Image courtesy BBC.
Christine and the Queens was coming to town, and I needed to go alone. Her music is just too special. It was an October night, 2016, and I was riding into downtown, basking in the glow of a happy driver's bus when I recognized two faces boarding at the next zone. Were they my friend Taylor and a companion of hers, entirely by surprise? They were. How could I miss Taylor's enormous 'fro? She exploded with delight upon seeing me– and her friend Clay, incredibly, who knew me too: I'd met her on my own bus for the first time just a week before. I was so glad I'd struck up pleasant conversation at the time; you never know when you'll see someone again, or how. What were they doing on this fine bus, I asked. Where were they going tonight? Were they going to see exactly the same show I was, Christine and the Queens at the Showbox?
They were! We blow up all over again. I marvel at their welcoming kindness, and we agree to go as a group. Of course. There is a moment of stress standing in line– Taylor realizes they're missing a ticket. They've only one ticket between the two of them, and the ticket-taker is being the stickler he needs to be. Do the high-school girls in front of us just happen to have an extra ticket, which they volunteer upon hearing our dilemma? They do! We're bowled over. We're now a group of five, discovering the common interests we share. They shoot on film, like I do; what's old is new again.
Waiting for the act to begin, I'm struck by the growing energy of the space. Christine (real name: Héloïse Letissier), a French chanteuse who can wear a suit like nobody's business, identifies as pansexual, and much of her following is genderqueer, gender-neutral, gender fluid, gay, bi, trans, lesbian, whatever term you like… and all of her following is accepting of such identifications. The younger set has less need to draw division lines in identity components which once were lifelong rigid: sexuality, profession, religion. They've discovered grey areas which can exist alongside black and white. Maybe people can be who they are, search it out; perhaps they don't have to squeeze into an existing type. Look at this crowd under dimmed lights, all stripes and colors, beautiful not because they were young or good-looking, though they generally were, but because they were tolerant.
Christine's music largely isn't about sexual identity, however. It's not reactionary or militant. It's about the joie de vivre of being alive, the potent high of generosity and felt emotion. Here she is now, a petite fireball bubbling over with– would you believe it? Kindness, an all-inclusive love.
She arrests us at the outset with a pronouncement. "There is only one rule for tonight–" imagine her wavy locks swinging as she traverses the stage with a showman's flair– "not a complicated rule, quite simple really." The cute French accent. This was to be a room with no judging, she explained. All accepting. "This world is so strict!" she cried, in mock horror. We laughed in rueful understanding, pleasantly perplexed by her buoyant perspective. In her attitude she was onto something. "I used to be so concerned, about fitting in... and then I just decided to stop caring!" An attentive lull in the crowd, as she exploded with: "And then it became so easy!" Her appeal was invigorating not because she closely replicated existing patterns of cool, but because she was none of them. The epitome of charisma, complete and whole; all this, just by being herself, making silly faces and shrugging it off.
Afterwards we tumbled out slowly, awash in the post-concert high. The high-schoolers made their way home, and we three took a turn about the block, too involved in the recent experience to speak. "I want to talk to her," I said aloud. My friends, I think, spend more time in bars than in airplanes, and they thought Christine and sundry might be headed for a nearby dive. I spend more time in airplanes than bars, though, and I felt she'd be scurrying out the Showbox's back entrance for a hotel and a plane. I gently guided our stroll toward the alley between First and Second, and we paused, noticing three figures slipping out the back door and approaching. Was it her? Was it?
Of the few hundred people who attended, only we would get to share in this moment, twinkling on a damp sidewalk next to an alley. Christine and her two companions paused, and we understood who we all were. It was not a time for pictures or autographs, but brief and deeply felt thanks, congratulations in a mixture of English and French. She was less the international pop star than a person my age, gracious, saying something charmingly ordinary about getting out this rain.
Taylor, Clay and I go to the Alibi Room. I'm telling them how important this restaurant is to me, the intersections that have happened here… then I notice a figure seated against the far wall. Is that my best friend from high-school, Anna Harrison, whom I have not seen in years? At this point tonight expecting miracles seems downright reasonable. It is her. Had she just come from… Christine and the Queens? You know the answer, reader. I go and sit with her wonderful accepting friends, stunned as Anna explains to them how I've achieved my childhood dream of becoming a bus driver, and they receive this news with actual genuine excitement. I can't believe their unironic support of something so easy to laugh at. I feel safe. Anna introduces me around as one of her best friends, and for a second I think she's referring to someone else.
Taylor and Clay insist I stay with this group, as they head out to bus home. I want to drive them; my car is nearby, and I know the bus is a long walk from Taylor's house. Maybe it's instinct for a bus driver to want to give people rides, but they see the joy I'm in and insist. I tell them where the bus stop is and what time it comes. They chuckle at my encyclopedic knowledge. An hour later I'm driving home and as I turn onto my driveway I remember– yes, this is the time Taylor's bus would be pulling in to the transit center. Should I go see if they yet need a ride? Maybe the timing will be just right.
Is the timing just right? Are they just now starting their fifteen-block walk home in the midnight rain when I roll up, identifying myself by hollering, "Christine and the Queens!"?
I believe in miracles, again. They're beyond thrilled. I feel a need to thank something. I am so grateful for so many intersecting things– the odds of Taylor getting on that bus going to the same venue, the odds of having met Clay only a week prior, the miracle of the girls in line with the extra ticket, the impossible possibility of being the only ones to meet Christine, the serendipity of Anna in the Alibi Room, her gratitude and that of her friends, the timing of being able to drive these two home….
But what I remembered most was the energy of that room. The world made sense in there. These beautiful outcasts, the marginalized, the brave, the delicate, the forgotten… together as one under vaulted ceilings. This is what the world will look like thirty years, I thought. This was the vanguard, not the cutting edge of electronics or technology, but of acceptance, the human organism at peace with itself. I savored it all: one of the girls in our group saying to another this is just what she wanted, to have a great time out and meet cool people. Someone singing the lyrics in French to my left. Christine herself locking eyes with me and holding the gaze for the long, long fadeout of the album's closing tune. All that we said, in a moment… in that room, all of us misfits were one, centered about, embraced as whole. There was no judging tonight. It was a spiritual experience.
And it would only get better. November 2016 was around the corner, and the election; I talked with a young man from Barcelona. "I love America," he told me. "You guys are leading by example. You had the first black president, elected twice, and now the first woman president… it's going to be great. It's going to be so great." I grinned, shivering with enthusiasm. The beauty of that room was becoming real. Tangible progress was happening, and was about to expand significantly. There would be new laws and leaders, a voice and a place for these fellow compatriots of mine. Things were going well.
There was a future we could almost touch.
The New York Times: Trump Cites Familiar Argument in Ban on Transgender Troops.
If you haven't read it already, my thoughts from November 9, two weeks later: The Day the Music Died.
Christine and The Queens: "Christine."