There's a huge disconnect between the pop ephemera of gay culture and how the straight majority tends to perceive it. Where kitsch, camp and overall theatricality are hallmarks of queer art, they're hardly meant to be taken seriously or even considered the emotional core of the subculture. That's why it's so frustrating to hear the likes of The Village People and Sister Sledge used as the umbrella anthems for all things gay. These fun, frivolous acts exist as a necessary counterbalance to the confusion, fear and alienation so often associated with the experiences of LGBT individuals in our society, especially in decades past. Rather than assuming that fallback tracks like "We Are Family" are the alpha and omega of the coming out experience, I humbly propose the following songs as more honest renditions of the same event.
New Order- "True Faith"
Coming out is first and foremost an epiphany, so the metaphors in "True Faith" of finding light and reaching the end of a long, arduous journey are particularly apt. It helps that a lot of New Order lyrics are ambiguous enough to apply to a lot of different experiences and demographics. This track perfectly captures the sensation of surviving a long period of repression and melancholy to reach the other side and feel like a brand new person.
The Smiths- "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side"
Really, Morrissey is basically the patron saint of lost queer boys, but this track in particular is an emotional bullion of that first same-sex crush, the unusual experience of having rather juvenile feelings long after one's juvenile days have passed. It's a mix of melodrama and excitement, imbuing something rather mundane like casual attraction with extra personal meaning.
Jimmy Somerville- "Coming"
Sally Potter's 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando is a sort of magnum opus of sexual identity redefinition even without the many-layered closing track "Coming" by Jimmy Somerville. The song is a triumphant gaze into the future, which is fitting enough, but it holds extra weight considering how Somerville first entered the public consciousness. Along with The Bronski Beat, he recorded the de facto anthem of all queer kids disowned by their families just for being queer, a heartbreaking dance tune called "Smalltown Boy". There were approximately ten years between the two tracks, so there's a striking degree of symbolism to the fear and loneliness of the earlier track evolving into the confidence and self-assurance of the latter.
Pet Shop Boys- "Liberation"
This song from the Pet Shop Boys album Very might as well be called "First Love: The Song". Aside from mirroring singer Neil Tennet's own public coming out in the early 90's, this track is about the gentle acceptance of genuine emotions, possibly for the first time. In this regard, I'm willing to embrace the on-the-nose title without judgment or irony.
The Velvet Underground- "I Found A Reason"
I wanted to include something in this mix that wasn't overtly dancey and also not automatically associated with the gay scene. To that end, I could think of no better track than The Velvet Underground's slow, bluesy sing-along "I Found A Reason" off Loaded. I chose it not because it's a love song, but because it's a song of hope. The lyric, "I do believe/ you are what you perceive/ what comes is better/ than what came before" is a fine, poetic way of saying that change is good, especially when it stems from a more honest sense of self. In the end, that's what coming out really is: a powerful moment of personal honesty.