And here is a beautiful telling from Ryan about how No Shame came to be and how we hope it holds the both the world we live in and the world as we want it to be.
Friends! We are so excited to share with you the first Love Songs for the Rest of Us music video: No Shame!
This is the song we wish existed fora young person dear to Ryan before they attempted suicide (after coming out as queer and trans).
It is intended as a blanket of love, with the acknowledgement that blankets of love are only meaningful when in tandem with all the tireless work so many are doing day after day to ensure we are moving towards a world where everyone is free and safe to be all of who they are.
Make sure to check out the long list of all the incredible human beings involved in making this, and Cas Johnstone’s wonderful short documentary on Neo Cihi!
A year and a half ago, we embarked on a tour to share the Love Songs for the Rest of Us “concertsation” in the homes of (mostly) strangers across the country. We hoped to create a space where people would feel free to sing and share their hopes and fears about love, sex, relationships, and family. We knew this was a lot to ask of people, and even though we were driven to build this set of songs and open-ended questions because of all the times we wished for a place to have these conversations ourselves, and yet, we were still surprised at how much people wanted to talk about all these things and all they needed was a space to do it. In Michigan, we had women who had known each other for decades, share how they felt about themselves as teenagers, and tell us they had never before had a chance to talk about it with one another. In Montana, a couple at a senior center told us how they managed to fall in love again after being married for thirty years. In Washington, a man shared his fears around sex, ones he had never spoken to anyone about before. In Mississippi, three generations of women shared what it was like to come out to their families. In North Carolina, a group of teenage girls told of the ways they have struggled in their own bodies. And everywhere, people, even those who didn’t say much during the discussions, sang with us.
We had a second ambitious aim, which was to write an entire album based off the conversations we had with all the people we met. We struggled with this when we returned to New York. It seemed like a life’s work, rather than the work of a single record, to begin to capture the complexity and spirit of what people had shown us of themselves. There were themes, surely, but we were also captivated and thinking a great deal about the beautiful, unique individuals we had met and the nuances of their stories. We had been clear from the beginning of the project, however, that we would not indulge in what we saw as the exploitative practice of writing songs based on specific experiences that were shared with us. It became clear that our collaborators, those who took the risk of showing up for this strange prospect in the eleven cities we stopped in over the course of two months, would be influencing our creative work for many, many years to come, and we could not, on command, force the shape of this.
But amongst the themes that arose over the course of the tour, there were two that kept popping up in our brains, first thing in the morning and as we tried to fall asleep at night. For me, it was the issue of enthusiastic consent, and the way in which talking about sex with sexual partners has been ridiculed and maligned as an awkward way to kill the mood. Conversations about sexual assault and the language we use around it came to a peak in Missoula, a small college town torn apart when rape and assault allegations came to light, sadly, a tale that could be told on most campuses across the country. But the theme came up again, in other places, with people older and younger. And the conversations I had, especially with young women, stuck with me, because of my own experiences, and the important Yes means Yes legislation that was passed in California, and the courageous organizing being done by young women at Columbia. And so I wrote, Ask Me How I Like It, in attempt to make something fun and danceable that celebrates not just the necessity of clarifying sexual desires and boundaries, but also the joy and sexiness of it.
For Stephanie, it was conversations around the shame we are made to feel about sexuality that stuck in her head. It is something she has thought about a great deal in her own life, but realizing the great myriad of ways that people are able, and often stopped from, expressing al of who they are took on greater dimensions and clarity during conversations on the tour. Beyond the question at the heart of one of the greatest civil rights struggles of our time, that of who we love, it became clear that we additionally need a bright, celebratory light shone on the freedom people should have in how they love and how they choose, or choose not to, engage in sexual and/or romantic lives. And with all this bursting forth from her, Stephanie wrote the song No Shame.
These songs are invitations. We want to share them as widely as possible, through the music videos we are filming in the coming weeks, in the hopes they will become footholds of comfort and joy for those who have thought a great deal about these issues and are working everyday to ensure the freedoms we are celebrating here are real for everyone. We equally hope the songs will ignite new thought processes in those who haven’t had the opportunity to think about what it would be like to live in a world where enthusiastic consent and sexuality without shame are the status quo.
On June 21st, we will release a record that will include these two songs and several others from the tour. It will exist as the culmination of a project we started nearly two years ago, a record that can’t quite capture, but we hope will honor, the laughter, honesty, and compassion we encountered in all the homes we were welcomed into. And in that sense, it is an ending, an emotional archive of the tour. But it is also a beginning, as we continue to face the exhilarating challenge of creating artistic work that feels true for us as individuals, and also honors all the people in the world, some known by us directly but most not, who have influenced us, who have been singing when we are singing, even if we can’t hear them, in their own living rooms, telling their own truths.
