Written by: Magdalen Jenne
Y’all, I haven’t always been out. Even now I’m out in a tenuous kind of way - if you know, you know. I’m not putting myself out there so much, for strangers.
Bluegrass music found its way into my life in school, when I was studying classical piano at a small liberal arts college in New York. I played a little guitar. I had some friends who were dedicated members of the music department’s bluegrass ensemble. I joined up for fun.
I wasn’t out then -- I’m not out to a lot of those people, still. I connected with the music because of its feeling of otherness: I was a bit of a hick at a private school; I was gay and years away from admitting it to anyone; even in a group of people who loved me, I was desperately lonely. The first time somebody characterized bluegrass music to me as “a high, lonesome sound,” I understood why it’d hooked me. It was mountain music, acres of space music. Music for small communities, townships, places where the personal was often political.
So I played, first guitar, later mandolin. I sang -- a thing I am, to paraphrase a professor, unteachably bad at. At a time in my life when every choice I made seemed to dig me deeper into a self-destructive trench, I had fun, pure and simple, playing reels with my friends.
Pride, for me, is somewhat of a self-contained thing: it’s more important where I am now to be proud of myself, of the fact that I’m gay and that I survived long enough to feel okay writing that phrase and publishing it, than it is to be proud in defiance of someone else. Bluegrass is an interior thing, too: I can jam in a community, I can have a wonderful time, but the joy I feel spools back into that high lonesome sound. That loneliness, that otherness. Playing with other people shows me it’s better to be lonely together.
As this pride month comes to a close -- always too soon -- be loud, if you can. Play your tunes, change the pronouns, make them gay. Laugh a lot. Sing so people can hear you, even if you’re an unteachably bad singer. There might be some lonesome somebody who needs to hear it.