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It takes a queer village: How Wrabel's music inspired me to become my true self

June 6, 2018

At 3 am one night, when I was stuck in a wormhole watching YouTube videos of babies tasting lemon wedges, I stumbled on song that changed my life: Wrabel’s “The Village.” Even though I am a composer myself, I forgot about the extreme power of music. The song chewed my heart and soul, spit it out, and resurrected it in a mere 3 minutes and 50 seconds. The queer voice in my head went on a sermon about self-worth after I repeatedly hit play.

“The Village” was Wrabel’s response to the Trump administration taking away federal protection for trans students in public schools. It tells the story of a trans individual living in an environment where they do not have a proper support system. The song addresses familiar experiences those of us face within queer community: the thought that your identity is “a phase you are gonna to out grow,” the hiding of your true self to your family, the malicious rumors that float around you, and for some, the tension between your religion and your identity.

That last point struck a chord with me, as I grew up in the Philippine Roman Catholic Church. Like Wrabel wrote in his article for Huffpost, “Church was the constant.” The church community was his village and the people within that village taught him to be a “person for others” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” They were also the catalyst for my love of music, which was my favorite part of church.

Unfortunately, Church did not only represent positive lessons about gratitude and selflessness, and hours of singing songs. It also spread negative stereotypes about gay people. I sadly didn’t think about the spectrum of gender and sexual identity then, and I didn't have the language to describe the internalized homophobia and transphobia I grew up with.

Back then, bakla— Filipino for gay—was this monolithic label that erased so many identities. I ended up conjuring up this image of a flamboyant man whose wrists were limp and talked with a stereotypical nasal timbre. He was a caricature of all the queer stereotypes I was exposed to.

Unfortunately, the closet for me was a 19-year-long lease. It was dark and full of secrets. Music was the only thing that I held on to. I felt in control when I was singing and I realized that I made the people around me happy. I created worlds where I was not judged and felt most genuine. But when I wasn’t singing, I was forced to face all the negative aspects of sexual identity. In retrospect, Wrabel’s song made me realize was that I was also part of the problem. I was mad at people who would call me effeminate or flamboyant. I would always reject questions about being gay and I actually made myself believe that I was straight. Even as I moved to Singapore for high school and then to the U.S. for college, I was still uncomfortable with who I was. Not until I started to compose my own music did I feel like I could accept myself.

I left a piece of myself in every song I wrote. I eventually compiled these songs into my very first musical. It was a cathartic piece about a young boy struggling to find himself. He was awkward, sweet, stubborn, and confused—and he just happened to be gay. He was the image of gay people I wished had when I was younger.

As I continued to develop his story alongside my co-creators, mine, too, was being re-written. When my parents said that they would fly from Bangkok, Thailand, to Waterville, Maine to watch the premiere of my show, I knew that it was time. On October 1, 2016, I sent an email coming out to my parents, expecting the worst. Instead, I received support and love, and became closer to my family than ever before.

Lost With You - Colby's original musical by Josua Chad Lutian, Katie Monteleone and Ben Brougham of Colby College on Vimeo.

To thank Wrabel and all the queer musicians who inspired me to be who I am, I’m sharing a song I composed at the lowest point of my life. Though all our experiences vary, I hope this song resonates with others like me. Knowing how songs can affect people's’ lives just like they did mine, I’m certain I want to be like Wrabel. He doesn’t sing superficial songs, he writes stories. Stories that matter. Stories of unheard voices. Stories that need to be heard.

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Josua Chad Lutian is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and graduating senior at Colby College studying music-computation and psychology. He is currently working as a remote contributor for the Natural History of Song Project at the Harvard Music Lab.

the voice and vision of a new generation