Breaking the Mold

Written by: Tessa Schwartz

As the second season of Bluegrass Pride draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a gay teenager, or any teenager who doesn’t quite fit the stereotypical bluegrass kid mold.  It’s hard enough just being a bluegrass musician or fan as a teen  I am the only one of my non-bluegrass friend group who regularly listens to or even enjoys bluegrass. I am working on changing that, but my friends (who mostly live in Berkeley or Oakland) have their own stereotyped view of the bluegrass world, and it ain’t pretty. And in California, it isn’t even particularly true.

I have to say that the bluegrass community has generally been incredibly welcoming and accepting of me, even though, as a half-Jewish young woman, I don’t quite fit the classic bluegrass “mold.”  Luckily, there are some role models for me right here in my neighborhood with whom I share some characteristics – Kathy Kallick and Suzy Thompson for starters – and so I have never felt too much out of place. However, growing up in the scene, there were still norms and traditions that felt too powerful to push back against. In my family band (in which I played until I was 9), I would sometimes change the lyrics of certain songs to preserve the hetero content  “that gal of mine” became “that guy of mine,” Curly instead of Pearly Blue, The Guy I Left Behind Me, My Buffalo Bro, etc...  But I think a lot of kids do that to some extent – I’ve seen boys change the gender of a character in a song when it made them more comfortable – although one of my brothers did once sing an awesome version of “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man” at a festival.

I sure hope that bluegrass’s history and some of its culture don’t scare off queer teens or any teens who look or feel different.  Organizations like Bluegrass Pride are vital because they connect communities that otherwise might never learn to love and appreciate each other, and demonstrate to the community-at-large that bluegrass is there for everyone.  I was SO proud to participate in the first Bluegrass Pride event last year in San Francisco (with my grandmother, aunt, and father beside me, and my mother cheering me on by text). It was an incredibly meaningful and emotional day for me.  I would have been there this year but I was still at an arts camp near Yosemite – where I got to work on some stand-up comedy about my relationship with bluegrass! You see, I’m making the most of this...

To any bluegrass kids and teens questioning your sexuality, gender, or favorite genre of music, I want you to know that whatever you decide you are or what or whom you like, it doesn’t matter. Surround yourself with people who love and accept you as you are, and with people who you love and accept in return.  Or, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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