I was raised in a small town in Western Kentucky and the Southern Baptist church was at the center of everyday life. I am also a gay woman. Who I am doesn’t exactly jibe with how I was raised to be.
But, I didn’t want to hide forever, just in order to keep the peace. I was having a rough time with living a dual life, being able to be out amongst certain people and then hiding myself around others. It got me to the point that I was ready to give myself some relief. When I came out to my community, it wasn’t an easy road, to say the least. The backlash and lack of acceptance was a traumatic experience.
But music helped that process. Throughout the traumatic high-wire act of being myself and navigating the dynamics of my community, I kept writing, singing and working. By the time I signed my record deal in 2020, I had disclosed my queerness to pretty much everyone I felt it meaningful to tell. It was also 2020, and countless artists have owned their identity, and didn’t think much of it.
Billboard announced my record signing, and included reference to me as a “queer farmer’s daughter.” I wasn’t quite prepared for the backlash I received on social media from members of my community and also random people. I felt exposed, and had to relive the trauma of coming out the first time around.
Random people on social media wrote to say they were praying for me. People close to me wanted to know why I hadn’t told them. There were a lot of issues. For years before I was out, I thought if I could make something of myself, then no one could question it. I finally felt like I was doing something that people could be proud of me for–and found out that wasn’t true. I realized then and there that to some people, nothing I could ever do could be a real accomplishment, because I’d be doing it while gay.
After that, I knew I needed to harden up or else the homophobia would eat my career alive. Fear of rejection couldn’t own me anymore, and I had to live my truth fully. The importance of taking care of my mental health also took precedence, and I continued the work of therapy and exploring the traumatic feelings, dealing with my OCD as well.
So, when it came time to write [my newest album, released in June] Teeth Marks, nothing was off limits. Fear was not a factor, and I decided to sit in the emotions of unrequited love, lack of love, trauma, pain and grief. Rather than hide from them or play the victim, I used the lessons.
I started writing individual songs, and doubled down on my vision. This album explores how the presence or lack of love leaves its mark on us. No one escapes the marks left behind from how love is carried out or from its extension being denied. Not only are we the ones who bear its indentations, but we are also the ones responsible for placing them on ourselves and onto others.
For me, this had very much to do with my coming out experience, and the importance of redressing the trauma and impact that lack of love and support had on my life. My song “Keeper of the Time,” which closes out the album, addresses exactly that. I did my best to write about my understanding of how the body stores our experiences. How the buck ends with us, the individual, in regards to how we process being a witness to love or a participant. Oftentimes these experiences are stored in the body as trauma, and what we continue to carry will show up within ourselves and will be lived out in front of others. It harkens to our individual responsibility to interrogate what we carry, and how what we carry affects the way we are able to show up for ourselves and for those around us.
Making music for me is a way to process emotions. It’s an extension of therapy, and has become a way for me to play out reactions and responses. A younger version of me would probably have written much different lyrics. In fact, I don’t think I could have admitted that there was any responsibility on my end at an earlier time in my life. More than likely I would have focused on how I had been a victim to another person’s carelessness, or my lyrics would have spoken of resentment.
But having been through what I’ve been through, on Teeth Marks, I was able to sit with the pain of it all, letting the love and lack of love wash over me, and express it in a way that reveals some gratitude for the lessons and for the pain. To others – queers, southerners, musicians or anyone else who might be facing emotional challenges, I’d say find a place to sit in the emotions – whether it’s art or music or therapy or whatever allows the feelings to wash over you. And find a way to express it in a way that feels right. It can help.