Local folk singer Kate Reid’s new album, Queer Across Canada, dropped two weeks ago. It’s a major departure from her usual work in that it’s an album specifically for kids. The Peak sat down with her and talked about the new album, homophobia, sex, and more.
What motivated you to write an album like Queer Across Canada for kids and LGBT families?
Part of why I wanted to do this, what was really the cementing piece, was having a conversation with [my partner] Maike’s kids. She has a boy named Ben who’s 13 now, but was a lot younger at the time, and Jessica, who is now 10. [Both] would talk about some of the stuff they faced with their peers when they said they have two moms, and other kids say “How, how is that possible? What do you mean you had two moms? How come you don’t have a daddy? How do two moms have kids?”
Ben’s answer to one of the kids was “I do have a dad, I have a donor dad.” The kids don’t understand what that means and so he had to explain. Then they start teasing him, calling names such as “donut dad,” which in grade three is pretty traumatic, to have someone call your dad a donut dad. [Another experience came from] Jessica, talking about having to make two cards for Mother’s Day and not doing that for Father’s Day, sort of deciding, “Well, who do I make a Father’s Day card for?”
Those kinds of conversations [got me] thinking, “You know, they don’t have any songs that talk about their lives, that speak to their families that they can see themselves reflected in.” All the songs for young people and kids are like, “mommy / daddy,” so I wanted to write songs for them. I wanted to give voice to their stories, and so that’s what started me on it.
So then I started thinking, “I want to interview kids growing up in queer families,” because queer kids are subjected to homophobia, but so are kids of queer families even though they might not identify as queer. That’s another strain of homophobia kids can be subjected to, so that was the impetus for the album.
In an interview with Steven Quinn from “On the Coast,” you talked about your background in education and how that factored into making the kit that comes with Queer Across Canada. What is your background in education?
In terms of my own teaching background, I got a teaching degree in 2000. I had an arts undergrad and then I got a teaching degree. I taught for about seven years full time before I became “the musician” (she laughs).
I did three years of teaching in the interior. The first year of teaching I was in the closet. I was in Midway, for fuck’s sake. Its a small freaking town, like 600 people. I’m not going to come out in this town, I was freaked out.
It was really interesting for me to date a woman who lived in another town; I would go to visit her on weekends and nobody knew about my life. I was not really integrated in the social fabric of Midway, and because I was in the closet and I didn’t really make good friends with the teachers.
In the second year, when my girlfriend and I broke up, I started dating a male gym teacher at the high school, my social life just opened up. Suddenly I didn’t have to be afraid, I didn’t have to be in the closet, and I started to talk about, you know, I did have a girlfriend, because now it was okay. Now I had the safety of being in a heterosexual relationship, so it was such an eye opener from me to go from one extreme from the other.
So then I taught for another year, afterwards took another year off and then I moved here, and I worked on the sub-list in Vancouver for about four years before quitting to try to do music full time.
A lot of your earlier work was more personal narrative or introspective. Was it hard for you to write from such a different perspective and doing a lot more interview work?
No, it wasn’t, actually. It was a lot of fun because when I was doing the interviews, it was really fascinating to hear people stories. I love the interview process — it was really cool. When I was doing it I was always looking for that little gem, that little phrase that I could turn into a song or that could be the title of a song.
For instance, “Tummy Mummy,” that was a phrase that this one particular family had used to describe the birth mother of their daughter, and that’s what I built that song around. How can you not write a song around that? It’s so cute!
Another song, “Cool Enough to Be Gay” was written because there were two mid-teen boys, and one of them was explaining how, when his parents called for a family meeting, he was worried about it and he was going to his mom’s house and was wondering, “What is this going to be about? Did someone die? Is someone getting divorced or are they getting back together? Is mom pregnant?”
On the way home, he’s trying to figure out all the possible reasons they’re going to have this big meeting for, and his thought was like, “maybe dad’s gay . . .” but sort of thought to himself “no, he’s not cool enough to be gay.” I just thought that that was the gem of the interview. That’s hilarious. It was fun. People say interesting stuff. The anecdotes . . . it was really cool to turn that into song. It was actually sort of fun, you know, I wasn’t writing about myself for once so it was a nice break.
Doing It For The Chicks’ “Ain’t No Drama Queen” talks about your experience with internalized homophobia. Did that come up for you while working on Queer Across Canada?
