by Dan Savage
on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Terry wrote about Donna Summer in the Stranger's 2007 Queer Issue. Donna was Terry's "It Gets Better" Project:
The single most important moment in the history of the gay liberation—in my liberation, at least—took place on Christmas morning, 1982.
At my Evangelical Christian middle school we were forced to attend lectures on "Rock 'n' Roll and Satanism." Everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Black Sabbath, we were told, was an agent of Satan. These lectures scared the shit out of me. But at night I would crawl under my Star Wars covers and listen to pop music on my tiny AM/FM radio. I knew if my parents found out they'd freak. It wasn't because they believed popular music would send me to hell, but they were worried about me fitting in at school. I was already a pariah and they didn't want me to become a bigger one by knowing all the words to "The Battle of Evermore." It was a bad time in my life.
But everything changed on Christmas morning, 1982. Donna Summer had released her self-titled album earlier in the year. Produced by Quincy Jones, the album was full of danceable soul and heartfelt ballads. The first single was the vocoder-inflected "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)," a harmless, funky breakdown à la Michael Jackson. It was so cool. I begged my mother for the album. And on Christmas morning it was under the tree.
My parents had no idea what an impact that album would have on me. I memorized all the lyrics. I made up dance moves to every song—even the slow ones. I came up with a story for the album as if it were a musical. (I even wrote a script!) And I came home from school every day and performed my Donna Summer musical alone in my basement.
When I came out years later, I teased my mom about how she "made me gay" that Christmas morning. But it was Donna who gave me the strength to come out. I took lyrics of the "The Woman in Me" to heart ("It's so hard to believe/That I'm feeling so free!"), and when I felt afraid I would just chant the lyrics to "State of Independence" ("Yes, I do know how I survive/Yes, I do know why I'm alive /To love and be with you... This state of independence shall be!").
Donna Summer, whatever her faults, showed me that somehow everything would someday be okay.