The 26-Track Soundtrack to Your Big Gay Awakening

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Stage Four

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

11. Hyperballad–Bjork

We live on a mountain
Right at the top
There’s a beautiful view
From the top of the mountain

Every morning I walk towards the edge
And throw little things off
Like car-parts, bottles and cutlery
Or whatever I find lying around
It’s become a habit
A way
To start the day

I go through all this
Before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you

It’s real early in the morning
No one is awake
I’m back at my cliff
Still throwing things off

I listen to the sounds they make
On their way down
I follow them with my eyes ’till they crash
Imagine what my body would sound like
Slamming against those rocks
When it lands
Will my eyes
Be closed or open?

I go through all this
Before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you

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Stage Five

Fuck. Are we gay? This is pretty gay, isn’t it.

12. All the Things She Said–T.a.T.u
You can’t really go back now. So you keep going forward because this. is. not. enough. But you keep experiencing this really frustrating back and forth between gay awakening and gay pride parade–do you want this or do you not? Are you ready for the shit to hit the fan or are you happily closeted, with a supposedly nonexistent lady-loving relationship?

These are things T.a.T.u is here to help you with, even if they’re only faking their gaymo feelings. Also, possibly, this is the point where you get caught by a parent/friend/partner/sibling or where the threat of being caught/discovered invades everything you do, every single day, every single second.

Congratulations–the gay awakening is in full effect!

13. Medication–Ours
This is a very specific and important part of the gay awakening: therapy/medication. You’re probably only out to your therapist and even then it’s more of a, “Yeah, my BFF and I fuck but we are NOT lesbos, jesus–why would you even think that?” situation. So you talk over your gay awakening options and one of those options is anxiety meds to freeze the fear until you’re at a better point in your life to deal with it. And before you start the tiny white pills, you wonder–the next thing I’m happy about, will I really be happy or will it be synthetic happiness? But you take them anyway because the gay awakening is all about the pushing away, obvs.

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Stage Six

Resignation to the idea that you are probably gay and therefore your life, as you (and probably your mother) see it, is negatively altered for all of time

14. My Body Is a Cage–Arcade Fire
You’re still in denial and you’re still in gay awakening mode but now you’re probably also a little depressed. And not just high-school hormones depressed, but existentially depressed about who you are and who you love and how you ended up in this crazy gay mess.

Maybe you’re wondering why you have ladyparts in the first place and you’re pissed off because the body you previously really appreciated has now somehow betrayed you. Maybe you’ve offered to dress as a boy in order to escort your girlfriend around town on proper dates where hand-holding is socially acceptable. She’s probably nixed that idea and instead you stay in, watching things about women like you because you need that reassurance that you’re not alone. But there’s a tiny, tiny morsel of hope in the chorus:

My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love but my mind holds the key…

15. We Can Have It–The Dears
You’ve been together for several months. Nothing has gotten easier. You fight every other week about coming out, not coming out, being gay, not being gay, loving each other, hating that you love each other. It seems like it should be such a simple thing, loving someone. It seemed so much simpler when you spent your time daydreaming about shared apartments and cats and platonic friendship anniversaries.

And, maybe the most disheartening realization of all: It won’t ever be what we want. It won’t ever be what we want.

16. Family Tree–TV On the Radio
This song will literally rip your heartstrings away from the sinews of your chest cavity OR maybe The Walking Dead marathon was a bad choice in background television for the compilation of this playlist.

But, truly, between the strings and the lyrics, TVOTR is lamenting the impossibility of a love completely rejected by the world at large. It’s ok to wallow in this song. For a little while at least. This is a segment of the cycle that is painful but necessary but not a rinse and repeat kind of thing. The fact that you can’t get married and adopt kids anywhere near your Arkansas-based fam NOW doesn’t mean NEVER. But that’s getting ahead of things.

17. This Place is a Prison–The Postal Service
Things are pretty grim. At this point, you’ve reached a near-constant state of anger, resentment, and bitterness toward something called heterosexism. This can be a somewhat pretentious period of the gay awakening but an ultimately necessary one: you realize that this place is a prison. And “this place” is actually so many places, all blurred and rolled into one–your home, your school, your church, your therapist’s office, your country, etc. What does it take, you wonder? How long must I wait? You don’t know this yet and you can’t even conceive of it but, as it turns out, it takes a fucking long time.

The Sadness You Assume Will Never Go Away

18. Nineteen–Tegan & Sara
You’re 19 and this song is everything you think life is about. The self-involved phase of the gay awakening is just beginning and what better way to greet it than with everyone’s favorite gay Canadian twins? This is the song you blast in your car after she’s broken up with you or you’ve broken up with her for the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th times. It’s especially terrible if this person is your best friend, your sister, your mother, and your lover all rolled into one incredibly unhealthy relationship which, unfortunately, is the case with so many first gay experiences, particularly if you are in fact 19. But, really, when you’re gay AND 19, how the fuck else do you process anything?

I was all alone; you were all I had
Love you, you were all I had
Love me, I was yours right?