Yeah, it comes up for me a lot. In particular I remember writing that song because whenever I go into a studio, everytime I’ve gone in — I don’t know if I remember it in the first album because I was working with a woman, she was a lesbian, so I don’t know if that was why — but I’ve worked with two different [guys named] Adam and they were both straight, but I’d have this feeling of, “Oh, my songs are so gay. Why am I writing all of this gay stuff? All of this queer material?”
I would just have this negative thought process start happening, you know, enough with the gay stuff already, and I’m playing my songs for the first time and I’m thinking in my head: “What are they going to think about this song?” I’m worried that it’s too queer, or just not legit because it’s queer.
So, “Ain’t No Drama Queen” came up because I was having that feeling really strongly that particular week when I was in a recording studio in Toronto, and I was feeling really down on myself about it, about writing about this stuff, wondering what I was doing this for again, how many times can you sing this stuff about being queer? It turns out there’s a lot of stuff you can sing about being queer. It’s the lens that I look through, or that I write though. I find that it comes up in different ways and sometimes in really big ways and sometimes in small ways.
As I move through my life, the more I sing about it, the more I write about it, the less that stuff comes up. But I do have internalized homophobia. I mean, I do around my family. Sometimes I go home and I think, “Oh, I’m too much, I’m too out there, I’m too queer, I’m too activist, too . . . much! Too much queer already, stop it!” But when I’m with my friends, that’s what we talk about. We talk about our issues, we talk about what it’s like to be queer in the world so it feels okay.
It was kind of funny, I [was] kind of [feeling] bad because it’s the sex issue, but I really wanted to do this because I wanted queer content, but then I think, “Is it too gay? Are people going to think it’s not well related?” Everything you’re saying . . . I totally get that, but then I have to be like “fuck that.”
No, totally fuck that. Nobody ever says “oh that’s too straight.” Nobody ever says, “oh, the stuff on the radio is too heterosexual.” Well, queers are saying that, but heterosexual people don’t. And nobody ever questions if “there’s too many love songs on the radio about men and women hooking up.”
I’ve written a similar song based on a similar topic, called “Uncharted Territory,” because some of my friends on my first album said “you sing too much about being lesbian, enough already,” and I had a reviewer say that too about my music. She said something like, “there were two songs on the album that were complete duds, it was starving artist and I’d go straight for Ridley Bent”, and then she said, “Yeah, we know you’re a dyke, we get it, enough already.”
That was in the review, and I’m just like, “Fuck you!” and then I had some friends say “Well why do you sing so much about it?” Somebody has to. We have to do this and it’s important to me and it’s part of who I am, it’s my identity. Nobody ever says that to straight singers. “Why do you sing about your boyfriend all the time?” You know what I mean?
[When people ask] “Why do you have to sing queer songs? Can’t you just sing something that’s more mainstream?” [that] just means more straight or not identifying my queerness, and I get what [they’re] saying. But that’s not what I’m here to do. If I wanted to write a song like that, I would’ve fucking written it four albums ago. Enough already, people. Don’t you get it? This is what I’m doing.
There’s lots of queer artists that are making it big and some of their material is questionably queer. Do you think the music industry is actually getting more accepting, or is it just getting more marketable?
I think the first part happens first and then the second part happens. I think the music industry is finally figuring out there’s a whole ‘nother audience out there that they can service and make money from, and I think queer, obviously, is becoming more accepted and filter into the mainstream. I don’t watch TV, but I hear about shows like Modern Family, and Glee.
I mean we had Will and Grace in the 90s but I think in some ways queer is becoming a little bit trendy, maybe? And they’re figuring out how to market that because we’re different than we were 20 years ago. Not different, but out there. I guess it’s becoming more part of the mainstream, and more marketable because there’s an audience for it. Young people are out more than they were. Queer families are more visible, and I think the music business has kind of seen that’s something they can work with.
Do you get less of the “why so much gay content?” reviews now as opposed to when you first started?
I only got a few of those kind of reviews, “oh, she just happens to be a lesbian.” Most people who review my music get it. They get that it’s actually not just about being queer, they get that that’s a lens that I write through, but that I actually am a human being and I write from a human being’s perspective. I just happen to be whatever I happen to be writing from a queer place. Most reviewers are intelligent enough to understand that. There’s that one guy and that one woman who didn’t really see that.
How does humour factor into your work?
