Once in a creative writing class, my professor said that every feeling ever has been written down; it’s why it’s so hard to write something unique when you’re going through a very normal human feeling, like grief or heartbreak. It’s extremely difficult to not come across as cliché at best, cheesy at worst. Writing about heartbreak makes me feel obnoxious and annoying, but I also don’t necessarily think that professor was right. While every feeling in its most general sense has of course been documented, not every experience that led to those feelings has been documented in the same way. Marginalized people have less opportunity to document their experiences in this archival way that gives other similarly marginalized people access to their words. If it had been documented, if music was dominated by queer people of color and bisexuals and lesbians it wouldn’t be so hard for me to find a song — or even songs, imagine that! — about how I’m feeling. Reading books about and listening to songs about straight people’s relationship sadness just doesn’t connect for me, because I’m not straight, and the whole “love is love” thing doesn’t jam with me. Queer love is so different; I need media from people that deeply know and understand that.
It was something that I always knew, but wasn’t as aware of until I went through a pretty shitty breakup and suddenly realized there were so, so, so few songs that actually captured my experience. I tried to google my feelings in hopes that a song or an artist or something relevant that would help me feel less overwhelmed and pained and drained would turn up. My results? Porn. Because god knows that you can’t google the word “lesbian,” even when it’s real and it’s the context of what you need. When you’re crying on your couch at 4 am and you haven’t eaten in a week and you’re trying to find a song that makes you feel less alone and all that comes up as porn, it sucks. It just does.
There’s extra complexity around lesbian breakup songs for two reasons: first, that there just aren’t many songs specifically about lesbian relationships, and second, that lesbian breakups just are not the same as straight breakups. The lack of music created by queer women for queer women means that, often, it feels like artists are doing a lot with a single song—the song is rarely just about one thing, and instead covers a lot of ground—and, too, at least in my experience and those of my friends, lesbian breakups don’t always have a super clear timeline. In a similar way that my first gay dates went completely over my head (the stereotypical “Wait, that was a DATE?” experience was very much mine in my first lesbian relationship), my breakups with women have had this specifically queer messiness to them. When it’s not clear when your relationship began, how are you supposed to have any more clarity around its ending?
When I thought I was straight and exclusively dated men, it took nothing for me to find music that fit my experiences. I didn’t even have to try. The songs were perfect, too, not just vaguely related. Straight people have songs on songs on songs about love, and about breakups, and about how you survive when someone cheats on you or how you survive when you’re going through a divorce or how you survive when your ex-girlfriend walks into the bar in her cutoff jean shorts and your new girlfriend is hanging on your arm and laughing and totally, blissfully unaware. You’re a straight dude and your wife left you for a friend of yours and they had a baby and now you’re sitting there staring at pictures of them while you down a beer and wonder what went wrong? Congrats, there’s a song for that. Straight listeners are afforded this level of specificity that, now, as a queer person with a broken heart, I haven’t been able to find.
We know that queer relationships have their own unique experiences that aren’t just variations on straight relationships—they’re literally different things. And they’re not just two different things. Queer relationships exist in endless forms that differ from each other and are bound from the simple fact that they aren’t straight; beyond that, though, the nuance and difference is endless. My straight relationships followed rules, but my favorite thing about being queer has always been that there really are no rules beyond decency, respect, and consent. We don’t have these specific building blocks we’re supposed to do to legitimize our relationship. And in some ways, my relationship, especially since I’m not a white queer person, was never going to follow rules or be legitimized to begin with; I can’t get gay married and be a part of two white bodies standing at the altar and holding hands while their rich white families watch and cheer, so why bother trying to assimilate in a way that just doesn’t feel natural to me or serve my personal goals or interests or the way I love?
It’s also difficult because so many lesbian songs are doing double work. I didn’t realize until the breakup that so many songs I listened to when I was happy and head-over-heels in love also function as breakup songs. When it came out in 2018, Hayley Kiyoko’s “Sleepover” was a song filled with longing that reminded me of how I felt early on in most of my relationships—that overwhelming, dreamy feeling. After a breakup, “Sleepover” and its longing just makes me miss things. She sings about touch and not wanting to think about it and feeling alone, and even though I’m not sitting here crying about a straight girl who doesn’t love me (not now, anyway), the song still hits.
The Internet’s “Girl” is a song I used to think was just beautiful and slow and sensual and hot. I’ve fucked to this song. Now, it makes me almost throw up because of that same slow sensuality. Now, the thought of passion and wanting to give everything to someone makes me want to die! (Kind of—I am, ultimately, fine).
Somme’s “Broken Hearted Lovers” does similar work. Even though it’s always been a song about broken hearts (obviously) and the strange and needy relationships we build with random, other equally-sad women to try to heal ourselves, it was a song I have definitely danced to with girls I loved; now, it’s actually a song about broken hearts, and it hurts to listen to.
I used to clean my house or make out or pluck my eyebrows to “Everything” by MUNA and think about how deeply in love I was and how lucky I was to only be able to feel the song to an extent; it wasn’t a song for me, it was just beautiful, and wasn’t it so lovely that I didn’t have to wonder where she was or if she was thinking about me or what was happening in her world—I knew it, I had the answers to those questions. But now that I do feel this deep and nagging ache in my chest and my feet and my gums and my wrists, I can’t listen to it without falling in and out of love on a loop, and crying. Literally everything from girl in red now makes me want to burst into flames.
The duality of so much queer music, and the overall lack of it, has also called into question all of my playlist-building abilities for one very simple reason: I don’t want to put any songs on my breakup playlist that any of my exes have used, or are using, to woo their new girlfriends. Like, wow, what a thing to have to worry about when you’re out here just trying to eat enough and go to therapy enough and breathe deeply enough.
When I was with guys, I was legitimately never concerned about this. Maybe it was because I didn’t like them that much (a conversation for another time) but mostly it was because there is such an expansive catalog of straight people music by straight people for straight people about the experiences built into straight relationships that the likelihood of you building an entire playlist that matches the entirety of your ex’s playlist is like, extremely unlikely. And this was in the time before Spotify, and the extreme ease by which people with internet access and the ability to pay for streaming services can build playlists. It was easier for me to find a love song at random on the radio in 2011 that I could 100%, undoubtedly relate to than it is for me to find such a song in 2019! In the time of Spotify! It horrifies me. It hurts.
But I feel similarly about other media. If anything, music has come further than books or film or television in terms of showcasing a variety of romantic queer experiences. Pretty much everyone broke up this summer for some reason—I truly blame climate change, we’re all too hot, we are all too stressed—and we have been blessed by new music from King Princess and Sizzy Rocket and Fletcher and Megan Thee Stallion, whose Hot Girl Summer check-ins across social media have really propelled me forward in search of sluttiness and sexuality on my own, newly-loosened terms. I tried to watch Blue Is the Warmest Color and Below Her Mouth and The L Word and the Callie/Arizona episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and it just… is not working. The closest onscreen experiences I’ve come to relate to in this trying time are the three queer episodes of Easy, with Chase (Kiersey Clemons) and Jo (Jacqueline Toboni) very messily broken up in the most recent installment. It works for me because they’re not both white and they’re not just assholes—they’re fully humanized, complicated people, and they’re going through it. They also don’t just have sex the entire time with a weird male gaze situation, which is not what I need when I’m crying, thank you.
What I want are more songs. What I want is an endless catalog of sad gay songs, not a heartbreaking dearth of relatable, comforting music in a time where I am heartbroken enough to begin with. What I want is to not have a list of, at best, a few dozen songs by queer women for queer women that I can find without spending a million years on the internet. I want this music to be easy to find when we need it so we can focus on crying instead.