Makonnen: Yeah, because I’m still living and learning. Like, if I had an experience with a girl last night and I say I’m gay, then what am I? I didn’t want people to start labeling. Because [if someone says], “Oh, my friend’s gay,” then it’s, “He can’t come over.” Or: “She’s a lesbian,” [then others might say], “Well, we don’t want to hang out.” None of that really matters.
Lambert: I agree. The fact that your sexuality doesn’t necessarily indicate your entire identity — it’s an important step that we’re taking as a society.
Freedia: They always ask me, “What’s your preferred pronoun?” And I’m like, “It don’t matter. You can call me ‘he,’ you can call me ‘she.’ I’m comfortable with who I am, and I’ll answer to either.” Sometimes I want to be Freedia, sometimes I want to be Freddie — just depends on how I feel that day. I never let no one put a label on me. I just live.
Kiyoko: I didn’t want a label at all, but once I released my music, there was this outpour of support for the fact that I did like girls. I learned that by embracing my label as a lesbian, I was helping normalize that for so many other people.Quin: Where the labels get uncomfortable is when they’re used against us, right? Because I love being [described as] queer or gay, but when it’s used as a way to marginalize me, then it’s different. At the beginning, what I was rejecting wasn’t just the gay label, it was “Canadian folk duo! Lesbian twin sisters Tegan and Sara!” [Headlines like] “Double trouble! Gay twins from Canada!” felt like coded language that said, “Hey, straight people. This isn’t for you. Hey, men, this isn’t for you.”Some of you have been out from the beginning of your career, and some of you came out later. Walk me through what those decisions were like.
Makonnen: I came out Jan. 20, 2017 — the day Donald Trump got inaugurated. [The person] who really inspired me was my friend Marcus. He passed away in 2017; he was an older gay guy in Atlanta, and he was black, and [he had] always been out. He was just so strong and fearless. He was like, “Whenever you’re ready, I’m here to support you to get your wings and fly.” That’s what really made me come out in my career, and also a lot of my fans. I felt like they’ll see a mirror in me. My music goes [to places] where it’s not supported to come out as gay, [where] your family will turn their back on you. I just wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
Adam, you had a very orchestrated coming out in a Rolling Stone cover story.
Lambert: It was so weird because I was out already, but that wasn’t part of the conversation because on American Idol, at least back then, they weren’t letting you interact with the press. All I was being asked was: “Why did you choose this song this week? Who’s your favorite singer?” I look back on it now, and maybe it would’ve been cool to make a stand and proclaim it, but it just didn’t come up. After the show ended, all of a sudden there was all this talk. That’s when [my team and I] decided, “Why don’t we do this with a responsible journalist who won’t steer it the wrong way, who’ll ask the right questions?”
You bring up a great point: There’s the personal coming out, and then there’s often the career coming out. Tegan, did you and your sister decide to be out from the beginning?
Quin: Sara and I actually didn’t ever come out to each other, and we didn’t ever talk about being gay. So our coming out was kind of strange and disconnected, and our career coincided with it because we signed a deal right out of high school.
But Elliot Roberts, who signed us — he managed Neil Young — had a conversation with us one afternoon. Sara just burst out like, “We’re gay. Is it OK to talk about?” He just kind of chuckled and said, “Then say you’re gay.” I think I just melted into the chair, I was so embarrassed. Talking about sexuality, it feels like you’re talking about sex. [Being out] was part of our narrative, but there was no talking about it, really, because everyone was so awkward about it.
Freedia, what about you?
Freedia: For me, what’s understood don’t need to be explained. I came out at a very early age. I sat my mom down at my 12th birthday party and told her in front of my friends. She said, “Baby, mama already knows, and I’m going to love you regardless.” Once I got my mom’s support, there was nothing else I needed.A lot of non-queer artists are figuring out how to be good allies right now. Hayley, you were just in Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video, which featured many queer performers and directed viewers to a petition for the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act.
Kiyoko: I’ve always had mixed emotions with allies and trying to understand the relationship. I had a moment during World Pride in New York: I was on the float, I had my best friend beside me and everyone who works with me, and they’re all very straight. They were cheering and crying. They were supporting Pride because they loved me. So allies are just as important as anyone who’s in the community. These are people fighting for you when it doesn’t have anything to do with them. So I’m very grateful for Taylor’s support.
