IV: Grazioso | Uncomposed: “Through Everything”
When she was younger, my grandmother danced cour for a local ballet company. I’ve been more or less aware of this fact since I was five or six years old. Her poised, graceful figure, dressed in a brilliant blue costume, used to hang on my bedroom wall. I used to stand in front of it, my legs bent in fifth position. Over the years I’ve heard so many stories about not only my grandmother, but about the lives my family has strung together like notes on a staff.
When he was growing up, my father had a dog named Clancy. When my mother and her sister were little, they used to toddle alongside my grandfather on Saturday mornings to get an apple fritter from Robaire’s. My grandparents were the result of families with six or seven children, all traced back to a region in northern Italy. They have history. As my father has proven, a family tree can be pieced together over dinner, verified by census records and birth certificates. He is able to tally generations on his fingers, citing burial grounds I will never see and routes from North Dakota that all somehow lead to now.
But not everything is that traceable. The night I decide to come out to my mother, we sit at the dining room table, her brows furrowed and my hands dancing, but there isn't any family tree I can use to explain to her where this thing in me came from. Her daughter with her eyes, my father’s weak knees, and some other unknown cadence. Queerness isn’t passed down in families, and it isn’t the result of some genetic impurity or biological marker. Being queer, just like the color of my hair and degree of optical astigmatism, is something I’ll never be able to escape. Something I'll never want to.
To this day, no one has ever formally educated me about the Gay Rights Movement. Even though that history exists, so much of it is lost on me. It’s taken years of research to understand how LGBTQ people got from back rooms and Boston marriages to the freedom we enjoy today. I can waltz the streets of Chicago holding my girlfriend's hand, we can listen to music by lesbian artists, kiss outside busy hotel lobbies and on sunny park benches. We are not afraid, and this is a song in itself.
It’s no surprise that even now I find myself unable to identify with Gary and Jason’s stories about growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I have never been spit on. The word dyke has never been spray painted on my locker. My breath catches when Gary says, almost casually, “I was laying in this alley, they were beating the shit out of me. I honestly thought I was going to die.” The Christmas lights above blink blue, brilliant as my grandmother's dress.
I never want to imagine a world where those kinds of things could happen to me - but I don’t have to. Because of the bravery of people like Gary, I made new friends in 7th grade. They were the emo kids who colored their hair, wore studded belts, and listened to My Chemical Romance - mostly, I guessed, because they recognized themselves as exiles in more ways than one. Isabella was asexual. Reed was transgender and nonbinary. Gwen and Kali were bisexual. They were the people that helped me realize I wasn’t who I thought I was, or who I was trying so hard to be. We came out together, turned to each other when we needed help making sense of who we were becoming.
The summer Gwen and I spent almost every waking minute together, we listened to so much music that eventually I stopped bothering to try and remember it all. She read my poetry on sticky, open-window nights. I listened to her talk about Isabella, the way they broke up and the way she was afraid she'd have to find new friends. When we had to flip the records we did, but sometimes we just let the A side run out instead.
Flash forward years, and this afternoon Melisa puts on Green Day, tells me about how much she used to listen to them in middle school. This music helped me find out who I wanted to be. When she says her worst fear is ending up just like her parents, I believe her. Her father, an aging chiropractor who now works out of his basement, voted for Trump in the last election. The worst part is that he used to be just like us. He thought he was doing the right thing.
So we sit in her living room and listen to Green Day and think about all the people we’ve loved, all the people we could have been. When I mourn the fact that I don't have a family tree to track my queerness, I listen to Pink + White and Marika Hackman as I walk home from work. I read poems by Dalton Day, inspired by St. Vincent. Queer art for queer people. I think about my mom, who I came out to four years ago, and my dad, who still doesn’t know. I think about my grandmother, her blue dress and ballet. I wonder whether or not she'd like the same music I do. Whether or not she would be proud of me.
I’ll never really know, but the cacophony, the sting goes away eventually. Gwen calls me from her dorm and I hear the same records from that summer spinning in the background. Melisa and I meet up for dinner, Green Day playing on repeat in her earbuds. I visit Isabella in Ann Arbor when the music and the universe align. The history, the family that I have doesn’t go back generations, but it’s attached to the people that mean the most to me. We carry our weight, we carry each other forward, we matter. Through everything, I believe that. Through everything—no matter what my grandmother frozen in blue on my wall might think—I’m proud of the songs we're becoming.
(Note: I'd like to acknowledge all the people in the world who are still afraid, who still can't be themselves with the people they love in private or public, and who cannot enjoy the same freedoms I've grown so used to. My heart aches every time I think of the fight you are fighting, both for yourself and the larger community we are all a part of. There are times where I think of myself as Gary’s child, the one that was made possible through his sacrifice and the sacrifice of the thousands of men, women, and queer individuals who have passed before me. I hope one day the world will be full of free, happy children we know we helped create.
Uncomposed is a column by Lydia Eileen exploring the music in the moments of daily life where we don’t think to search for it, intersecting to form new meaning and nuanced dialogue. This column, along with two others by the HM team and many more pieces by contributors, is published in Half Mystic Journal‘s Issue IV:GRAZIOSO.It is available for preorder now.)