This is a super-personal song, so of course it takes me a zillion words to talk about why.
“We’re Not Friends” wasn’t going to be released until 2017, on Din of Thieves. But a couple of months ago, SJ Tucker posted that the mood out there – she tours a lot – was the worst she’d ever seen it, and called upon everybody she knew to release their most uplifting stuff, because maybe we can’t do much, but we can at least do that, because maybe, just maybe, it would help. And having written this in a flurry and surprising my band with it right before a really big show – and not just saying, ‘we’re doing this’ but saying ‘we’re doing this and closing the show with it,’ I thought, “Okay. I’m in.”
What this is about… at the topmost level, it’s about representation, and what it means to those who are not represented in media and culture when suddenly you’re there.
You see, there’s this whole history for queers – if you’re represented at all in media, it’s somewhere in the range of “psychotic” to “tragic,” and there is – historically – no such thing as a happy ending for the faggots. TV Tropes has several sections on this; you can start with “Bury your Gays” and it gets worse from there. The number of exceptions – well, in the Anglosphere, you can count them on one hand, and arguably on one finger, before a couple of years ago.
And that won’t sound like much to most of you, who have had this since before you can remember, and got sick of it, and started writing other and more complicated and more interesting things, and that’s cool because those are good and important stories too. But you still go back to these happy endings for comfort, for relief, and even if you don’t, you have the comfort of knowing it’s there. Hell, you’re swimming in it. The message is: this is normal, this happens, this is good. You can get this.
By contrast, the message we get is: die alone in misery, faggot.
So when Korra and Asami in Avatar: The Legend of Korra got that happy ending – the walking off into the sunset together holding hands ending – it sent shock waves through queer fandom. (And also through straight fandom, and a fair chunk of it reacted in rage. Not all, not even most, but a lot. Go look at the Wikipedia edit history around the end of the show, as it was me and one other person fighting every other editor about it.)
Seeing that, getting that ending – it felt like a giant aching wound in my brain I hadn’t even known was there suddenly got healed, like something deep and old and broken stopped hurting, and I’m still getting emotional as I type about it right now.
You can go look that up yourself, if you like YouTube reaction videos. People breaking down, sobbing. It took weeks to process what happened. That’s how much of a revelation it was for a lot of us.
But this isn’t a song specifically about Korra and Asami being canon girlfriends at the end of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and it’s not about any of the other “red/blue” couples, as Tumblr likes to call them. It’s about our reaction to seeing ourselves in characters when we never have before, and it’s trying to tell you a story about stepping through getting this ‘hey, what’s going on’ idea, then going ‘nah, that can’t be right,’ then going ‘wait, this looks like a thing, but we don’t get that so it can’t be,’ then the shock and – for a while – outright incomprehension when it is.
When it’s us. When, for once, we get the happy ending, we get the walk into the sunset, we get the tomorrow ever after. We’re not friends with them, we aren’t their lovers, we aren’t people they know – but they’re like us, and they don’t end in horror and pain, so maybe we don’t have to either.
Maybe the future does have a place for us.
It’s one thing to know that intellectually. It’s another to have a story which supports it. Stories shape reality, or at least, people’s decisions about reality. Stories matter.
And that doesn’t just apply to dykes. Gods know there are a lot of oppressed groups – particularly racial groups, particularly the African diaspora, particularly in the US – who get the blunt end of the story stick.
Getting this story, then, is for us very much a turning of the tides – hence, the subject of this post. And if there’s a time when we all need that sea change, it’s now, in the dog days of 2016. At very least, we need to feel like it’s possible – I think we could all use that hope.
That’s a lot to try to pack into a song, but I’ve done my damnedest to do it. I just hope it speaks to you, too.
Solarbird, the Lightbringer
for Crime and the Forces of Evil