Some things escape your notice until they’re pointed out to you, and then they become all you can think about. This was the case with the first girl I ever really noticed as beautiful — not beautiful, attractive. And it’s the case with every love song sung by a woman that I’ve listened to, where she uses the word “she” or “her” to reference her lover.
The thing is, heterosexual love songs don’t seem particularly gendered until you realize that you don’t quite fall into that realm all the time. Or even most of the time. And you don’t notice how unusual it is to hear LGBTQ+ romantic songs until the word “she” pops out of absolutely nowhere, making you sit down and stare at absolutely nothing — feeling your thought patterns exploring this word and self-inserting as you rewind the song.
Like many pansexual or bisexual people, I started off thinking that my first “thing” for a girl was something that would happen maybe once or twice in my life. “I’m not bisexual, I just like girls sometimes,” I would insist. Let’s just say that’s something to laugh about now.
Music surrounded the first girl I realized I was attracted to. We found that we had the same favorite lyric in a particular song, something about God and swimming pools. My Spotify was a portal to getting to know me, she told me. I insisted to myself that my feelings for her were a rare one-off in my life; I created percentages of attraction in my head, weighted toward men. In reality, breaking love and other feelings down into math, just like with music, makes them lose some of their meaning.
And slowly, I began to notice when women sang about female lovers.
Sometimes, the songs were passionately centered on the anger of the woman-loving-woman experience, using sex as defiance against those who would hate them because of their love. In Rett Madison’s “God is a Woman,” Madison describes her knees as “shaking” and “purple” as a woman kissed them. The uncertain, nervous trembling contrasted with the sureness of the romantic experience laid out a story in my head to match my feelings.
I would lie awake in bed at night, listening to “Lorraine” by Big Thief over and over and over again. The “soft burning hands” mentioned didn’t belong to a man. They couldn’t. There was something about Adrianne Lenker’s quiet singing, thinking about a woman in a way filled with desire, but without the force of a man, that made me shiver.
The possibility of hands touching me that didn’t belong to a man — of saying “This is my girlfriend,” of tucking a girl’s long hair behind her ear — all presented themselves to me as new possibilities. They were scary to explore and dream up on my own. So, a variety of female musicians did it for me.
Slowly, I began to look for women singing about female lovers.
In “She,” Dodie sings hesitantly and sweetly about noticing all the different things that make you crush on someone — and, for the first time, noticing them about a woman. The woman she dreams of smelled of “lemongrass and sleep,” and I wondered what sleep smelled like. “Georgia” by Emily King is a song born from heartbreak like many others, except that she is begging a female lover to return. And, of course, “Graceland Too” by Phoebe Bridgers filled me to the brim and then spilled over a bit every time I listened, especially when I finally listened closely enough to realize that it was about a woman.
Just like that, it was as though some puzzle had been solved. Had other songs I hadn’t listened to closely enough also contained sapphic stories? Were there many more to listen and dream to? Was it just one big gay treasure hunt? Even now, when I am fully confident in calling myself pansexual and when I often notice women more than men, these songs leave me with the same sense of awe and shy interest that they always did. The casual wonder with which Bridgers views her lover eating saltines on her floor mimics the way I have looked at a girl I care about when she frowns at her homework or watches a streetlight change from behind the wheel.
Devotion of any kind is about small attentions, noticing the things that others won’t. Dodie, Bridgers and countless other women have marked down all the little ways that their partners are unique and special. With love songs that relish in the privilege of noticing the small things about the women they adore, they mark the individuality of their lovers.
And it is important to me, and I’m sure to other listeners, that sometimes these individuals are women. With each different gay love song I found, a new path of dreaming presented itself.
For a while, I admired the boldness and assuredness with which they addressed themselves. But for a while, personally, I didn’t want my sexuality to be a lens through which I was perceived. Though I’m no songwriter, nowadays, I nevertheless find ways to explore queerness in my creative work (obviously). It’s funny how the love of others makes you consider the love within yourself. It’s funny how lucky their wonderful music makes me feel to experience the same love.
Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.