Want to dance in the streets with us in celebration of the sexiness of enthusiastic consent and the idea that “you’re invited to be all of who you are”?
Oh good! We thought so. Yes please!
Come be in the Love Songs for the Rest of Us music videos!
Saturday, April 11th, 2015
noon-4pm (with optional story circles to follow)
in downtown Brooklyn
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you all the info.
You can hear the songs (How I Like It, and No Shame) here if you’d like.
More in depth:
The heart of Love Songs for the Rest of Us is to widen the circles of authentic conversation about love, sex, and family in a gentle and inviting way. We want to hold space for talking about what is often difficult to talk about, and we want to be a part of creating the culture of openness and wholeness that we would like to see. We developed the songs in conversation with people all across the country in a series of house concerts in 2013, and we are releasing the album and two music videos this summer.
The music videos we are making are the part of all this that will have the widest reach, and the songs were born out of the conversations we had on tour. One was written with the intention to powerfully subvert (and pose alternatives to) rape culture by making the sexiest possible song about enthusiastic consent. This will feature 15-20 young people. We are in touch with faculty at Brooklyn Tech and the Brooklyn School of the Arts, as well as BK-based young women associated with the Spark Movement and TORCH. The choreography will be built in collaboration with the teenagers in the video, and the video will culminate in over a hundred people joining them in the dance.
The other video is of the song that we wish had existed for a young queer person who is dear to us before they attempted suicide at age fourteen. It is an anthem about transcending shame, focusing on the idea: “you’re invited to be all of who you are”. The video will track a young genderqueer person from a moment of isolation to hundreds of people (of all different backgrounds) walking in solidarity with, and celebration of, them.
Both videos will involve a crowd of at least a hundred people (including YOU, we hope!), and one of them includes a crowd-sourced video campaign intended to engage as many people as possible. We plan to reach out to the diverse community of downtown Brooklyn’s schools, community centers and neighborhood associations to connect with and include as many people as possible for the filming.
We’ve got an amazingly talented team including director Rachel Chavkin, cinematographer Andrew Schneider, and production manager Tegan Ritz McDuffie.
Email us at email@example.com if you want in!
We’d love to see you there!
Ray Boltz was a superstar of the contemporary Christian music scene in the 80s and 90s. His songs from “Thank You for Giving to the Lord” and “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb”, were powerfully resonant anthems of my childhood, and they fed my soul and shaped my faith in ways that can’t really be articulated in words. I looked up to his humble and gracious spirit and the authenticity with which he sang. Looking back at his music now, I find it overly synthesized and a little overblown and very very much of the specific time period in which it was written, but I still know every word, every note, by heart. And every word and every note still strikes a deep chord in me, even though I no longer consider myself a person of faith. Realizing the effect his music had on me, the unique potency of a melody alive in my heart and stuck in my head, was one of the primary reasons I decided to pursue a career as a songwriter and composer.
The first line of our mission statement is “We believe music is powerful and that there is a great need in the world for refrains and melodies to sing and shout from rooftops that reflect expanding conversations around sex, relationships, love, and families”. So it could even be said that Ray Boltz was a part of inspiring this album!
While in Jackson, Mississippi (a city I fell in love with more than I expected to, but that’s another story…), we had the privilege of playing a show in the home of an evangelical Christian pastor and her wife. Gathered with them were several other lesbian couples from their church community, ranging in age from early twenties to late sixties. Two cancer survivors. A young couple navigating whether to move to a state where they could legally adopt children or to stay in Jackson near their families. An older woman who had been forced to undergo shock therapy in her teens by parents trying to turn her straight, supposedly for her own good.
Despite obvious hardships, this was a community bursting at the seams with robust joy, glowing compassion, full-throttle open-heartedness, and irrepressibly contagious laughter. These women are extraordinary, and extraordinary with each other. I don’t know if I have ever known two people more vibrantly in love than the pastor and her wife of several years.
Queer community is a powerful thing, regardless of the geographical context. But I believe it is a far different ballgame to hold space for it in the deep south than it is to hold such space in New York City, though the latter is also hard-won.
This was one of our last concert/conversations of the tour, and Jillian and I were feeling in a great flow. It was such a pleasure to share songs and engage with everybody there. And then we got to the part of the show were we ask: what kinds of refrains/themes would you like to see in pop music, that you don’t often see?
And our host exclaimed, “Ray Boltz!”
