spinner.com: indigo girls’ amy ray
Amy Ray is one-half of Grammy-winning duo the Indigo Girls. In addition to her two-decade-plus career with fellow IG Emily Saliers, the Georgia-born Ray has released two solo albums — 2001’s ‘Stag’ and 2005’s ‘Prom’ — and founded her own Daemon Records. She and Saliers are currently on tour in support of their latest album, ‘Despite Our Differences.’
At what age did you start to question your sexuality?
When I was six [laughs]. No, I fell in love with a woman my senior year of high school, but we really didn’t have words for it. [Gay] was something weird or perverted — something you joked about. I just knew I was in love with this person and I would do anything to see her. We hung out all the time and wrote love letters to each other. We would hold hands in the car, and I would sneak out of my house at night to see her. I didn’t even think about it — it was pure emotion.
My mom came to me and was like, “What’s going on? Are you gay?” And I was like, “I don’t know what that means.” My mom said, “Well, have you done anything physical with this person?” I got mad. We weren’t even really kissing or anything — totally innocent high school girlfriend crush. I didn’t really come out all at once. I was with that person for a few years and we finally had sex my freshman year in college, and I was like, “Oh, this is what this means!” It was great for me, but her parents got really upset and it started falling apart.
Did her parents ever confront you?
Not really. I would come over to see her, and they wouldn’t always let me. I think they might have talked to my mom but they never talked to me about it. I just kept conversation going a little bit with my mom — not totally open, but it was sort of understood. When I had my second girlfriend — my junior year in college — I was definitely out with my family and friends. It was gradual — I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m gay and I’m coming out.” My two older sisters are gay, too, and my mom and dad were very conservative. My dad had a harder time and would tell me I was perverted, and my mom would read all of my mail. I had no privacy at all.
I knew I was really out when I told my grandmother. I was about 25 or 26 and in my third relationship. It was very hard. She already knew, but I wanted to talk about it. We were very close. I told her this was the way it was going to be and this is the person I was going to be with. She was really cool about it. She was like, “If you love somebody, it’s OK.” She was raised in the South and very conservative on some levels, but she really knew how to evolve.
I’m fascinated by the fact that both of your older sisters are gay as well. Was there any dialogue among the three of you about this shared experience? Did they know you were gay, or vise versa?
No, they were very isolated from each other. [Coming out] went in this order: My older sister, me, my middle sister. My oldest sister — I had an inkling because she was always getting kicked out of the house and she’d bring this girl over all of the time. She may have wanted to talk about it, but I was really closed down. My middle sister — we knew she was gay but my parents were hard on her about a lot of [other] stuff. She had the perfect SAT score, scholarship, med school — very brilliant. I think my parents were holding out hope that she might be straight, and this might just be a phase because she was so perfect in every way. I think she was more clandestine than she needed to be sometimes. My parents are really liberal now, but we didn’t talk about anything then.
Who, then, did you confide in during that time?
I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. Emily [Saliers] was my best friend and she wasn’t really down with it at first. She was kind of suspect in the context of some other stuff. I was a cutter — very self-destructive and crazy. She didn’t really think she was gay, but she knew I was. Later, when she discovered she was gay, we talked about it all the time. I had an English teacher who I talked to because my girlfriend and I were in class together, but I didn’t talk about being gay. I honestly didn’t know if it was taboo. But he was my best source to know that emotionally it was OK to feel the way that I felt.
You’ve previously mentioned struggles with your gender identity. Was the cutting prompted by the questions surrounding both your sexuality and gender?
I don’t know. I know so many people who did that when they first came to terms with being gay. At the time, I didn’t connect it. It was just ritualized behavior that made me feel better. I had a lot of food issues, too, where I tried to not eat anything. [I wasn’t] full blown anorexic, but it was all about control. [Looking back], it probably was connected — and also probably connected to being a complete outsider my first year in college at Vanderbilt. My choices were either to be in a sorority or a hedonistic drug fiend, and those weren’t very good odds for me.
How did you find a reprieve from those feelings and experiences?
I transferred to Emory and found a music scene in Atlanta. It was all sorts of bands — punk rock guys, women playing folk music, guys playing hippie music. It was a scene I could be a part of. I met a lot of older women — not all of them were gay, but they were strong women. Music became my whole identity — not my sexuality.
Do you remember your first experience at a gay bar?
[Laughs] Yeah, I used to go to this place in Atlanta called the Sports Page. They had quarter beer night, and we’d go and drink tons of little cups of beer. My most vivid memories are of Billy Ocean’s ‘Caribbean Queen’ and girls dancing and making out in the bathroom. I had no concept of what my own gender identity was or how my sexuality played out, but I remember being constantly stimulated and needing to be there all the time. Well, there or playing a gig.
How do you feel in your skin when you wake up each day, now?
I feel great! I definitely don’t have any issues around being queer, but I don’t always match my body. I feel gender dysphoria and I live with it. I’m so much of a split — my body feels very foreign to me sometimes. I have tattoos and things that make me honor it and worship it, but I was very down on my body for a long time. I [still] have to really work to appreciate my body. But I think that’s a gift — the struggle and challenge makes me feel more alive.