Lambert: With Taylor, what was impressive is she put this petition out there. She’s moving people to take action. But there is criticism when an artist is just doing it for personal [or] commercial gain.
Freedia: It needs to come from the heart.
Lambert: Sometimes when this ally [conversation] comes up, you see a straight male pop star or an actor being like, “I like gay people.” And I’m like, “I don’t give a shit if you fucking like gay people! Why do I need your approval?” That’s the hard side of me.
Quin: Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons started LoveLoud Festival [in 2017] in Utah to raise money for the LGBTQ community, and youth specifically, and I’m involved on the board and with the speaker and performer side of it. It is absolutely fucking impossible to get people to come.
Our “allies” are often just saying they’re allies. Sometimes it feels like unless they’re getting a prize or an award, they don’t come. I want them to show up, I want them to put a petition at the end of their video. Dan wraps himself in a rainbow flag every night and cries real tears. He understands the language, he sits down and has the conversation, he makes space. I’m like Adam, there’s…
Lambert: …the chip. I think that chip comes from being in the business as long as we’ve been in it.
Quin: Yeah, I’m a dinosaur.
Kiyoko: You guys! No, you’re not!
Lambert: (Laughs.) Not saying that we’re so old, but more that it has changed so much. Ten years ago was a totally different vibe.
Kiyoko: Eventually we want to just be ourselves and not be judged and not have to rely on validation from an ally. We’re still in that world where you have to get that approval.
Makonnen: Yeah, like a cosign.Were there any cosigns that made a real difference for you?
Makonnen: Lil Peep [who died in 2017]. He was like a new, younger artist [who said], “I still love you and want to work with you.” Actually, I’ve seen a lot of withdrawal and turn-the-other-way [reactions] since coming out, but it is what it is.
Lambert: I saw the same thing. When I did it, which was before I released any solo music, I [saw comments like], “You lost a fan!” I’m like, “I didn’t want your kind of fan anyway.”
Quin: The internet is a garbage can, but I feel like our community has been able to support each other in a way that didn’t exist even 10 years ago. Because I’m not going to say that I didn’t want our straight contemporaries in the music business to reach out and support me — I would’ve just really loved if someone gay had. And a lot of that was because there was no way to do it.
Freedia: Yeah, it wasn’t just that you could reach out.
Quin: Now I’m like a psycho. Every time I meet a new young, up-and-coming LGBTQ artist, I push people out of the way like, “My name is Tegan, I play in a band called Tegan and Sara, and if you ever need anything, please hit me up. I will be happy to stand up for you, mentor you.” Because it was so lonely.
Freedia: That’s how I felt when RuPaul came for me [to collaborate on music in 2012]. That was mother rescue right there. It definitely feels good when you have somebody in the walk of life that you’re in say, “Hey, here’s a helping hand.In the style of a RuPaul’s Drag Race finale, I want to ask you all: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger queer self?
Lambert: “Relax, it’s all going to be fine. You’re beautiful, you’re not ugly, you’re not going to be alone.” There was so much shame and self-hatred. I would just try to calm myself down.
Kiyoko: “It’s OK that you’re not super feminine, and it’s OK that you’re also masculine. There are other people out there like you across the globe.” I am grateful for the internet. My fans are my community that I never had growing up, and so I would tell myself, “You will find your people.”
Makonnen: “Be happy.” It took me a long time to figure out, like, “Why are they picking on me? Why are you all bothering me so much?” I would just tell my younger self, “Don’t stress it. You’ll find out soon enough what it is.”
Quin: I needed somebody to tell me it was as hard as it felt. Everyone’s always telling you you’re living your dream: “But you’re having so much fun!” And I am, but I would just like to visit early-2000s us and say, “It is absolutely really hard, and it’s OK sharing a Econo Lodge hotel room with your twin sister. That’s part of being an adult; that’s part of building a career.”
Freedia: I would have been more patient. I would have started thinking about things that can set me up for a better future. But it’s important that we all went through the journey that we went through. That’s what makes us who we are. All of those hiccups and all of those triumphs and tribulations? It’s the basis of the story.