Knowing What I Don’t Know

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I grew up Catholic, attending CCD and going to mass every Sunday morning. I loved the stories, particularly those of female saints and their courageous lives and violent deaths. At times I loved being amongst the pews and stained glass windows, while at other times my dad had to come find me hiding in the basement and drag me to church. By 16 years old I knew I couldn’t reconcile my love and respect for my priest and CCD teachers with the homophobia and misogyny of the Catholic church. So I chose not to be confirmed. And it really wasn’t that big of a deal. My parents, my grandmother, even my aunt who is a nun all accepted that I had to make that decision for myself.

I can only begin to imagine what it would mean to live and leave a life that revolves around your religious faith. What it would be like to know your parents are sure you won’t join them in the afterlife because you are gay. What it would be to leave your church and have your marriage end at the same time because it was always a relationship that had more to do with God than one another. What it would be like to contact your church and tell them to remove your name. You are no longer a believer, and in turn no longer a part of that community.

This past week I met a number of people who, as former Mormons who grew up in and around Salt Lake City, have had exactly these experiences. And not surprisingly, it’s complicated. Under the mantle of religious freedom, many of us  are quick to judge and pick apart any religious faith, especially one that is so new and insular. My secular skepticism has kept me from thinking deeply about what it means to empathize with those in the Mormon church, and those who have broken away from it.

Playing shows for former Mormons and their loved ones in Salt Lake City gave me a chance to think a bit harder about what it is to leave behind the community you grew up in, knowing that the people you love will never be shaken in their beliefs that you can’t join them in the Celestial Kingdom; To reckon with how sad that makes them; To reckon with how sad that makes you.

I don’t believe in God, at least not as Christian faiths conceive of God, and I have no interest in returning to the Catholic church, but I do miss what it felt like to say Hail Mary in the closet with my glow-in-the-dark rosary beads when I was eight years old. I haven’t been religious for more than 13 years, and I’m still trying to figure out how to fill the emptiness that exists in the absence of prayer.

And all of that exists within me without having to completely re-conceive of my family and community. I had met few Mormons in my life before my week in Salt Lake City.  I am filled with respect and gratitude for those who shared their stories with us while we were in Utah. It takes a lot of bravery to leave the life and place you grew up in. And a whole other level of bravery to leave the religion, but not the place: the bowl that is Salt Lake City, surrounded by mountains and deserts. Like another planet, one that could make you entertain the thought of a divine being.

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Yes Means Yes

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“I’ve been thinking about that line. I mean, what is rape or not? Like, what if it’s your boyfriend?”

A young woman asked me this over breakfast last week. I was so glad she asked. I was heartbroken she had to ask. That we haven’t answered this question yet. Definitively. For everyone.

We were in Missoula. A place we entered into having heard it was full of beautiful mountains, friendly people, and good hiking trails. All of this was true. What we weren’t aware of, but was raised at each show we played by participants between the ages of 19 and 48, was that it is a town torn apart by a federal investigation into the mishandling of reports of rape and assault. And from what I’ve read and what I heard from current students and recent graduates it could be any college town, really. It reminded me of where I went to school: the drinking; the worshipping of athletes; the language used by both men and women that shames women who drink, or hang out with those athletes, or “give it up” or are “withholding,” as if sex is a thing for girls to give away, while for boys it’s something to do.

And of course the focus on the drinking, the athletics, on Missoula in particular is a way to convince ourselves that rape isn’t happening here, but over there, in some specific, other place. It’s a way to shift responsibility for rape away from those doing the raping. It’s a way to shift responsibility for a culture that condones and perpetuates such behavior away from ourselves.

And for many young women it’s a way to try and shift out of our own pain, our own experience of being treated as less than human. Because we are not the ones drinking with the football team or being jumped by a stranger in a dark alley. We were already kissing him. He was our boyfriend.

“It’s just the football players. I don’t even know any of those people.”

That’s what the young woman told me before she went on to ask what I thought about that line. Before she asked me if you can be raped by your boyfriend.

