Updated: Feb 1
Allies come in different forms.
An ally is defined as someone who listens to, believes, and amplifies LGBTQ+ voices. Anyone can be an ally. This includes those outside of and within the LGBTQ+ community. Being a true ally is about showing up, speaking up, and offering support for others. This requires listening, learning and being present to gain an understanding of what’s needed of you and where you fit as an ally.
As DEI practitioners, we focus much of our energy on building up individuals to become allies. However, allyship is a lifelong process of relationship building based on trust, consistency, and accountability. Because of this, allyship is not self-defined. Our work and our efforts must be recognized, furthermore earned, by the people we seek to ally ourselves with. So, how you pick an ally? This depends on each individual person.
When I publicly came out in October of 2020, I had so many close friends and family that rallied around me, lifted me up, gave me advice, supported me, and most of all, loved me. It was overwhelming yet empowering to be surrounded by so much support. I could finally be myself. It was liberating.
Amidst all this love and support, there were moments that I needed solace in myself. Those moments alone. Those moments to reflect, absorb, and grow in mind, body, and spirit. In those moments, I confided in a person that is known worldwide for their own adventures through life. Someone who seemed as though they experienced it all, documented it, and made it to the other side burnt but not broken.
That person was Taylor Swift.
I know what you’re thinking. How can you develop an allyship to someone you never met? Is this an obsessed fan blog post?
First, I get it. Secondly, um, no.
Music has always been used to connect, share stories, and heal. At some of my lowest points in life, I found healing through music. I often connect with musicians through their own life experiences, as it translates into their art.
When I had my heart broken for the first time at 17, I listened to Dashboard Confessional’s breakthrough album “The Places You Come to Fear The Most” religiously. It helped me cope with the ending of a relationship, but also helped me ease from the pain that comes from a relationship that ended. Music transcends life. When words fail, you sing. Music has been a cornerstone of healing for me for years.
While I have always had a deep respect for Swift’s artistry and her songwriting ability, her album “Folklore” was a game changer. There was something so rich about that album. The album was reflective. It was storytelling at its finest. As a storyteller myself, autobiography has always been embedded in Swift’s skills as an artist. I yearn for this ability. For as open as I am, I could be more open and less apologetic. It is something that I work toward. This album encompassed so many different perspectives, which made me appreciate her music even more.
Taylor Swift’s life, as indicated by her own musical journey, became like a well-aged Cabernet. More satisfying, more refreshing, more valuable, more appreciated, and more intoxicating. It was through this album Swift came of age and into her own.
In Fall 2020, I did the same. After 36 years of not discussing it publicly, I made the decision to publicly come out via a Facebook post. Earlier in the day, I had a photo shoot to take the pictures that would accompany the post. Adorning a t-shirt that said “I’m Gay,” I stood in the middle of a park close to my childhood home and snapped the photo that would change my life for the better.
In that moment, Kate, the photographer and one of my childhood friends, asked me a random question.
“So, how does it feel?”
I looked down at the shirt and then looked at her. I responded “I feel free.” I lose it.
Fighting through tears, Kate captured the moment and the rest is history.
This was a new beginning for me. I didn’t know what was to come. In late 2020, the doors that opened were plentiful. Despite all the good, there was still insecurity about my decision to come out publicly as I didn’t want my sexuality to be the main thing people focused on.
Around this time, Swift released the album “Evermore” and again, I was sold. I was still feeling insecure at that time. After listening to “Evermore” for the first time, I was immediately drawn to the final song on the album-a bonus track called “It’s Time To Go.”
The song focuses around those moments of instinct where something doesn’t seem right or when you doubt your decisions. I heard the lyrics that needed to be said to me in this moment:
“Sometimes giving up is the strong thing,
Sometimes to run is the brave thing,
Sometimes walking out is the one thing,
That will find you the right thing.”
When I opened the door to my closet, I opened the door to the best days of my life. This song was the final push I needed to let go. So I did. I haven’t looked back.
