Next up in our Queer Voices series is songwriter, vocalist, and bandleader Lauren Leigh, who proudly identifies as a pansexual womxn. We're so proud of Lauren, who came out one week ago! Read on to discover how it all went down!
Tell us a little bit about your coming out experience(s). How has life changed for you since being “out”?
LL: I came out one week ago, on June 27, 2020! I had been editing and re-editing a post on Facebook I was going to make with the purpose of coming out. At this point, most of my close friends already knew, but it wasn't something I publicly talked about online or ever with family. After coming out, I received ONLY positive remarks and feedback, tons of private messages thanking me or congratulating me for coming out, but didn't hear from my family. I had heard from the most conservative Christian friend, but not my mother. So I called her. I was shaking and sweating-the gross, smelly kind. My mother said, “Which letter are you?" and I responded, “Well I guess 'Q' for queer because I am pansexual." She said, “OH! Like Janelle Monae!?" and I immediately started sobbing. My mom shouted to my dad that I was pansexual, and he shouted “Okay, cool." It was great.
Life has changed only in the way that I feel so, incredibly ME. I feel a thousand percent more authentic, and I feel a “part of" instead of “in support of." They are distinctly different feelings. Literally any time anyone draws attention to the fact that I came out, I am so happy and proud. I know I am so lucky to have a coming out story like mine. The most exciting thing for me to think about is the future. I could have a girlfriend someday! Just typing that out makes me smile. I have curbed so many life experiences for myself because I wasn't out. I don't have that wall anymore.
LBP: How do other aspects of your identity intersect (or perhaps clash) with your sexuality?
LL: I identify as a womxn, she/her pronouns, I was raised by middle-class Catholics, and I am a musician. My sexuality clashed with all of it. Or at least it felt like it did, which is why I waited until I was 36 years old to come out. I had very few queer influences as a child. Only my aunt, a lesbian, whose sexuality was dismissed and erased by my dad's side of the family and never talked about. Her wife was always addressed as her “friend."
My Catholic family let it be clear when they found out I had been hooking up with a girlfriend in high school that I was going to hell, and that if I was going to do it, to keep it a secret, but that it would be easier for me in life to just “stop."
I can still remember Ellen DeGeneres coming out, and immediately losing all her jobs and that being extremely terrifying for me as a tiny performer, budding singer who wanted the world to like her. “Just don't talk about it." So I never did. There are whole songs I've written from the heteronormative perspective that were actually about womxn. Hiding who I really was, however transparent it might have actually been, was the default. Fit in. Make people like you. It's a common theme throughout my life. It wasn't until I started putting myself first and focusing on making ME like me that positive changes in my community started happening and there seemed no other way to be, but just me.
Image description: Square graphic with yellow background and large white quotation mark at the top. At bottom of square, large black text reads: "queer voices." In the middle, in black text, is a quote from Lauren's interview. (The last four sentences of her response to question 2). Under the quote, in bold black text reads: "~Lauren Leigh. Pronouns: She/Her"
LBP: Pride is a celebration of liberation but also an acknowledgement of struggle, resistance, and revolution. Where do you see yourself in that celebration? Where do you see yourself in that struggle?
LL: It is not lost on me how easy my coming out has been. There's a reason for that. Millions of people have marched, fought, and so many have died in the path to granting me that freedom. Matthew Shepherd's death caused me to have nightmares for a week. It is a vivid reminder of what the LGBTQ+ community has gone through so that people like me can have easy coming out stories. Witnessing what I have at Black Lives Matter protests through the pans filter really ignites a fire in me to ACT. I have freedoms today as a white person-- pans or not-- that Black people simply do not have. Black trans womxn started the fight for queer freedoms at Stonewall. We must fight for them now because all Black people matter. It's a Revolution and I feel the responsibility to fight because I've seen that it WORKS.
LBP: As an artist, how does your “queerness" or sexual orientation show up in your creative work?
LL: My “queerness" has only recently shown up in my creative work. Last year I wrote a song specifically about a girl--which was a big deal for me. Hundreds of heteronormative songs have been written about almost the same thing. This was one of those songs that just pours out of you in literal minutes. I didn't fight it. It came out. It's titled, “Sweet Michele" and it's an imaginary story about losing my chance with the potential love of my life because I didn't pay her enough attention. I am really proud of it and it's on my EP, "FLARE" I released this year on my birthday. My roommate and fellow powerhouse singer Chloe Lou heard it and said it hit her differently because her mother's name was Michelle, and she was an AIDS advocate that died of AIDS when she was 3 years old. The lyrics tell her a different story. Sharing that reaction with me makes the song so much more important to me. I am so looking forward to being more deliberate with queer-centered art and lyrics.
LBP: What queer-centered artists, shows, films, podcasts, authors, etc. are you into right now?
LL: As far as music goes- Janelle Monae and Emily King are at the top of my jam list for queer-centered music. I am also really into the show Shrill right now. It has a super body-positive message but also represents the queer community realistically and doesn't just center on the fact that they are queer. Authenticity. Of course all my LGBTQ+ artist obsessions locally killing it. Tori Roze's costumed karaoke will never not be my weekly pleasure for as long as this pandemic (or the segment) lives.
LBP: What are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ organizations or businesses you'd recommend our readers look into, buy from, donate to, volunteer for, etc.?
LL: All lives cannot matter until Black trans lives matter. Donate to The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, named in honor of the legendary drag queen and Black gay activist. They work to protect and defend the rights of Black transgender people.
LBP: Is there anything else you'd like to mention in closing?
I just wanted to say that being able to participate in something that is celebrating who I am as a pansexual human being is very, very new to me. Just the thought of doing this interview made me cry with pride. I have been crying a whole lot the last week in gratitude. To be accepted in the larger community has been great-- but for the queer community to embrace me and welcome me home has meant the absolute world and I can't believe I waited this long to come out.
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