best parts of your day are the parts where you are curled into the body of your lover, just breathing and counting her breaths. Maybe it can’t go on like this forever. At some point, because the world is impossible this way, you’ll have to talk and use “realwp_postswords that people have attached these strange values to: gay, lesbian, bi, straight. But for now, things are better when they’re quieter, with less words and more kissing. Things are always so much better with a higher kissing:words ratio.

There are angels in your angles / There’s a low moon caught in your tangles / And darling, we go a-drowning/down we go away

9. Be Be Your Love–Rachel Yamagata
Maybe you listen to this song and it fills you with a kind of pride or a sort of fight or a feeling of stubborn resolve. You know everything won’t be alright because it can’t be completely alright but it’s absolutely worth it anyway. The sadness is creeping into your days now; it’s there in the strings of this song but, presently, you keep trying to imagine this song as a kind of triumph instead. You make this song, as with so many others, what you need it to be in this moment. Eventually, probably, you’ll hum it to yourself before you face your parents or your friends or your employer or someone else demanding an answer to a question they’ve carelessly thrown out, not realizing you’ve spent months/maybe years asking yourself.

10. Just Like We Do–Eisley
There’s kind of an Eisley song for every phase of the gay awakening cycle. This one is particularly apt for lying naked in bed in the morning and memorizing every detail, every curve of the miraculous woman lying still next to you and trying to remind yourself that there are people who love each other just like you do.

Next:“the stage where only an all-encompassing Bjork song can possibly describe the sheer improbability of love and loving.”

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Treza has written 1 article for us.


      • i’m a hard core indigo girls fan to the extent where i feel i have to really think about this before telling you what to listen to. but i feel like become you and closer to fine and romeo & juliet and the language or the kiss or like ten others i can’t even

        anyhow though regardless this was awesome

        • me too. like it’s taxing to try to pick favorites. galileo is also a good starting point. and get out the map and power of two– either would be appropriate for a newly minted lez (they were for me, anyway…).

    • If I were to pick and Indigo Girls song to go with this topic? “Ghost” is entirely about a young lesbian’s first crush on a girl and it’s all unrequited.

      By the way Riese, the photo gallery of lesbians and bisexual women has Amy Ray but not Emily Saliers. Just sayin’…it’s like the universe is out of alignment.


    god, i wanted to live breathe eat this song. definitely the theme for my burgeoning gay awakening. i sometimes listen back to these songs of intense lesbian feelings and while i get a tinge of nostalgia, i wish i could relive those raw, debilitating emotions that came with all that inner turmoil.

  2. really appreciating the super honest inclusion of dashboard confessional. want to add VCR by the xx.

    ETA: WAIT WAIT. i wanna add the entirety of the xx album. the whole damn thing. there’s a song for each stage.

  3. If I could create a word that could fuse “Amazing” with “Mind-blowing” and “Fantastic,” I would post it here. I’m pretty damn impressed with this playlist, and absofuckinglutely gonna put it on my ipod.
    Well done, Ms. Holden.

  4. totally had my first gay kiss to hands down and i remember because i was nervous and rambling that “fill or burst” sounds like fillibust then went on to describe what a fillibuster was.

    • I don’t know how to explain speech/debate joy at the thought of you fillibustering your first kiss. To Dashboard Confessional.

      Furthermore, that’s one of those lyrics I never heard properly and chose to substitute with: “My heart is yours, to frumrhbrm, to break or bury…”


    But really. I’ve hearted this playlist since its birth, and now it’s grown up to terrorize my conservo neighbors and gnaw on all my cherished Doctor Who memorabilia.

    As all the best things in my life do. ♥

  6. Treza– I bow down to your pen-prowess. This article is insightful and thoughtful, and threw into sharp relief a greater empathy that I have for one of my closest friends in high school who confessed to me that she was gay and in love with me. You capture the experience with tender and frustrating honesty, and you even squeezed in a Harry Potter reference. Props forever and ever.


