“There are so many answers to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive,
closer I am to fine.”
“Closer to Fine” Indigo Girls
Last weekend I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time, as part of an outside concert series at the Woodland Park Zoo. Emily and Amy have been a part of my musical life for well over a decade, though I haven’t kept up with their new music as much. I hoped they would play the old shit, which, in the interest of creative progress, I realize is probably not what they’re most excited about. Still, they did play some of the old shit, and I let myself succumb to nostalgia.
The Indigo Girls are part of a cozy, well-worn story, a story about me as a queer 18-year-old at a tiny liberal arts college in southern Iowa. I spent my freshman year there. I stretched my activism wings as a member of LGBTQA, (literally, that is what our organization was called, all those uncoordinated letters in a row; this was the first time I heard the term “alphabet soup” used to describe the queer community and queer activism). I was somewhere on the “lesbian” and “questioning” spectrum at the time. I also participated in the Progressive Action Coalition, and because of that group, I was able to attend the March for Women’s Lives in D.C. that spring.
We drove from Iowa to D.C. in a van. I didn’t know any of the people I was traveling with at first, except for someone who was in LGBTQA with me, but I didn’t know her well. We left in the morning with Muncie, Indiana as our destination for the evening.
I remember so many little things about that trip which added up to some big, beautiful picture of what I wanted in my life. I crossed at an audible crosswalk for the first time in Muncie. I rode a public transit train for the first time in D.C. On the car ride I was reading Curious Wine for the first time, one of the first lesbian romances I could find in Braille. Cori, the professor who accompanied us, was a queer vegetarian who brought a huge vat of hummus which I tasted for the first time and couldn’t get enough of. We brought protest signs and a video camera. Someone gave me a button that said “I heart pro-choice girls”, which I have to this day. I remember dozing off while listening to Queen and in the midst of half-sleep a voice from the radio told us about the traffic on 66 and mentioned that it was “77 degrees in the nation’s capitol.” The nation’s capitol! Sometimes you experience something and you don’t have any idea that it will be such a profound piece of your history, and sometimes you know while you’re experiencing it exactly how prominent that fabric will be for the rest of your life. This trip was the latter for me; as I was living it, I willed myself to not ever forget.
Oh, and the Indigo Girls. They sang us to D.C. and back. I had heard of them but never listened to them before, and I was amazed at how many of the words everyone knew. When I listened to “Galileo” and “Land of Canaan” and “Closer to Fine”, I felt the words resonate so deeply for me in a way I hadn’t yet experienced. These were queer musicians, grappling with so much of what I was grappling with, struggling against society and yet longing to belong to it. They were songs of loneliness, fear, struggle, revelation, and hope. I relived all of it seeing them onstage last Sunday, and I thought about how these women had enriched my life as a queer person beyond anything I could have understood when I first heard their songs. Reflecting on their influence invites me to consider my role as an activist in my 30’s. What experience can I offer younger queers, if not worldwide, then in my family and community? How can I make their teen years easier? How can I be a source of constancy throughout their 20’s? What small legacy can I offer, even if only a kind word or a gesture of acknowledgement, some clear light so they know they are not alone?
Happy pride to all of you! May we rejoice in the absence of definitives and revel in all our shades of love.