That’s where the universal human being-ness comes into my work. Yeah, I identify as being queer, as a lesbian, but I can also laugh at myself and the way I am in the world and the way the world is, and make fun of these things, and for me that was the bridge into roping in a more mainstream audience. If we have the ability to laugh at ourselves, I think that’s appealing to people no matter how we identify. For me humour was a good tool for that, I saw that as a way to bridge that between the queer community and the non-queer community.
What’s it like for you on stage when you get you first bout of laughter from the audience? Is there a difference in the way it feels?
Yeah, it makes me realize “oh, this is going to be a good show, they get it, they understand it, they’re with me,” and the times when they don’t, I just think “I have to work harder here.”
Again, off of Doing It For The Chicks, the title track was written in response to a guy’s concerns over your “lifestyle” because he was hosting a concert in his house. It seems like the unspoken concern is always that two people of the same sex are having sex. How much do you think fear over the unknown factors into responses like that when it comes to homophobia?
What I wanted to do with this album was play around people’s fears around the sex piece. It is the part that, as soon as you say you’re lesbian or gay, they automatically think about you with a same sex partner, and people think about you being in bed with that person. I think it’s just an automatic thing that happens in the brain. Whereas you talk to a woman who says my husband, people just don’t go there. We’re so used to it, but I think because of people’s fears around queernes, that’s where they automatically jump to.
It becomes the focus of people’s homophobia because they can’t imagine that that’s OK or normal, or loving, or that it’s actually OK to love somebody of the same sex. They forget that, aside from our sexual relationships and our intimate relationships, we go to work, we have kids, we have problems, we have money issues, we have communication problems, we love to go hiking — we do all these things that everybody else does, except we have same sex partners.
That’s the part of queerness that people are uncomfortable with, the sexual piece, because it’s different than what they do, or maybe it’s something they want to do but they’re too afraid to try, it taps into their own homophobia, it taps into their fantasy that they don’t want to admit to — all of those things.
What was it like working with C.R. Avery?
It was great, I think C.R. Avery is a brilliant artist. He’s a lot of fun in the studio, I love his beatboxing, I love his wordplay. A couple of times when we were just hanging out at his house, we were talking about doing a piece about bullying and the queer youth suicide stuff, and he said, “I really want to get into that issue and really do something powerful around that.” And I said that would be great, so in the studio, Adam [the bass player on Queer Across Canada] came up with this bass line, and gave it to C.R. who wrote this piece about it.
He wrote the piece for Mother’s Day / Father’s Day conundrum, which I totally love, but then he wrote this other totally separate thing about this bullying and queer youth suicide, he flipped it and made it — I think he called the song “The Drag Queen Vigilante” — about how drag queens go around killing bullies. They basically retaliate, and kill the bullies and throw them in the back of the hearse, and all of this stuff. It’s a great piece, I mean it’s amazing, but I thought,“it’s not good for a kid’s album.” I wanted to, and I thought about it, but it . . . it doesn’t work for this album. Maybe a different album, but yeah, he does some amazing stuff.
Did you approach him, or did someone suggest him for doing this?
No, I approached him. Yeah, I wanted to have him on the album. I’d been thinking about it for quite a while, and I wanted him to do a spoken word piece and some beatboxing, so yeah it was cool, and he was keen — it was great. I kept running into him in various places, like the airport, and conferences, and I was like, “I want to have you on my next album!” and so it finally came together.
The song “Ex-Junkie Boyfriend” reflects on a much younger you and the guy you were living with. Obviously you’ve changed a lot since then. If you could give the you in that song three pieces of advice, what would they be?
I don’t think I would give myself any advice, because I did exactly what I needed to be doing at the time. I don’t regret being with him. I learned a lot in that relationship about myself. He was, y’know, besides the drugs and some of the stuff, we did have some fun. He taught me a lot about living on the coast, about Vancouver, about some books that I thought were interesting and I didn’t know anything about.
I [believe] that we have to go through what we have to go through, and to go back and change something, if I could, I don’t know if I would because I needed to go through that stuff with him in order to understand what I wanted and didn’t want in my life. I always think that relationships are for learning about ourselves and about how to become better people in the world, and I was really young at the time. I was in my early 20’s. I was having fun! I wanted to do the drugs, too, sure! But it got to a point where it was like, “this is not what I want to be doing anymore.”
I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about how I look to other people for my own sense of self, and that was when I was starting to realize that I was doing that in relationships with men. That it was me trying to cultivate a sense of self and some self-confidence through them not on my own, so yeah. My advice? I don’t have any for myself back then. It brought me to where I am today, it gave me a great song, and I don’t regret it.