The Teen Talking Circle Project

Interviewed by Linda Wolf, Wind Hughes, McKenzie Nielson and Sarah Lindsley
from Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun

 

McKenzie: I was wondering about your personal spirituality and how it relates to your life, your music and your social activism.

Emily: My dad's a Methodist Minister and a professor of theology so I grew up going to Church with my family, and being around the sacred language from the Western Christian tradition... So in my music, Biblical references come naturally...and the language of the Bible is so rich in and of itself; great stories and interesting characters. But beyond that, there is a spirituality underlying some of our music that has nothing to do with specific texts, it's just more about how we feel about the world. Personally, I believe in God, I believe in a Creator and I believe that the teachings of Jesus were incredibly beautiful and powerful and I try to follow them in my life. But I don't believe that Christianity is the one and only truth... And I'm not doing activist events for God, so to speak...

Amy: For me, every moment is a sacred. I believe in respect for all beings and my songs are extensions of that. Most of the activism I'm involved in deals with social justice or environmental issues... there's a common link between sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, racism... just as the way we treat the environment is a reflection of how we treat women and vise versa and to me it's all tied together.

Linda: Emily, does it ever bother you as a Christian that God is referred to as he all the time?

Emily: ...At first no. I grew up with that language so it felt okay but then something shifted...and it really started to bother me. I'd hear the word He and I'd cringe. My dad's done a lot of work on this, too, in the Methodist Hymnal and in the Liturgies, he's really tried to change the language so that it's all inclusive. So in my Church now, our prayers are Mother, Father, God... now that I've experienced faith in this way, I can't go back, so, yes the use of those masculine pronouns bothers me terribly.

McKenzie: Do you think you've been discriminated against as women in the music industry?

Emily: We hear about some homophobia going on - people who don't want to play our records because we're gay or they don't like our politics...

Amy: It's rampant and insidious. MTV discriminates, radio discriminates, the media discriminates but we're not playing their game so it really doesn't really affect us that much. We hear about some radio programmers who say, "We're already playing three women bands, we can't play another one." We're like, "Oh, well, okay how many guys are you playing?" But with MTV, it's the tits and ass thing. They'll show a few women that don't fit into their 'thing,' but not many. You hear people say, "women are getting further than they've ever gotten before in this business," and that's probably true, but on what terms? By what they're wearing; what their body looks like; what their hair looks like? There's always a token strong woman that you can point to who's doing okay, who's accepted on her own terms, but it's always a fluke.

McKenzie: What's the most important thing you hope people hear in your music?

Amy: I hope they hear themselves. I want them my music to be a catalyst for them.

Sarah: I'm switching topics here...how do you feel about the different terminologies for being gay? Which words do you use to describe yourselves?

Emily: I like the word gay. Maybe it's because lesbian has three syllables!

Amy: I used to think about that sometimes mostly because my mom and I when we later started having open dialogue about how she felt about things, she always talked about terminology being an issue with her, too; feeling like if you call yourself gay, you alienate your chances of being sexual with men. I call myself gay. I feel attracted to men and I've been out with men and men I've been in love with but I find that I'm more drawn to women so I think that's my context. But there's a lot of people I know that feel they don't want to be labelled anything - love is love, period. They're coming from a real desire to embrace everything.

Linda: When did you discover you were gay and how did you tell the people who mean the most to you?

Emily: Well, all my life I've always had these very strong bonds with other girls and crushes on my teachers, ever since Kindergarten. But I never attached sexuality to it. And the really strange thing is just before I started to discover that I thought I might be gay, I was very homophobic. I remember thinking, "ugh, homosexuality, that's perverse; I don't know anybody who does that...." I didn't know what it was so I didn't know how to react. I didn't realize I was gay until I was about nineteen or twenty. I never felt bad about it; I never felt like this is wrong or I'm going to fight this, I just realized what it was, finally. But, I kept it from my parents for two years. I told my sisters, one by one; it was no big deal. I don't know why I didn't tell my parents. I guess it's because I've always felt really close to my family and I was afraid I was going to rock the boat in what was pretty much an idyllic family situation. I was afraid I was going to become like the black sheep of the family, so I was scared. But then I started thinking about it and I was like, 'they're not going to react that way," so I had separate meetings with them and I told each of them and I cried, you know, it was very emotional and they were very accepting. The only thing they were concerned about was would I be well taken care of, in terms of love and life. They were totally cool about it. From then on, I've always been openly gay in my private life, but it took me a while to get used to the thought of being gay for the press. But that was a long time ago.