I told her that no matter who it is and no matter how many times you’ve had sex with them before, only yes means yes. And that we should all be saying more than yes. This is such a given in my life now. I’ve almost forgotten what it is to feel uncertain. To second-guess the cause of one’s own sense of sadness/fear/powerlessness/shame because maybe I wasn’t loud enough. Maybe I didn’t say no. Maybe it’s because he was drunk or because I was. Maybe I allowed this. As if the burden fell on me to refuse sex. And of course women still think this, it’s reinforced all the time, on TV shows, in pop songs, in the news coverage of the cases in Steubenville and elsewhere.

How can we remake the world so we can’t even conceive of sex that doesn’t involve both people being present and pleasured?

If you’ve never thought about yes meaning yes or sex as performance instead of a commodity, please read these articles. If you’ve thought a lot about these things, please read them again, talk about it to everyone. Reach out to teenagers and college students. I’m so glad that young woman asked me that question. But let’s please make a world where she doesn’t have to.

–Jillian

OUR LOVE IS WHAT WE MAKE OF IT – FROM AGE SIX TO NINETY-TWO!

OUR LOVE IS WHAT WE MAKE OF IT - FROM AGE SIX TO NINETY-TWO!

(Names in this post have been changed)

In the past few days, we have been on an amazing ride in Missoula – we’ve gotten to sing “Our Love Is What We Make of It” with people ages six to ninety-two, and everyone in between!

Last Thursday afternoon, we played some songs at lunch time at the Missoula Senior Center. Since we weren’t in an actual living room, we didn’t do the whole show. We just joined a group of four people for lunch and sang and talked a bit with them. There was a couple, Joe and Carol, in their seventies, who had been married for over fifty years and shared with us that they had fallen in love all over again about seventeen years into their marriage. Joe also shared the seemingly contradictory strong statements: “if our son wants to sleep with some broad, it won’t happen under my roof!” and “but we had sex before we were married, you know.” Carol talked about how much shame and guilt she had felt when she got pregnant before getting married, and how disappointed her family was in her.

There was also 92-year-old Annie, who I think I want to be when I grow up, by virtue of her beautifully feisty spirit! Annie has been married three times, and in her words, she had “two good ones, one bad”, and she had first gotten married “young and dumb”. Annie’s close friend Evelyn, wise and kind and cranky, had also been married and divorced three times.

Joe asked us why we didn’t want to be married, and we got to talk a little about how we are both hugely in favor of longterm commitment and building chosen family and of celebrating love, but that we have complex feelings about the cultural institution of marriage (and the civil rights that are bundled with it, and the unfortunate history on which is is built).

In the presence of humans with such long and varied experience, I often feel like I don’t know a damn thing. I shared that feeling with them, and we shared a laugh. But I think, in that relatively brief encounter, we all learned a lot from one another.

Later that evening, we did a full concert/conversation at the home of a long-term/committed/unmarried couple: Jacklyn and Zach. The audience included Jacklyn and Zach’s two young children, friends, and the children of those friends. Two women there had recently been divorced. Jacklyn said she cried from joy when she first heard “Our Love Is What We Make of It”, because it is so rare to encounter cultural examples that affirm their choice to not be married, and she was passionate about her six-year-old daughter Sloan hearing our song.

Here’s a recent dialogue that Jacklyn reported between her and Sloan:
S: I LOVE marriage!
J: Why?
S: Marriage means you have babies!
J: But we have babies, don’t we?
S: Because that means you love each other!
J: But your dad and I love each other very much.

Much to our delight, Sloan danced exuberantly for much of the concert/conversation! Jacklyn and Sloan danced together and sang along with “Our Love is What We Make of It.” When we asked everyone to take a few minutes and reflect on their feelings about marriage, Sloan drew a bride and groom and expressed “marriage is when two people celebrate their friendship”. The other young girls there also drew a picture of a wedding. The one six-year-old boy there drew a picture of a man under lightning-filled clouds and wrote “I don’t know how to draw pants”. I find it interesting to note that weddings were very much on the girls’ minds and that the one little guy happened to draw a non-sequitur, albeit a hilarious one.

Sometimes it seems even more significant to get to engage with people who have values and perspectives further from our own. But in the case of Jacklyn and Zach, it was such a rich experience to share in and celebrate each others’ shared values. And it warms our hearts like crazy to think of the ways in which Jacklyn was grateful to encounter our anthem.

