Pride Playlist (and Intervention) Refresh

by Karah Chappel, MT-BC

Acknowledgement from author: This article was written by a straight-passing bisexual cis-gender woman.

Happy Pride Month, friends! As usual, I am here with a blog to make your life a little bit easier. This is a great time of year to take a deeper dive into how we can best serve our clients in the LGBTQ+ community. Solidifying a gender identity and sexual orientation, whether it is a part of dominant culture or not, is a massive step in identity development. Our teen clients often need an outlet for expression as well as tools for healthy coping as they develop their autonomy. Tag along today as we take a look! After a quick crash course in queer theory I have 5 songs, and intervention ideas, by and for queer folks.

Before we dive into specific songs and interventions, let’s review queer theory. Queer theory is the idea that sexuality is not a binary, that it exists in a wider range of areas that we often recognize, and that the dominant social norms of gender and sexuality should be rejected in favor of exploring new ways of presenting and supporting sexuality in identity (Stein & Plummer, 1991). It also applies to generally challenging normative ideas (Warner, 199). When working with clients, I would boil this down to simply creating a therapeutic space where clients are supported to discover and express their sexuality how they see fit. Queer theory can be practiced by both queer and non-queer therapists. 

As with any population, it is important that queer folks see themselves represented in the content around them. When we are working from a queer theory perspective, it is also important that straight and cis gender folks are also receiving diverse content, so consider that these songs may work across a variety of clients. Remember, queer-affirming music is always relevant – this month and every month! Many of the themes are universal to developing identity and autonomy. Please keep in mind that some of these songs include explicit language and content relating to intimate physical relationships or substance use; it is up to you to decide what is appropriate and therapeutic for your clients.

Pink Pony Club – Chappell Roan

Many of your teen clients may already know about Chappell Roan, a fast-rising queer artist known for viral songs like “Hot to Go,” “Good Luck, Babe,” and “Casual.” “Pink Pony Club” expresses the excitement of moving away from home while simultaneously missing the people and places left behind. This song would work well as a lyric analysis. Roan notes themes of feeling conflict with parents over differing values (“Won’t make my mama proud, it’s gonna cause a scene”); holding space for grief that often accompanies change (“Don’t think I’ve left you all behind/ Still love you and Tennessee/ You’re always on my mind”); and setting personal goals without external pressure (“I know you wanted me to stay/ But I can’t ignore the crazy visions of me in LA”). Perhaps most importantly, the essence of the chorus is the joy that can be found when we follow our own life path and fulfill our need for independence: “Oh mama, I’m just having fun/ On the stage in my heels/ . . . I’m gonna keep on dancing.”

 IDK SH!T – JORDY

A gay artist based in New York, JORDY is most popular for poppy bops regarding relationship troubles. With a deceptively upbeat sound, “IDK SH!T” deals with the imposter syndrome that so many of us are familiar with. Another song that would be perfect for opening a session, overarching themes include struggling with independence (“Break down out of habit, my parents have had it”), pressure to make decisions about the future (“You could be this, you could be that, just don’t be boring”), and maintaining an outward appearance drastically different from your thoughts on the inside (“I’m just faking it ‘til I make it”). Once clients have expressed the lines or thoughts they dis/agree with (can you tell I love lyric analysis?), consider jumping into psychoeducation regarding affirmations and the importance of positive self-talk in affirming our beliefs. Pull out the bridge of “I am” statements and replace them with suggestions from clients that increase self-esteem. Find my template here. Sing the song again with the new bridge to affirm clients that we can be struggling and still believe in ourselves.

Download the template for the rewrite here.

Healing – Fletcher

Another dominant presence in queer music culture, Fletcher makes music describing a wide variety of relationship experiences. “Healing,” though, focuses on a broader theme of self-acceptance amid self-reflection, with many opportunities to dive into smaller topics. The ability to validate all the parts of oneself is a crucial piece of identity formation. This song would be great for opening a session: you would have the opportunity to tailor the remainder of the session to the content that your client identifies most closely with. It would also work well in a group setting where folks are working on a variety of individual goals. In addition to a lyric analysis, consider pulling out the line “I ain’t there yet, but I’m healing” as an affirmation that could be sung as a group. The imagery relating to breathwork (“I’m finally breathing/ The smoke ain’t gone yet but its clearing”) that repeats in the pre-chorus is also a great opportunity for a few cued grounding breaths; if you play the song live, you could also transition seamlessly into guided breathing with the same tempo and chord progression following the end of the song.

mad at god – Sarah Saint James

While some other song recs include hope as a significant emotion, expressions of frustration, resentment, and desperation are equally necessary: “mad at god” encompasses all three. Experiencing the fear and anger that accompany breaking down existing belief systems before building new ones can be an important step in creating an original sense of self. Once again a great option for lyric analysis, this song also creates opportunities for fill-in-the-blank songwriting. Saint James lists specific experiences such as body dysmorphia, queer romantic feelings, and a lack of social connections that could be swapped out for whatever your client wants to express. Keep in mind the heavy religious tones may be extremely relevant to some clients and retraumatizing to others. The build from loose airy accompaniment and soft vocal tone in the verses to heavy bass, intense backbeat, and belting melodic line in the chorus nonverbally portray the spilling over of anger, a helpful tool for clients who may struggle to express these feelings.

[Side note for worth mentioning: Therapists should be knowledgeable of body dysmorphia and gender dysmorphia and also be informed on body euphoria and gender euphoria. If you are unfamiliar with any of these terms, please seek information or continuing education from queer-affirming resources.]

You Might Not Like Her – Maddie Zahm

An openly bisexual artist, Maddie Zahm wrote a beautiful song that can help your clients pause to appreciate how much growth they have created for themselves, even as they may feel they are still struggling. “You Might Not Liker Her” takes a narrative walk through past experiences, contrasting them with the singer’s current self-confidence. You already know I’ll recommend this for lyric analysis; it would also be super easy for fill-in-the-blank songwriting. Swapping out the stories Zahm tells in the verses and bridge for the stories your clients need to tell could assist with expression. The chorus then will list all the accomplishments your client deserves to celebrate. Once again, check out my template. Contrasting “Pink Pony Club” and “mad at god,” this song includes reference to positive parental support for the singer’s queer identity (“Someday you’ll think you disappoint your parents/ But they’ll love you not despite but regardless”). These perspectives are equally important in a quest to support all coming-out experiences.

Download the template for the fill-in-the-blank intervention here.

Have I successfully refreshed your Pride intervention playlist? There are so many more amazing queer artists out there writing not only music important to the queer experience but to all experiences. Identity development can be particularly difficult for teens in the LGBTQ+ community, but all of us struggle with figuring out who we are and who we want to be. I hope some of these ideas have made your session planning a little easier.

References

Stein, A. & Plummer, K. (1994). ‘I can’t even think straight’: ‘Queer’ theory and the missing sexual revolution in sociology. Sociological Theory, 12, 178-87. In S. Seidman (Ed.), Queer Theory/Sociology (pp. 129-144). Cambridge, MA. Blackwell Publishers.

Warner M. The trouble with normal: Sex, politics, and the ethics of queer life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press;  1999.

 

Do you have recommendations for more queer-affirming songs and interventions we should look into? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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