  7. Also, can I just add that between last week’s “BBQ rack” reference from DeAnne and this article’s “So, examine the anatomy of a gay awakening. Let it marinate.” the BBQists among us are oh-so-very-pleased that we are being tended to in small but noticeable ways?! Autostraddle, how I love thee.

    • As this year’s BBQ captain I have to reiterate terracottatoes well spoken sentiments. It’s nice to know we have a place here at autostraddle where we are all sexual minorities, but only some of us are sexual marinades.

  8. I feel like this playlist could also be the soundtrack for post-breakup land, where you’re re-living the entire relationship from the initial “OMG new love! uhaul! turkey baster! weee!!!” to the inevitable “this just…isn’t working anymore…”.

    But…that could just be me.

  9. wow this is great thanks. made me remeber my first kiss ever with my “strait” best friend lol it lasted 18 hours and she wouldnt let me up from her lips and breasts :) it was good but made me feel guilty that she didnt know i was gay.. and its been a lot like that with a friend lately shes been stealing more and more kisses and after 5 years of none of that and me pining after her its all warm and fuzy :) the list was great thanks

  10. you spend all of your time with one girl and 15 minutes without a text message feels like 15 years, particularly if you are, yourself, 15. It’s a time of innocence and simplicity and holding hands and forehead kisses. Maybe you refer to yourselves as sisters or best friends or platonic soulmates. You probably talk about being old maids together as you stroke her hair while she falls asleep.


  11. This article is pretty damn amazing. Seriously like the playlist of my gay life.

    An honorable mention for me is Awake My Soul by Mumford & Sons. That song gets me Every.Damn.Time. Probably fits for me right around stage eight.

    Also those Stars lyrics are my motto right now.

  12. If I told you that I’ve been into Eisley since middle school, when they were Mos Eisley and on the brink of facing legal action from George Lucas, would I be the gayest gay that ever was gay?

    Also, Rachel Yamagata. Like, woah.

  13. Speaking of Mumford and Sons from two comments ago.. like.. White Blank Page. You know. Cause don’t we all feel like “where was my fault in loving you with my whole heart”? I mean, not just through the Gay Awakening but probably approximately “all our lives.”

    Anyway, what I mean to say is that I really loved reading this. I also really adore[d] Hands Down.

  14. I have a song to add:

    How Soon Is Now by The Smiths.

    For when you are alternately heartbroken and mad at the world for being so fucking rude to you about it, and you just feel like, like “how can you say I go about things the wrong way? I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does”
    And you turn it up really loud in your-parents-car-that-you-get-to-drive-to-high-school and yellscreamsing along.

    Cause after all, you’re just a human looking to be loved, like everyone else. (Only your lover will be a girl and the world just needs to take a chill, like woah.)

  15. Coldplay. Heaps and heaps of Coldplay.

    I was trying to think of what particular song I may have played over and over (after I told my BFF that I loved her, as you do) and then I remembered..The Scientist. The soundtrack to my tale of woe. (What Chris Martin said about the song…”That’s just about girls. It’s weird that whatever else is on your mind, whether it’s the downfall of global economics or terrible environmental troubles, the thing that always gets you most is when you fancy someone.”!!)

    Particularly –
    “Nobody said it was easy,
    Oh, it’s such a shame for us to part
    Nobody said it was easy
    No one ever said it would be so hard
    I’m going back to the start”
    when I was super keen to rewind what I said.

    ANYWAYS,’Nuff about me ’cause the Feelings Police are going to arrest me. I really enjoyed this article, particularly the wee paragraphs with each stage. Lovely.

  16. Amazing. Hilarious. Deeply touching. I only discovered the online gay community last year and when I read great articles like this it makes my heart contract a little bit. There are others out there like me!

