I’ve just finished reading Life Songs: A Genderqueer Memoir, by author and local karaoke superstar Audrey MC. Audrey and I bag groceries together at a shared day gig, and she first introduced herself to me as queer by asking where I get my hormones. She was new to Chicago, and I was a complete dope. I had no idea she was trans. I gave her Howard Brown’s contact info and she had to tell me later, in plain English, that she was trans. I am an idiot. But lucky for me, Audrey is patient. Through conversation over cutting cardboard boxes in half, she told me she was also a writer, and so I was excited to read a book written by a friend. Audrey’s story starts with that familiar adolescent refrain, “what’s wrong with me?” and as she matures, it becomes clear to her that this isn’t just another case of commonplace insecurity or teenage trepidation.
Life Songs has the structure of a mixtape: each chapter is linked to a particular song or musician and the theme of that chapter is echoed in the music. The connection between the chapter’s theme to the chapter’s song is strongest in her early memories. I found myself grinning quite a lot at the descriptions of Audrey’s childhoood as a boisterous kid in Texas. Her early childhood is filled with some memorable and touching pre-pubescent moments, and I found myself cheering her on as she gives an impromptu “drag” performance in her family living room and, in another chapter, professes her love at the roller rink.
The details are sometimes glossed over as Audrey ages into her young adulthood, and as a reader I was left wanting more specifics on more than one page. But Life Songs is an important text in that it makes known another voice from outside the gender binary with moments every queer kid can identify. No matter where your orientation or identity lies on the spectrum, there are moments in Life Songs that ring genuine, and the music has the capacity to make her story universal. On the surface Audrey’s message is clear: know thyself. But the process to get to that realization proves to be a complicated matter.
I wrote an email to Audrey about her book and she was very gracious to answer some of my questions:
ER: In Life Songs you detail how certain songs have been emblematic during different time periods in your life. What place does music hold in your life currently? How has your relationship with it changed over the years?
AMC: Well, one thing I’ve come to realize is that people come and go, friendships ebb [with the] tide, loves blossom and wither, but music’s always there and is probably, when all’s said and done, the one true love of my life. And that’s the case today just as always. Maybe even more so now because I’m embarking on a new career trajectory which will make music and audio steeped in everything I do. And that makes me quite happy!
ER: What’s the status on that concept album you mention toward the end of Life Songs?
AMC: The concept album […] is still in my head. Things like that never go away. It’s been on my mind even more lately with my Karina’s Fingers electropop project ramping up. I’ll be recording an album over the next year, but it still remains to be seen if the original concept will be intact or expanded upon. Since the love story is sprinkled with politics, I may be able to say what I need to say. We’ll see how it plays out…
ER: You’re based in Chicago now, and in Life Songs it is referenced as this mysterious place, a destination that has held its sway over you ever since chapter one’s Leroy Brown. Now that you live here, do you have a (so far) favorite musical memory of Chicago?
AMC: Believe it or not, Chicago is still this strangely mysterious place to me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever truly “get it,” and that’s okay with me. It feels so vastly different than my New York experience– New York, a city in which I felt right away that I belonged. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable in Chicago, with my New York homesickness creeping up on me so often that I can’t think of a week over the past year when I wasn’t contemplating my return home to Brooklyn. That’s changed though since meeting a new muse. Her friendship and inspiration has led me to want to stay in Chicago another year and embark on a career in music and audio. My favorite music memory here is when she and I decided to have an all night dance party in my living room– just the two of us. We danced for hours and it ended up ranking up there as one of the highlights of my life.
ER: The term genderqueer makes an appearance in your subtitle: how has the label “genderqueer” enriched or hindered your sense of self?
The genderqueer label is quite liberating actually. I don’t know, I’ve really embraced living in the middle ground. That outsider sense of “other” I always felt growing up really empowers me now and makes me feel special. One of the comments my father made about my book was how proud he was of me for having such a strong sense of self. That meant a lot to me because I felt like I went through a lot of turmoil to get to a place where I could embrace who I truly am. When I get “sir-ed” followed usually by a “ma’am… oh gosh I’m sorry,” which occasionally happens, it used to make me cringe, but now, I smile with a shrug and say, “Ah it’s okay, I’m a bit of both.” And we both smile and carry on. It’s like, if I don’t make a big deal about it, it makes it not a big deal. And when it’s not a big deal, it gets accepted much more easily. And that’s what I really want. I want us to get to a place where gender presentation is just accepted. Period. And it’s no big deal. It’s just people being people. I mean, wouldn’t that be a fantastic world to live in?