And I expressed recognition and plowed ahead with the flow, thinking she was referring to “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb” and the like, which is indeed a powerful refrain but not a sentiment that I would like to see even more widespread.
But then I overheard someone say, “You know he came out as gay, right?”
It took a minute for this to sink in.
Ray Boltz! Superstar of the evangelical Christian music scene, hero of my childhood… came out as gay?
“Yes! He’s wonderful! He recently played at our church!”
Ray Boltz! Do my parents know?
“I’ll give you a copy of his latest album, True, with songs like “Don’t Tell Me Who to Love” and “Who Would Jesus Love?””
Needless to say, this really threw me off my game. I stammered and shared about how formative his music had been for me, and they shared about how he came out publicly in 2008 after suppressing his authentic self for thirty years. And how his wife and kids were publicly standing by him, proud of him standing strong in who he really is. And that, of course, there was intense and widespread backlash from his largely fundamentalist fan base. And that he continues to write and perform music, reflecting his continued faith in Jesus and the fullness of his own identity.
Many Christians, like our hosts that night, are openly gay and/or openly in support of queer rights. Many Christians are the textbook definition of tolerant, they have genuine compassion for LGBTQ people but still believe that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, at best, or an addiction to be recovered from, at worst. This latter category are well-intentioned, but holding those beliefs leads to perpetuation of stigma and shame and may even indirectly put God’s stamp of approval on hate crimes. And of course, this sometimes extends to God’s supposed direct approval – a Ugandan legislator justified the “kill the gays” bill because Uganda is a “God-fearing nation”.
Thus, when I think about the particular megaphone that Ray Boltz held and the fact that he is an openly gay man while still holding it, I am shaken to my core. He speaks in this highly specific vernacular, that of contemporary Christian music, which resonates in a highly specific way with many many people. And while there are many former fans who write off his prior impact as false and will probably never listen to his new album (called “True”), there are so many more who may hear in Ray Boltz’s authenticity what they are not hearing anywhere else. I think of other Christian men, married and closeted, maybe on the brink of suicide, who might really be able to allow in a ray of grace and hope (in the form of Ray Boltz and his current music) in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I think of those who are homophobic towards others because of homophobia towards themselves, those who are often most vocal about restricting the rights of those who are not strictly heteronormative and how the example of Ray Boltz might have a fighting chance at softening the edges around the hatred and fear.
I believe in the power of music and the power of human-to-human diplomacy so strongly. In that evangelical lesbian community in which we got to share songs and meaningful conversation, I found a breath of fresh air in softening the edges around my longstanding kneejerk reaction toward those who value a personal relationship with Jesus. I am so grateful for that.
If you drive north out of the lower ninth ward of New Orleans (a place that still exists, is still struggling, is still growing and changing outside the collective media consciousness) you will find an amusement park.
It’s a Six Flags. The sign is still there, and though many of the letters have fallen, you can still make out its last message to the world: Closed For Storm. The storm, of course, being Hurricane Katrina. The park closed in anticipation of the hurricane and never opened again. And there it sits, full of muddied stuffed animals, rusted rides, piles of receipts, plastic cups, and a humanoid figure with its face pulled off, advertising the Skycoaster.
The first word I want to say is abandoned. But abandoned indicates desperation and fear, as if those who did the abandoning made a quick decision in this apocalyptic scenario and fled for their lives. But this is much more calculated than that. Six Flags surely assessed their damaged investment and decided to cut their losses and, well, not run exactly, but walk away calmly by paying a penalty and foisting the unwanted property and plush spongebob carnage off on the city of New Orleans.
I want to call the amusement park a symbol of decadence, wastefulness, and materialism. But there are so many other symbols of that too: luxury cars or the sprawling homes of the wealthiest Americans. Amusement parks may not be cheap, but they are also not playgrounds of the wealthy. And so here, as in the ninth ward, as in the outer boroughs of New York City following Hurricane Sandy, we are reminded that “natural” disasters don’t hit everyone with equal force.
And it’s not so easy to tell the aftermath of a “natural” disaster from an “unnatural” one. I am struck by how much the overgrown lots of the lower ninth ward (a concrete foundation here and there the only reminder that a home once stood in that spot), remind me of Brightmoor, a neighborhood in Detroit that appears similarly devastated, as well as similarly resilient. And both neighborhoods have attracted the attention of those from elsewhere: some looking for cheap land, some looking to connect with existing community, some looking to start fresh, and some looking for any combination of these things.