Taylor Swift taught me to always follow my gut and my heart.
With my insecurities beginning to subside, I was looking forward to seeing what 2021 brought to my life. 2021 came with renewed energy and a drive to make the most of my year.
It came when I least expected it.
In early 2021, I met someone who changed my life. For the first time, I felt love. I felt companionship. Most of all, I was able to feel all the things that come with a relationship without the veil of not being out publicly. The initial couple months that we began seeing each other were great. It felt right. The relationship progressed and I couldn’t be happier. In the midst of this, I began interviewing for my dream job. He was my biggest cheerleader. He was more nervous for me every time I had an interview.
When I got the job, he celebrated. He was thrilled for me.
The night before I was to start the role, we hung out. It was a great night filled with food, and good conversation.
This was the last time I saw him face to face.
I didn’t receive a message after my first day on the job asking how it went. I received small talk throughout the week.
Then I got the text. It was over before it even really began.
When your heart is broken, you feel like you cannot move. Any slight move would cause the rest of your world to come tumbling down. I began listening to Taylor Swift’s "RED" album almost every day. "RED" became my breakup soundtrack.
Swift had a song on the album that talked about the early days of a relationship and the aftermath when it ended. With lyrics like “Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much. But maybe this thing was a masterpiece ‘til you tore it all up” and “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it. I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it,”
“All Too Well” made me feel connected to Swift as she gets it. She’s been there. It was weirdly comforting to know that somebody else out there was going through something similar.
Songs like “22” encouraged me to never stop celebrating life. “We are never ever getting back together” and “I knew you were trouble” taught me to learn from your past mistakes in relationships and don’t do it again.
Taylor Swift taught me I wasn’t alone.
But there were other life lessons I learned through her music and life.
In early 2021, I watched the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana”, which follows Swift through the rigors of touring and recording a new album. In one scene, Swift reflects over her decision to sit out on the 2016 presidential election and failing to mobilize her fans and followers against Donald Trump’s candidacy, and how she wants to make it right for her fans, especially those who are LGBTQ+. A big focus of the documentary is Swift’s involvement in a United States Senate campaign in her adopted home state of Tennessee.
Swift wanted to take a stand against the conservative candidates record on issues pertaining to women and LGBTQ+ rights. Her management team advises against it. Swift was insistent on her feelings and went ahead and issued a post about the election; encouraging her fans and followers to register to vote. “Miss Americana” highlighted an apolitical star waking up to herself as a woman and a citizen.
She added more support to LGBTQ+ causes via her music video for “You Need To Calm Down”, which featured several appearances by LGBTQ+ figures in pop culture and a call to support the Equality Act. Plus, the song is pretty damn catchy.
Taylor Swift taught me to speak up when something seems wrong, and speak for others when they feel voiceless.
“Back to December” taught me to forgive myself and forgive others. “The Best Day” taught me to appreciate my family and friends. “Shake It Off” taught me that every battle in life isn’t going to be won and not sweat the small stuff. “Mean” taught me to rise above the bullying I experienced as a child and always seek kindness. Lastly, “ME!” taught me about self-love.
I learned so much about myself through an artist like Taylor Swift.
By September 2021, my Spotify account indicated I listened to Taylor Swift for 193 hours and 16 minutes. But I have no apologies. I’m better for it.
Taylor Swift made me stronger through her own journey, so I could be stronger ally for others and a stronger Dan in this world.
Taylor Swift gave me allyship in times where friends and family couldn’t. Those moments where I felt alone and felt no one knew what I was feeling. I was able to feel connection in a time where I physically didn’t want someone there who understood what I was feeling. People cope and deal differently.
In choosing an ally, find people that align with your core beliefs and values. Find people that respect who you are and not aim to change you. Surround yourself with people lift you up when you're down and stand up for you when you can't stand for yourself.
If that means confiding in and aligning with a Grammy award winning singer/songwriter, you do you, boo.
The power of brave authenticity is nobody can tell you any different.