-Stephanie

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Talking About Marriage with Dear Old Friends

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and so this week, we got to play for some amazing people who I’ve known for a long time: a group of women who I know from Bible study in high school, a friend from musical theater camp (yep, musical theater camp!) in high school, and a friend who I met about eight years ago in NYC who now works full-time on an organic farm in central Illinois.

Most of the time, the people hosting our shows are strangers and friends of friends of friends.  It was a unique experience to get to play for so many people who know me and my history so well.  

In one of our songs there’s that line, “I love you and I trust you, so let’s not get married.”  It was a pretty intense experience to sing a song that is blatantly celebrating alternatives to marriage for dear old friends, many of whose weddings I have recently attended, one of whom works full time as a wedding planner.

And we struggled with the content of that song (while initially writing it) because while it’s important to Jillian and me to celebrate our decision to not be married, we also deeply respect the individual choice of others to be married, and of course recognize that a lot of civil rights are tied to marriage and a lot of people are fighting hard for those rights. For more reference about my own views about marriage, see Dave McGee’s “Objection to a Wedding”.

When we started writing that particular song, that transcending-marriage line was at the heart of it.  But it was huge when we went a bit deeper and found that the hook of that song is actually “our love is what we make of it,” the phrase that is definitely the anthem of this album so far. “I love you and trust you, so let’s not get married” sits proudly under the umbrella of “our love is what we make of it”, but so do a lot of other choices.

And of course one of the best things about this whole endeavor is that we don’t just share the songs, we engage in conversation about them!  We get to be honest and joyful about our perspectives but also to hear from all different kinds of people about what they think about marriage. 

We’ve been asking everyone to take a few minutes to write on a notecard: If you are married, why are you? If you are not married, do you want to be? Why or why not?  We’re collecting the cards of anyone who feels comfortable with that, and even though we are only two weeks into this tour, we already have this extraordinary collection of various views and heartfelt perspectives.  I’m so excited to see what we keep hearing and learning as we continue on our way. 

And I am so glad and grateful to be able to share and be shared with, in a deep and considered way, about this cultural institution which affects all of our lives so much, whether we want it to or not, with friends both brand new and dear/old! 

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Growing Home

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Last week, we found ourselves in Stephanie’s hometown, Chicago. We played shows in the suburbs of Rollings Meadows, the farmlands of Marseilles, and in 2 of the more than 200 neighborhoods of Chicago. 

In Marseilles, we received a warm welcome from some of the folks from Growing Home and their neighbors. Growing Home provides job training in organic farming for people who face obstacles to employment because they’ve been incarcerated or dealt with homelessness or substance abuse. We arrived at the end of a training semester. Nearly every participant had already left the farm because they had already found jobs. Those working taught me how to harvest and clean radishes. They also gave us a bunch of vegetables, including a stalk of corn that grew from a Ugandan seed.

We’ve eaten most of those vegetables, but they have also been gifted along the way: beets to Amy in Lincoln Square, and carrots to Birdie the sweetest pit bull. We attempted to give the corn to Jez and his mom in Bismarck, South Dakota after they made us a delicious quiche, but it seemed to be too soft to eat.

So the corn continues on the journey with us. Stephanie recalled a proverb that says if you open a corn husk and find something other than corn inside you will know the world is going to end.

So we’re going to open it up and assess that situation on a mountaintop in Missoula. We’ll let you know the outcome.

In the meantime, the government is still shutdown

(we’ve been wondering about other travelers we’ve seen on the midwest highways who were probably headed to national state parks and are now left in a state of limbo, perhaps forever roaming I-94, taking photos of the plains and dreaming of glaciers)

and we drive on to Montana. 

–Jillian 

 

 

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“We Never Get to Talk About This Stuff”

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A new friend of ours from St. Clare Shores, Michigan, a woman in her sixties, came up to me after one of our shows on the brink of tears. “This is so meaningful and wonderful because we never get to talk about this stuff,” she said.

In our concert/conversations in peoples’ living rooms, we share nine songs that we’ve written from our personal experiences and perspectives on love, sex, marriage, babies, body image, gender roles and chosen family. We interweave conversation with the songs, asking anyone who feels comfortable to share about their experiences and perspectives. Thus far, people have been extraordinarily generous and open in ways that make me feel floored with gratitude.