ER: The detail in Life Songs about your parents giving you a heart pendant with your new birthstone in it is very touching. Can you write more about your coming out process to them, and their process of coming to know Audrey?
Yeah, my parents have been awesome. Like, seriously amazing. The coming out process– well, I’m super emotional and I knew I couldn’t have a conversation with them ’cause I would’ve ended up crying the whole time. So, I wrote them a coming-out letter. My dad surprised me as always. He just kinda shrugged it off and embraced it with a “you’re an adult; you gotta do what you gotta do.” Haha! He did have trouble with pronouns for a long time, but whatever. It was just out of habit and not any type of slight. My mom was the one who had a little more trouble with it, but turned it more inward. She worried more like she did something wrong while she was pregnant and different stuff like that. But that was all short-lived. My sister helped a lot in that arena because she remembered a lot of incidents from my childhood and adolescence, some of which I wrote about in the book, and reminded my mom about them to shed some light. My relationship with my parents actually got closer after I came out, too. I don’t know– I guess I just felt more like I could be myself and not hide behind the same old façade I had been. That was quite liberating and it brought us closer. I also think it was easy for them, too, because I was still attracted to women. So, the only things changing for them were my name, appearance, and pronouns. So, suddenly they just had this super cool lesbian daughter. And I mean, who wouldn’t want that? AMIRIGHT?!?
ER: There are so many character who make appearances throughout Life Songs, Alice and Hailey being chief among them: do you still keep in touch?
AMC: Alice and Hailey are still very present and positive parts of my life. Alice and I are less in touch now that we’re in different cities, but still touch base every week or so. She and her brother came to visit me in Chicago in April and we had a wonderful time. Alice and I are both in transitional moments in our lives, so it will be nice to be there for each other as we continue to embark on our next adventures. Hailey and I are probably closer now than we ever have been– it’s a friendship that continues to grow and deepen. She, too, is in a transitional point in her life, so it’s nice to be there for her as she sets forth on her next journey.
ER: You remark that your sexual orientation has shifted slightly: can you describe what that shift has been like for you?
I’m not sure if my sexual orientation has shifted or if my mind has opened. I recognize that I find a very specific type of guy attractive. But, as I’ve said to my friends before, I’d be attracted to 99 women before I’m attracted to one man. And Sufjan Stevens is that one man. Kidding! Um… no but seriously, I’m in love with Sufjan Stevens. Besides that, though, yeah, it’s just an opening up of my attitude more than anything else. It’s liberating to recognize that I might meet some guy (named Sufjan or not) and we may get along super well and have the same type of quick bonding simpatico I’ve usually felt only with women. And I may very possibly start to have desires towards him. And I’m okay with that. At this point in my life, I don’t want to box myself in with any preconceived notions about who I am or what I am. I’m just me. And I’m queer as shit.
ER: What are your current queer politics?
AMC: My move to Chicago has seen my politics recede a little bit more to the background. I mean, Brooklyn is just so queer and so political that anything after that would be a step down. But, my Brooklyn experience has left me with this strong sense of wanting to push away anything even closely resembling the hetero- or homonormative realms. I don’t know if my politics, generally, would be considered “queer,” because I’m a dreamer after all. I have these vastly grand ideals that extend way beyond queer politics and get more into the realm of socialism and populism and anti-capitalism. This music project that I’m about to embark on– I have such a yearning to make a difference. To do something that makes people think and want to actually do something instead of just post about it on social media.
ER: In the closing pages you define yourself as a dreamer, can you write a little about how you see that part of yourself inform your day-to-day routine?
Wow, I wish I knew where this romantic, dreamer side of me came from. I think it’s just the way the stars were aligned when I came into this world. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of big things, or a better world, or romanticized situations. As I’ve grown older, it’s taken on new facets and extended to politics, as well. I could never be a politician because I’m far too romantic and idealist, with such strong socialist and populist leanings. Kind of a hippie in that sense, I guess. I get teary-eyed and a lump in my throat if I think about people coming together and helping each other out. I care so very much about making the world a better place for everyone and it sometimes feels overwhelming because what can one person really do? If I could find a reality where my dreams could live, then I think I’d have found utopia. But in this particular reality, in my day-to-day, I’ve worked hard at removing all stressors from my life; I steer clear of drama magnets; and I avoid situations in which I have to justify my actions.
Thanks for your time, Audrey!