When Jenny Owen Youngs isn't touring with big names such as Regina Spektor, Motion City Soundtrack, and Frank Turner, she can be found watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for hours on end. "If you care about your life, here are the things you should watch: Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, and Friday Night Lights," Youngs declares. The singer-songwriter made national headlines last week when she came out as "super gay." She published a personal and revealing letter to the website her fiancé Kristin Russo co-founded, Everyone Is Gay.
In the letter she wrote:
I'm writing to tell you, among other things, that I am super gay. This may or may not come as a surprise to you. If it does: Surprise! If it does not: You were right all along! Either way: Hooray!
I didn't want to come out. I don't want coming out to be a thing that anyone has to do.
A short list of things I'd rather be doing than "thinking about being gay" includes (but is not limited to) writing a song, reading a book, climbing a tree, dancing a jig, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the zillionth time. Don't get me wrong – I think it is in the best interest of everyone to strive for a greater understanding of the self. I just wish that being gay (or transgender, or asexual, or fill-in-the-blank here) was as unremarkable to the masses as being left-handed or blonde.
Youngs makes it clear that her decision to come out was not an easy one. She grew up in a very religious household and as a result experienced feelings of shame about her sexuality. "I was an impressionable kid, and hell was advertised to me as very real — and very likely, if I didn't watch my step. I internalized these ideas as a child, and as I grew, they grew with me," Youngs confesses. She also wrestled with concerns about being labeled a "gay musician" in her professional career.
The newly out singer discusses her decision to publicly come out:
Why did you decide to come out now?
Jenny Owen Youngs: I started to think really seriously about it when [Kristin and I] got engaged in September. It's something that I've gradually come to over a number of years. I personally have built up a lot of layers between myself and that reality, and I've just been working on a lot of stuff internally. I've also been privy to Kristin's work with Everyone Is Gay, which is kind of mind-blowing.
They run an advice site for LGBTQ youth, well, for everybody, but the focus is on LGBTQ youth. They talk to kids at colleges, high schools, and middle schools, and they're touching lives and interfacing with kids every day. On top of all the stress and horror of being a teenager, to have that extra layer on top … of being concerned with the way that other people perceive you, or the way you relate to yourself. That is so tough for teenagers.
How did you feel in the moments leading up to publishing your coming-out letter?
JOY: You know those rides where you go up really high and you're like, "Wow, so high up, what a beautiful view, oh, cool"? That was what it was like after I was done writing it. It was exactly what I wanted it to say — what a beautiful view, I can see the whole park from up here. And then as soon as I published it, I got the feeling that comes right after, where your stomach feels like it's somewhere around your throat, and gravity feels like it's betraying you. But then it was way more than fine.
I expected some positivity, and I expected some negativity, but I didn't see any of that. I definitely did not expect the volume. There were just a lot of people saying a lot of nice things.
Were you nervous as a musician you were going to be forever labeled as a "gay musician"?
JOY: When I started doing this professionally, I was really concerned that that would happen if I was publicly gay. By the time there were a lot less — far fewer sort of human touchtones — that you could look at and say, "Oh, I'm not gay like you, but I'm more like you." But at the time the pool seemed so small that I felt like I would automatically be grouped with a handful of people, and I didn't feel musically connected to them.
Do you use female pronouns in your song lyrics?
JOY: I haven't written a song with a gendered pronoun in it since I think I was in high school, and that includes songs about dudes and everything. For me, that's what makes sense. This is purely personal, but I like to leave that door open because I want people to be able to assume emotional details for themselves. I want them to be able to step into the song and see themselves there regardless of who or what I'm singing about. So that's why I've never really gotten into the gendered pronouns.
Some people believe that famous people have a certain responsibility to come out publicly and make a stand, so much so, people are willing to force them out of the closet. What do you think about the act of "outing" celebrities?
JOY: I don't think that outing people is cool. It's sort of a complicated issue because human beings want to look out into the world and see reflections of themselves so that they can relate and contextualize themselves, and understand more about them and the world around them. So for the good of everybody's development and emotional safety, it would be great if everybody who is a thing — any kind of thing — made some sort of announcement. That's ridiculous and obviously would never happen. I think we're approaching a tipping point as a civilization; I already know bands or artists that are gay who are not closeted but just don't make a big deal of it. It's just sort of the way of the world.
So, can you spill some of your girl crushes?
JOY: The first celebrity that I had a crush on was Madonna. I think the last celebrity that I had a crush on was Cylon Number Six from Battlestar Galactica.
If you care about your life, here are the things you should watch: Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, and Friday Night Lights.