    Unfortunately because I only discovered Tegan & Sara a few months ago, I didn’t have the ‘Nineteen’ moment, but I sure did a lot of crying and pathetic wailing to Ben Folds Five & Counting Crows. Luckily I’m now in Stage 17 and do lots of happy sighing to The Luckiest (Ben Folds).

    Thanks for a great read.

  17. Maybe crying right now. Maybepossibs.

    I could read your writing forever in the way that I could read JSF forever.

    But mostly I am just so proud. So, so proud.

    Way to go, Holden.

    p.s. Can we get matching Transatlanticism tats? Or Engine Driver? Or both?

  18. So I got through like the first half of the first page before I had to click over to Grooveshark and create a new playlist of aalllll these songs. It’s a beautiful thing. Beautiful choices, beautiful writing. Love.

  19. Thank you for reminding me of that time I was totally hung up on that girl, on a plane over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and Transatlanticism came on the ipod and I nearly cried in front of the most people I had ever seen on a plane before.

  20. it’s so funny, i listened to *alot* of eisley music back in like, 2006ish when i had my ‘gay awakening’ as a teenager and now there are three songs of them featured in your list. awesome! made me smile :)

  21. This is great. I need to get ahold of these songs.

    Has anybody else noticed how insanely gay Thom Yorke’s “Black Swan” is? That song was really important to me round about stage 6. It basically perfectly described my relationship with my parents at the time, right from “What would grow crooked, you can’t make straight” to “you have tried your best to please everyone, but it just isn’t happening” to “this is fucked up, fucked up.” Also the references to getting the hell out of town to get away from it–it seems like a lot of us have done that at some point.

  22. I realized I was purebred homogay when I crashed my Ford Explorer with All The Things She Said on full blast bouncing around in my seat. I can’t sit still with it. I REALLY CAN’T.

    So happy Eisley is on here – I Wasn’t Prepared <3 & Bjork! Great article.

    My list is a bit different but Jeff Buckley's I Want Someone Badly is basically what my soul is made of which I think is adequate precedence for the following:

    + Laneia's XX commentary, David Bowie (Boys Keep Swinging!), Trentemøller (Moan), Nickel Creek (Sabra Girl), Drugstore (White Magic For Lovers album), Depeche Mode (Enjoy the Silence/Precious), Jupiter Sunrise (Steal Me), Tim Buckley – Jeff's dad (!) (Song to the Siren) …..

  23. Oh my God… I’m totally stuck on number 17 O_O

    This explains a lot. I feel bad for bitching out my dad.

    Oh wait, no I dont. But I can tone down some. I assume hes trying his best? Ah well.

    • I experienced so many of those teenage moments and songs with my “best friend,” who coincidentally, now at 23, I’m fairly sure resents me for not acting on my (and her) impulses more (for the both of us). I couldn’t always be the one going all in 100% of the time, amiright?! I’m not even sure if I’m gay, to top it off. And I believe two unsures make for a low-budget, LOGO movie. And now she is just awkward and throws herself at scary men when we go out. Undeniably and purposely to burn my retinas. Classic. The Atlantic was totally born on more than one occasion with that broad.

  24. Ok, this was just flat out eerie. Not only are the feelings described way accurate, but most of those songs actually DID accompany my gay awakening (or in my case, bi). I may or may not have had gay sex for the first time with Eisley playing in the background…and I WAS 19, dammit.

    • I also may or may not have put at least 3 of these songs on mixes for the female in question…including Of Angels and Angels. She actually initially said she didn’t like the Decemberists because there was a roughness to their sound, but she changed her mind when I played her that.

  25. Oh my gosh, your definition of “gay awakening” and descriptions of Stage One were so spot-on – and I don’t think I’ve ever had quite the right language, but it’s like you were describing ME. Thank you.

  26. I first found this article when I was 15, just realizing I was gay. It hit hard for a number of reasons. Every few years I found myself coming back to this. I’m 22 now. While some if it doesn’t apply to me anymore, a lot of it still does, and I think that’s why I keep coming back to this page

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