feature image photo by Taylor Hill / Contributor via Getty Images
I have been in therapy for the past six years and been out as gay for almost 12. In a recent conversation with my therapist, who in a dramatic turn of events is named Destiny, I admitted something I hadn’t realized: Maybe the reason I struggle so much with dating is because I am in some ways still ashamed of my lesbianism. I grew up Catholic, in the Missouri suburbs. My family was never anti-gay, but they weren’t the biggest fans of my coming out either. I came into my adolescence in the early 2010s, when shows like Glee were changing the conversation about gay representation, and while that made me luckier than queer folk who’d come before me, there was still a lack in my personal repertoire for lesbian/sapphic understanding. Being a lesbian in a patriarchal society is a special kind of loneliness. In a culture that focuses so much of its attention on appeasing and elevating heterosexuality and maleness, centering lesbianism is a careful, difficult choice. And don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t change this aspect of me for the world. I think my queerness has opened me to the most beautiful world of people and opportunities. But that doesn’t mean being a lesbian cannot be extremely isolating, as evidenced by an entire canon of lesbian TikToks lamenting the same fate.
I think this is why, sitting in Madison Square Garden on October 2, I found myself overwhelmed unexpectedly. Fondly nicknamed “MUNAgenius,” the October 2 boygenius concert at Madison Square Garden featured MUNA as the opener. Two bands made up almost entirely of queer women/non-men opening and headlining one of, if not the, most iconic concert venue. When my friend Emma Claire told me she had a spare ticket and that all I had to pay for was my flight to NYC, how could I refuse?
My first foray into the MLCU (Musical Lesbian Cinematic Universe) was discovering Julien Baker in 2016, a year after the release of her debut album Sprained Ankle. Shared with me by my college friend Alice, I was smitten at once with the raw courage of Baker’s lyricism. Even now, I struggle to highlight one verse from one song, as the entire album shaped a part of my heart that even today I cannot verbally define. I got to see Baker for a show in St. Louis in December 2017, where I was a part of the calmest mosh pit I’ve ever been in. A big concert teenager, this was the first show I’d been to where the crowd’s hushed tone was not boredom but reverence. I felt lifted from my body and vulnerable in a way I had not quite felt in a public space like this before. Baker dug a nail into my hand, and it has not released itself since.
So of course, like any good lesbian, I followed her into her new band boygenius when they released their EP in 2018, and from that discovered Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers. MUNA came later for me. I knew a couple songs, but it wasn’t until the rocket-launch success of “Silk Chiffon” that I finally took the time to listen to the rest of their discography. Very quickly I fell in deep, deep infatuation.
Bands like boygenius and MUNA feel like a recent necessary phenomenon. Of course queer bands have existed for a long time; but the sheer scale of these two bands’ successes are astronomically unexpected. When I first heard they were doing a show together at MSG, I was shocked. My first response was to question their ability to fill such an expansive venue. Of course every queer person I know listens to these bands, and with both MUNA and Bridgers’ stunts as openers for the Eras Tour, it’s not that surprising for their names to become household. But still, I was skeptical.
But then, I went to the show. And as someone with a flair for the dramatic, I know how this will sound, but the truth is I finally understood that sacred feeling one can get in a religious service. MSG seats approximately 19,500 — that means 19,500 (because the show was sold out) people descended upon MSG for two queer/sapphic bands to sing songs about loving and being loved by women, about existing as queer in a society that would otherwise stamp it out. While I’m sure not everyone at the venue was queer or a woman, many and even most of the people I saw were young queer women, nonbinary people, and/or trans folks, masculine and feminine alike. Some wore merch, others wore emphatic costumes resplendent in fastidious colors and glittery ambiance. A few dressed in costumes that recalled particular lyrics: One teenager dressed as an angel with a furry halo and white nightgown, referencing “Not Strong Enough’s” “always an angel, never a god.” Another pair wore matching leather jackets with an economy of patches and the last names of the members on their backs, replicating boygenius’ jackets from a previous tour. Similar to the thematic energy of concerts like Harry Styles and Taylor Swift, the crowd at MUNAgenius were clearly fans who were making this concert an event.
In an interview with Harry Levin for the Grammys, Dacus says that she believes “queerness and joy are inextricable themes.” She goes on: “Why be queer if you aren’t trying your very best to access more joy in your life or more authenticity?” This is exactly how it felt to be there at MSG that night. Before boygenius had even come on, MUNA’s set sent me into a revelatory orbit of self: Hearing a crowd of that insurmountable size gleefully screaming along to the unambiguous lesbian anthem of “Silk Chiffon,” or “I Know A Place,” the entirety of which is about the journey to queer self-love through community…there’s nothing like that experience. “I Know A Place,” with lyrics like: “You think being yourself / means being unworthy, / and it’s hard to love / with a heart that’s hurting, / but if you want to go out dancing, / I know a place we can go.” Hearing an entire stadium dancing hard and singing along was a moment comparable only to me squeezed in a small now-shuttered venue in St. Louis to hear Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls” — except times a billion (I’m bad at math).
And of course the energy continued with boygenius, whose songs of queer friendship that do not shy from the ugliness of self-loathing, of lineage, of mistakes and stumblings, but above all, what it means to love and be loved by other queer folk, whether that be romantic or platonic. I knew I liked boygenius but somehow was shocked by how I knew all the words to every last song, even the ones I barely listened
Dacus at one point quipped between songs that the sheer enormity of their audience didn’t make any sense. But after being there, it made all the sense in the world. Queer people of all kinds need each other. We crave understanding, and we crave community. The gross torrent of rainbow capitalism is not that recognition, and many queer folks my age have outgrown believing otherwise. We crave the authenticity of queer folk who love their queerness but are still unafraid to experience it in all its colors: grief, possession, anger, loss. boygenius allows us these feelings. And they, alongside MUNA, allow for the most important of all, which is that objective exhilaration of queer joy. Not just in queer joy as seen on rainbow parade floats or in Wells Fargo commercials, but the kind that leave you and your friends to scream into the seeming abyss together, to “sleep in cars and kill the bourgeoisie,” to encounter one another in each life and agree to continue into the next with every drop of sweat and blood in your body, because what else is there besides each other?
Closing out the night with “Salt in the Wound” from their first EP, boygenius ran like schoolchildren around the stage, shirts off and planting fat kisses on one another, while MUNA was similarly joyous and boisterous on the B-stage. The last lyric of this song is “They say the hearts and minds are on your side. / They say the finish line is in your sights. / What they don’t say is what’s on the other side. / They say the hearts and minds are on your side.”
Of course the perverted lesbian in me was cheering at the end for topless Dacus and Bridgers, but the truer lesbian in me was cheering for all that had brought me to this moment: the queer loves (romantic and platonic) that have sustained me throughout my life, that have kept me alive in a world that wants me dead, that have given me reasons to write poems and smell flowers and take walks to buy vegan muffins from the bakery by my apartment. boygenius and MUNA alike remind me, remind us, that we do not have to suffer, and that even in our suffering, we are not alone. That the love queer folks can have for another is the most beautiful love one can achieve, and it is so powerful, it can fill a stadium like Madison Square Garden, the walls echoing with lyrics like “True Blue’s” “And it feels good to be known so well. / I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself. / I remember who I am when I’m with you.” I hope everyone thinks of someone when they hear this song. And I hope this song reminds them that someone thinks of them too.