My First Year as an Openly Gay Musician

A year ago today, Jenny Owen Youngs came out. It got better.

One year ago today, I published a coming out letter. I was mighty nervous to do so, because I felt uncertain about what kind of reaction I might get. But after I posted the piece, the response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. To my surprise (and relief), heaps of love poured in from all corners of my particular slice of the internet.

The actual day those words went out into the universe was a big old whirlwind for me. I was in Charleston, South Carolina with my then-fiancé/now-wife Kristin, cat-sitting an ornery feline named Olivia. I posted the letter in the morning and then walked down to the beach, where I proceeded to gape at my phone in disbelief for the next few hours as good vibes and “hell yeah”s added themselves to my Facebook and Twitter feeds in a seemingly endless stream. Friends I hadn’t heard from in ages called, texted, and emailed to say they were proud of me. I didn’t go looking for the response I received—hell, it didn’t even occur to me as a possibility. I felt so lifted up and so rallied-behind. That feeling still radiates through me.

Since then, effects of my announcement have surfaced in most parts of my life. A number of people have found me at shows to thank me for writing that letter and to say that it meant something to them, which makes me speechless with joy. Many have also warmly congratulated me on my marriage, which took place last August. And I’ve been asked to play at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland this summer, which will mark my first performance at both a multi-day, multi-sport competition AND a national gay event.

I wondered if my letter would prompt a shift in the audience demographic at my live shows. I’ve done some light touring over the last year and found that new faces abounded—but there weren’t only new LGBTQ+ faces, there were also new Revival Tour punks and new folks who I might have picked up in other ways. Music-as-work (and music-as-life) is an additive, fluid, ongoing thing. I’ve always essentially been a snowball rolling down a hill trying to build up critical mass—the only thing that’s changed is that now I’m an openly gay snowball.

Jenny Owen Youngs, playing the Revival Tour with Chuck Ragan, two months before her announcement.

I’ve also had the new and distinct pleasure of deleting some hateful comments left on my YouTube channel by members of the Westboro Baptist Church—and while the words stung a bit (irrational, I know) it was quickly pointed out to me that if you’re getting heat from the WBC, you’re probably doing something right. And hey, it’s not like they don’t have a point. Technically I guess I really AM kind of an “unrepentant dyke”… which, by the way, sure beats repenting.

But the biggest difference between my life before coming out and my life now is about what’s missing. Not to be overly poetical about it, but I feel that a weight is gone from my shoulders. On a basic human level, I am more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been, and that has afforded me a new kind of peace.

For many years, I was convinced that coming out could only have a negative impact on my career. I was afraid that my musical self would be overshadowed by my gay self. But so far, my experience has shown me that sharing another side of my life helps me to connect more deeply with people. I have gained a clearer understanding of myself, which I think is reflected in both my writing and my performances. A certain type of self-consciousness seems to have melted away from me, and it turns out that when I’m not spending a great deal of my time second-guessing myself and worrying about whether I’m doing or saying something that might allow someone to infer that I’m gay, I have an awful lot more time and energy to do things that matter to me (like write songs).

I think that when people like Ellen Page and Michael Sam come out as gay, it’s natural to think about what they’re doing (by way of their visibility) for the LGBTQ+ community. Rarely, however, do we consider what coming out has done for them. Now when I hear that a celebrity has come out, I am still thankful for what it means to so many people around the world to know that another person—a person in the public eye, no less—is standing up to say, “Me too. I exist.” But my heart beats harder for them when I think about how relaxed and happy they must feel now, having let go of their secret, especially if they’ve been holding that part of themselves in the dark for a long while.

I used to feel like there was a line drawn down the middle of my life. I must have erased it, or else stepped over it, a year ago. Whichever it is, I feel an awful lot lighter now.

Jenny Owen Youngs is on Twitter, mostly tweeting about various cats. - @jennyowenyoungs

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