19. I Wasn’t Prepared–Eisley
Your first Eisley song was beautiful and unexpected and perhaps provided the beginnings of the very thing you’re crying over right now. And, let’s be honest, you’re definitely crying right now. Crying is essential to most parts of the gay awakening. There’s not a lot of needed context for this track. You weren’t prepared for this–for the beginning or the end.

20. The Bolder Thing To Do–Gregory and the Hawk
This is a song you either gave or received during the mad rush of the initial gay awakening phases. It comes back to you now and provides the beginnings of many a journal entry.

I’ve made myself the fool who’s fallen for you. So let me down softly this time and I won’t have to come back crying…It’d be better to forget you but I don’t really want to. It’d be better to forget you but I don’t really want to.

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Stage Seven

The emotional transition from hopelessness to healing…or the emotional transition from Ben Gibbard to Colin Meloy.

21. Transatlanticism–Death Cab for Cutie
This is a song you will play over and over again because it’s a creation story and a love story and a tragedy all in one. You’re not unhappy anymore, you’re not feeling trapped, you’re not feeling ecstatic; you’re in a void, a netherworld–a gay holding pattern if you will. This song is what plays in the waiting room. But what you are certain of is this:

I need you so much closer. I need you so much closer. I need you so much closer. I need you so much closer.

And so it goes.

22. The Engine Driver–The Decemberists
If “Transatlanticism” signaled a revelation, this song is its antithesis. Both are a push toward something less juvenile, more concrete–a progression toward some semblance of gay adulthood after that “second adolescence” you’ve probably heard of.

But, if this is a shared gay awakening, a happy ending will be hard to come by. Every gaymo’s awakening is individual and uniquely paced. Yours might reach its apex before hers–perhaps the consequences of your coming out were more immediate and more tangible and thus required a heady rush of insta-maturity, akin to emotional Skelegro. Whatever the case, for this playlist, this is the end of the shared awakening. As it began, so it ends–with a plea: And if you don’t love me, let me go.

It’s the beginning of a new phase, a reflective phase that is largely a process of introspection, journaling, a hundred types of sadnesses chronicled mostly likely by Jonathan Safran Foer, and long drives down empty roads, listening to this song and many more like it.

I am a writer, writer of fictions, and I’ve written pages upon pages trying to rid you from my bones.

23. In the Sun–Joseph Arthur
Maybe you first heard this song while watching that season finale of The L Word when it plays over a montage of independently sad and joyful events. Maybe you’ve gotten into Joseph Arthur because Laurel Holloman said she listens to him when she paints and that’s something you’d like to tap into because what’s good for Laurel is good for you, dammit.

Regardless, you’ve stumbled across this song and it’s now impossible to stumble away from it because you’re on the floor, somewhere between sobbing and prayer which is a completely legitimate place to be right now. As long as you get up, you know? Because Joseph Arthur, Laurel Holloman, the universe, and me would all like for you to get up as soon as you think your knees can support you.

May God’s love be with you … always

24. Delicate–Damien Rice
This is a place of questions or maybe of just the same question, over and over again. There’s a lot of repetition in the gay awakening, if you hadn’t gathered. One of the primary questions, especially if you’re young and this all happened unbeknown to the people around you, might be this: if two people fell in love and no one saw it, did that love really exist at all?

We might kiss when we are alone
When nobody’s watching
We might take it home
We might make out when nobody’s there
It’s not that we’re scared
It’s just that it’s delicate

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Stage Eight

“Live through this and you won’t look back.”

25. Glosoli–Sigur Ros
I don’t know what Jonsi’s saying. I know that glosoli means “glowing sun.” And I know that whatever he’s saying is hopeful. I know this because of the musical context he gives me and the thematic clues I collect like a regular Spencer Hastings-Holmes. And I know that he’s giving some confused, queer woman a beginning. I mean, Jonsi and his boyfriend exist and make pies together based on their raw food lifestyle and they seem completely happy and well-adjusted so I feel like it’s a fair assessment to assume this song is meant for you, all of you.

Furthermore, watching the music video for this song is something like existing on some higher, ecstatic plane so it makes sense for you to watch it until you too feel like you could swim through the air and away from everything creating so much weight.

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Final Destination

What Dan Savage would refer to as the “it gets better” phase.

via hellagay

26. Brand New Colony–The Postal Service
Maybe I had you convinced that Ben Gibbard could only service your gay awakening sadness, loneliness, and alienation. Wrong! You’ve made it to the end of your gay awakening. I know, I know, you didn’t think there was one.

But here it is. You’re ready now for all of the things you thought you’d never be ready for, all of the terrible things you thought would weigh you down forever. And, unknown to you at this juncture, you are also blissfully free to enjoy the myriad wonders that come with this brand new colony. Things will never be easy but you can take comfort in the recognition that things will never be that hard ever again.

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111 Comments

      • 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.

  1. GLASS VASE CELLO CASE

    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…”

  5. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! WHAT IS AIR?

    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.

    Love,
    Kalie

  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.

    THIS EXACTLY THIS

  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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