We played a show for a group of newcomers who lived in lean-tos and old campers and hammocks on one of the lots where a house once stood. I was skeptical before we arrived, immediately suspicious of their motivations, their class and race consciousness, or lack thereof. My hackles were ready to raise at any talk of self-sufficiency amongst privileged, white kids from the suburbs of somewhere else.
And once again, as has been the theme on this tour, my assumptions were checked, which isn’t to say that the group we encountered was not young, nor white, nor had grown up far from Lake Pontchartrain, but just that they were so much more than that too: conflicted in their own trajectories and responsibilities and dogmas and dreams.
In this tour we have an amazing opportunity to see people up close, to see the details of their current habitats and hear how they came to be there. Really hear it. The long version. Or at least one of the long versions amongst the many versions of our own lives we all carry with us.
I won’t always have this opportunity, the wide open time and the entry point of sharing a song. Traveling and performing day after day is tiring, but it is the easy part. Now I have to see people in their complexity every day, when I’m back in Brooklyn, in a rush, plunged into large crowds and quick to look for a shortcut that let’s me know who sees the world the way I do, who is worth my time and attention. I won’t be able to hear from each person the way I can now. But I will remember that it could happen in the right circumstance, that most people will talk with you if you’re really listening. That even though many, many people will remain strangers, I don’t need to think of them that way. I won’t hear these people one by one. I’ll have to hear from all of them in that shouting, honking, laughing, mumbling mass. And rather than think, I bet I could care for these people if I really got to know them one by one, I’ll love them just like that, the whole big lot of them. –Jillian
At a concert/conversation we played in Albuquerque, a young man shared with us his impression of what we are doing, which was perhaps the greatest possible affirmation of the heart of this tour.
He said that he often enjoys going to concerts, but that when you show up and listen to music and then go home, it’s ultimately a transactional encounter with the musicians giving and the audience taking. And on the flip side, he and others in his mostly-Mexican-American community are so often approached by well-intentioned researchers asking for their stories. He sees this as a bit exploitative because he feels that they are often taking the stories and experiences for their own benefit, even if people are genuinely listening and learning from them.
He expressed that he saw, in what we were doing, the strongest example of symbiotic generosity he has ever come across in this sort of context: we are vulnerable with our sharing of stories and songs from our perspectives and experiences, and in the intertwined conversations, we hold space for really listening and learning from the perspectives and experiences to those who have gathered there. This kind of mutual sharing is something that he would like to see much more of in the world.
That symbiotic generosity is what I care about most, and it is definitely at the heart of this tour for me. I was so grateful to hear that that heart seems to be manifesting in the way we intend it to!
While we were in Seattle, we got to meet with Alenna Gabosch, the head of the Center For Sex Positive Culture, whom I had met briefly at the Erotic Art Festival in the summer of 2012. The Center holds space for play parties plus a range of educational initiatives, including the Pacific Northwest Library for Sex Positive Culture, which is the largest library of its kind.
Several things stuck with me from our conversation with Alenna.
Her forthcoming book, “Happy Endings”, is a collection of stories and perspectives about break-ups and divorces which were warm and healthy and communicative – in which everyone involved celebrates that their lives are so much the better for having had the connection in the first place, and in which the exes are still friends. I often talk about how we need more visible narratives like this, and I am so glad she is writing this book.
The second thing that I really carry with me is how she is trying to shift the conversation around “alternative” and “normal” sexuality by eradicating the use of the term alternative, which is commonly used to describe sex acts other than vanilla sex and relationships other than the strictly monogamous. In her view (and mine!), there is not really any such thing as alternative in this discourse because each person’s sexuality is totally normal for them. I’m inspired to think harder about how I use the concept of “alternative”, and how that usage may be perpetuating some stigma and shame around parts of my own, and many other peoples’ identities and preferences.
Another big part of Alenna’s mission is to facilitate meaningful dialogue across the sexuality spectrum, or sexuality galaxy, as she put it. This is another thing very close to my heart. It is so easy to claim space as either straight or gay, or even queer or gay, either polymorous or swinger, either kinky or not kinky, either ethically slutty or asexual. It it much harder to acknowledge and embrace how all of our struggles and grievances are connected. But in doing the latter, we might realize what amazing collective power we hold; we’re all in this together!
I think it is easy for the idea of sex positivity to be misunderstood and misconstrued – as though it is rooted in the notion that simply having more sex is a better way to be. But as I see it, and as I believe Alenna sees it as well, sex positivity just means sex and sexuality that stems from a place of wholeness rather than a place of shame. There’s much more to say about the complexity of the term, and I would need to spend more time with the Center to learn about to what extent it s fulfilling its mission, but I am galvanized by Alenna’s views, and I am so grateful that we get to be in conversation with her.