At times, it is easy for me to fall into the trap of imagining we are doing the world a service by sharing our progressive values through our music. But I believe that that kind of proselytizing is rooted in the presumption that we hold power that in reality we do not have.

Another easy/unhelpful presumption comes into my brain when I assume that my song about loving/dating a transgendered person might be received with hostility in certain crowds. At that concert/conversation in St. Clare Shores, we really had no idea of the political orientation of the people in the room, and I initially felt wary of sharing that aforementioned song. But my wariness was completely unfounded in that context, and I am humbled to have realized that. I still don’t know the political orientation of the people in that room that night, but it doesn’t matter – we all heard each other on such a deep human level.

This work is the most meaningful when we can earnestly and whole-heartedly transcend those presumptions, in our own hearts and in the world at large!

Even if I do ultimately think it is an empirically good thing to have more pop songs in the world which are rooted in a queerer perspective than most other extant pop songs, I don’t believe that that is the most important thing about this tour. The exchanges that we are facilitating are ultimately not about us spreading a message of any kind, but are about holding open space in the world for open discussion and real listening. Open discussion about things that, as our new friend in St. Clare Shores put it: “we never get to talk about”. And the real listening that ends up flowing from that open discussion – the kind of listening that embodies the world that I would like to see; as in, when we really deeply hear and empathize with another human. That kind of listening is one of the only things that gives me any kind of graspable hope.

-Stephanie

Recycle Here!

After much recording, practicing, packing, and scrambling we have hit the road!

Our first stop was Detroit, where we talked with life-long residents and new arrivals about the changing landscape of the city. Before arriving I had heard so many differing narratives of the city: that it’s completely falling apart! That it’s being saved by urban farming! That it’s still lived in and loved by lifelong residents! That it’s being gentrified and capitalized on in the name of urban farming!

And I suppose all these thing are true.

There is undoubtedly some amazing organizing being done in Detroit, at places like the Boggs Center and the D-Town Farm (run by the Detroit Black Community Food Network). And I think it is a place that the rest of us should be looking to to see how the destructive patterns of gentrification can be disrupted or mitigated. But not voyeuristically or with the weight of “the future of the entire country” (a phrase some friends seemed wary of hearing) resting on their shoulders. We all have to be responsible to our own communities. And if you do decide to move to Detroit I would advise spending a good amount of time listening to those who are already there. We could probably all do that more, wherever we call home.

–Jillian

(The photo is from Recycle Here!, a recycling center that was started as a private project and is now funded by the city. Stephanie and I learned all about different kinds of plastic there.)

Our Mission

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.

We love popular music, but wish it had different lyrics much of the time, lyrics that acknowledge and celebrate the complexities of how people experience all kinds of love. We want to know what people all over the country think about sex and love and relationships and popular music, and we know we can only find out if we ask them.

So, in October and November of 2013, we will drive across the country looking to speak and sing with people about their values and conceptions of love and family. We want to talk with people who spend a lot of time thinking about these issues, as well as people who have never had a conversation about sex or birth or what love means in their own lives. We are done hypothesizing about the dreams, love, pain, and fears of people we have never met. Let’s actually meet.

We want to talk with everyone everywhere, but will start with 8 different U.S. cities: Detroit, Chicago, Missoula, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe, New Orleans, and Natchez. We’ll do 3-5 house concert/conversations in each city. 

We have some songs already, but the conversations sparked in these house concerts will inform how those songs evolve, and the new songs we’ll write will be shaped by the stories and perspectives we encounter along the way. We’d like to sing and share with people inside their homes, because we believe those are spaces where people feel most comfortable and safe to talk and laugh and sing. We are inspired by other performers who have played in people’s homes. We are inspired by the people who welcome performers into their living rooms. We hope that someday everyone will have had a stranger come to their home to play music, or share a skill, or show a film. We hope many people will surprise themselves by becoming that stranger.

In the end of this endeavor, we will have a whole album of songs to share and hopefully have been part of conversations that will generate more conversations in turn. In the end, we hope there is no end to the spaces that are opened up in homes and in people to talk about what feels right in the world and what can be changed. In the end, this is just a start. Let’s start.