Shannon Keating is the LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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In a Genius lyric explainer video from earlier this year, Mikaela Straus, better known as King Princess — the fast-rising indie singer-songwriter and first signee to Mark Ronson’s new label, Columbia imprint Zelig Records — explains the meaning behind her debut single “1950.” Straus chose the titular year as a metaphor for modern-day unrequited love. "When someone’s cold to you in a public place, that’s similar to the way people once couldn’t be gay in public,” she says. “I wanted to pay tribute to that point in history.”
I’m not even 10 years older than Straus, but hearing her explanation made me feel suddenly decrepit. There wasn’t a single kid in an openly gay relationship at my suburban Connecticut high school; as recently as the mid-aughts, so many of us were still playing 1950. But to young people like Straus, life in the closet might already seem like the stuff of ancient history.
King Princess is one of many queer teen and twentysomething artists whose meteoric rises have filled me with joy and wistfulness in near equal measure. Listening to music by the likes of Hayley Kiyoko and Troye Sivan and Shamir — musicians whose songs and videos are brimming with explicit, unapologetic queer aesthetics in terms of both gender presentation and desire — makes me thrilled for queer kids growing up today. But I’m also a little bit sad for the queer kid I once was, back when even Tegan and Sara weren’t using female pronouns in their songs.
Now, seeing queer teenagers look better at their proms than I’ve ever looked in my life makes me think of the last scene in Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, when Ned (Mark Ruffalo) attends a party for Gay Week at Yale after years of seeing his community ravaged by AIDS. Sitting by the fireplace near the dance floor, he smiles with tears in his eyes as he watches young queer couples sway in each other’s embrace, their whole lives ahead of them.
For so long both institutionalized and internalized homophobia has meant that many older LGBT public figures have slowly and painfully inched their way out of the closet for years, if they come out at all — such that somebody getting to the point of publicly embracing their identity has been a big deal. But many younger celebrities are coming into their fame while being openly queer already; instead of waiting around to see if they’re going to claim their queerness, we get to watch them figure out what they’re going to do with it. Read more via Buzzfeed