Amy: Well, for me, I fell in love with somebody in high school and used to do the old sneaking out the window and running three miles to see your girlfriend but didn't sleep with her for a year. I didn't even know what it meant. But my mom approached me about it. She said there were rumors (she couldn't say the word) - we didn't really have a language for it. I said, "Well, I'm in love, and I don't know what that means, and I haven't been physical yet." I had had a boyfriend but I was just a senior in high school. So my parents knew and my sisters sort of knew, but there wasn't an open dialogue about it at the time, which was a kind of a drag. For me I was freaked out because the girl I was in love with wasn't comfortable with it, and her parents weren't. But when I had my second relationship it was like, "okay, there's going to be a dialogue about this because you're my family and it's important to me and we have to learn to talk to each other." Besides, I felt stronger about it myself. I felt clearer because, I always liked guys a lot and I wanted to be able to have access to men, too. But I just don't feel the same pull with them. I want to, but I don't, you know, and it's a drag because I like guys a lot.

Wind: Do you find that many people reduce a lesbian relationship down to just two women having sex and often fail to see the committment, the relationship and the love that is truely what binds two people together?

Amy: I think that happens less with lesbians than with gay men. People in the world are always mystified by the bond women have anyway, even if they're not gay.

Emily...I think women are a mystery to most men.

Linda: A lot of girls learn what's expected of them if they want to get men. They learn what's "sexy" and get a lot of messages about what the appropriate gender roles are in a way I don't see happening in the gay community, is this true?

Emily:... For me it's been very freeing to not have to deal with those gender roles.

Wind: Do you think that freedom is part of what's manifested in your music because your music is very free as well.

Emily: Yeah, Amy and I both feel completely free to write about whatever we want to write about, or to pick up an instrument we're not good at and play it anyway, or to make exactly the kind of record we want to make. We wear the clothes we want to wear and if we're not hip or we're not feminine or whatever it is then so what. I don't think any human being is truely free. We're tethered to our insecurities and hampered by our fears and our prejudices that only spiritual persuit can help calm but not allieviate totally. I think by nature of humanity, we're never going to be free.

Sarah: What do you personally struggle with that keeps you from being free?

Emily: More of less what goes on for a lot of other people, my insecurities, my self worth...this is a very alienating world and you have to be strong and remind yourself that you're okay. We're flooded with commercialism and advertisements that tell us what's cool and what we have to have and what we should be like and there's a lot of cultural homogeny going on so that if you're a little off the beaten path you have to remind yourself that it's a good thing and celebrate the diversity. So I go through those basic human struggles. Then my own personal growth musically and intellectually. I'm never really happy with where I am. I'd like to always be better or smarter, just like most people I know. If we didn't have those, we'd never grow.

Linda: Do either of you want to be mothers?

Emily: No, but I could get the hormonal surge and want to tomorrow!

Amy: I half wanted too, but I think I want to finish this tour and then I want to think about it! I really wanted to have kids but I also had a relationship that just ended that was like a seven year marriage, and I don't want to have kids in the context of being by myself. I want to have kids if I have someone to help me because I don't think I can do it alone. I think being a mother would be a great experience.

Wind: How do you manage being out doing all you're doing right now in the context of just ending a long term relationship.

Amy: It's been hard. It's very hard, but I've went through a long period of coming to terms with things and it's hard because I'm on the road and I'm going to places that I've shared with somebody I was with and it's rough. But I've gone through so many good things in the last years and I feel like there's a mystery to it all and while it's painful sometimes, compared to the pain that I've seen other people suffering in some of the work I've done recently, it's hard to give myself space to feel that on one level and on another level, I realize that everything's always going to be okay for me. I know where my next meal and my shelter is coming from and love is an issue that works it's way out in one way or another.

Linda: After we were with you the other night, listening to you play music, I cried a long time. I felt very lonely, just this existential sense of aloneness that made me very sad. Are you afraid of being alone? Are you lonely now that you're broken up?

Amy: No, I mean, I think we're all lonely. I think that's the human condition. I think we all feel lonliness but I'm not afraid of that and I'm not afraid of being alone but I see the suffering of feeling lonely. I have felt lonliness. I have felt lonliness with people and without them. But that kind of desperate feeling, that sort of painful experience at this point in my life, I've only grown from that, learned from it. The negative impact of that has totally dissappeared for me in the face of all the positive things I've learned. But I find that when you get upset by lonliness or you feel like crying or you feel that painful feeling, I don't look at it as a bad thing. I just look at it as feelings. It's like when I read Faulkner with all the perversity and the darkness and it's so sad and painful but it's so beautiful as well and that's how I see lonliness. What a beautiful remark on the human condition. Out of that arrives all our needs for religion and everything we do. I think if God is a single entity, God is lonely, too and somtimes I think that's where we connect.