Tegan and Sara’s Tegan Quin on Marriage Equality
Transcending Ignorance with Compassion
Oct 29, 2012 Issue #42 - The Protest Issue Photography by Tommy Kearns
One continent is barely big enough to contain Tegan and Sara Quin. They’re Western Canadians by birth, but years ago Sara Quin headed east, to live in Montréal and New York, leaving the territory left of the Continental Divide to sister Tegan. Still, twins are twins, and 3,000 miles can’t change the fact that Tegan and Sara’s similarities go beyond appearance and a love of music. In separate interviews for Under the Radar’s Protest Issue, we discovered remarkably similar attitudes in the girls on a host of issues, including assimilation, activism, bullying, and same-sex marriage. And a big revelation in our conversation with Tegan Quin, who divides her time between L.A. and Vancouver: even though her Canadian home base would allow her to marry her longtime girlfriend, the couple has chosen not to, as a matter of principle. We even got a bit of scoop on Tegan and Sara’s seventh studio album, due in January.
[Tegan Quin was interviewed for, and is quoted in, the article "The Rainbow Connection: Gay and Lesbian Artists on Marriage and More," which is in our Protest Issue. The Protest Issue is still on newsstands now. This is the full transcript of that interview, mainly quotes that didn't make it into the print issue. Tegan and Sara are on the cover of the issue.]
John Norris (Under the Radar): Tegan, it has been a very long time! A swelteringly hot Chicago at Lollapalooza 2005, I believe? It was super hot all that weekend.
Tegan Quin: Yes, it was absolutely brutal, and Sara couldn’t finish the show, I had to complete it without her. When she came off stage she basically just laid down on the grass and some Lollapalooza employee came over with a bucket of ice and just poured it on top of her. And she had to be taken back to the hotel room.
Oh my God.
Yes, but that’s OK because that established that I was the stronger one and she was the weaker one. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Well there you go. Are you in L.A. right now?
I’m actually up in Vancouver visiting my family.
So you live in both places?
I coexist. I have an apartment there [L.A.] and I live in Vancouver as well, since my girlfriend lives there. So we kind of have to have two lives, because she needs to work there. So I have grown accustomed to, and have discovered the things I like about L.A. and really just focus my time and energy on that, and pretty much never go west, stay off the west side.
Yeah, we have one song left to mix and then we master at the end of the month. So we are very close, although I am pretty sure we will be touring with a couple of songs in the fall, the record itself won’t come out until January.
I know you’ve got dates with The Black Keys in, October? You’ll be doing some of the new stuff?
Yeah, it should be good. I know I’ve been saying this, and it could just be self-defense so we’re not setting ourselves up for disappointment, but I do really feel like this is the best record we’ve made. And it’s really good. But I also think it will polarize people. I think some people will think that it’s just too far in one direction. But I think the songs are all really strong, and the producers we used are so amazing and it’s definitely a kick in the face. I think it’s gonna be good.
In one of the Carpool episodes, one of you guys alluded to that difference in the sound of this record. One of you said sort of, “Well we’ll see what people think. Hopefully they’ll like it.”
And I truly believe that people will. It’s definitely in the vein of what we’ve been working out, over our records. In a strange way it’s more the direction we were going in a few of our earlier records, like So Jealous, where it was more keyboard and pop and lots of melodies and tons of vocals. So I think a true Tegan and Sara fan will absolutely still hear the essence of Tegan and Sara. But it’s just a little more slick and it’s definitely not as much of a rock band record, that’s for sure. There’s not a lot of big trashy guitars or anything. But I’m excited, God, we’ve been doing it for so long, we’re so old. I cannot make the same record twice anymore. I just feel like, how do you tour for two years, doing what you’ve already done? It’s got to be interesting, and different.
So—same-sex marriage. I know they still don’t allow it in California, thank you Prop 8, but it’s pretty amazing how the idea seems to be gaining acceptance, isn’t it?
I guess so, but you know as far back as 2003 it’s seemed normal in Canada, when the courts approved it and most of the provinces. So marriage isn’t even something I really thought about until a few years ago, and Prop 8. Even as a gay person, for a long time not much of my life was consumed by this. It’s really been in the last four years where I feel like marriage in general and gay marriage has become so relevant in my life. I feel like it’s a daily conversation I have with people and I guess it’s partly my age. I’m in my 30s now, and all of a sudden you see all these people getting married, and those sort of heteronormative lifestyle choices sort of become overwhelming.
What about Obama’s endorsement of it? Was that a big thing to you?
For sure. Someone like that to come out and saying this is something we should all have, that it so important. And of course, there are people in my life saying, “It means nothing, we need to have a federal law” blah, blah. But for people everywhere, even for me, who’s not even American, it’s normalizing something. It’s just a huge sigh of relief that people at that level would do that.
To be honest, I don’t think any remotely mainstream politician cares if gay people marry. In their heart of hearts, no Republican to the left of Rick Santorum cares.
I absolutely believe that the average person out there doesn’t care. Including gay people! I mean when all the gay marriage heat came up in 2008 I think it was Rufus Wainwright who said, “Why do we want to get married? I don’t want to get married. Why do I want to be like everybody else?” And I didn’t think about it either, but then, when someone wants to take away your rights, then it’s like, “hold on a second.” And I agree with you, I know lots of Republicans, I have Republicans in my family. And they don’t care, they’re like, this whole thing of marriage. People get married and divorced 10 times in their life. And then those people turn around and say, “well, we’ve got to protect marriage.”
As the right to marry increases for gay people, do you think the expectation to do it, or for that matter to have kids, increases too?
Oh my God, it’s like you’ve been eavesdropping on my life for the past month. It’s difficult. I was raised in a very alternative household. My parents were divorced, which—a lot of my friends’ parents were divorced—but then my mother was in a serious, long term relationship and never married him, so my idea of what love and commitment and relationship is, is very different from the average person’s. And I absolutely do feel like there is now this pressure on gay people where we too now have to get married or else our relationships aren’t as significant or relevant. People say it to me all the time, gay and straight, “when are you gonna take it to the next level?”
You and your partner Lindsey have been together four years. Is it something you’ve seriously considered?
We both are part of a larger contingent who is abstaining from marriage until everybody has the right. I truly believe marriage for us is indefinitely postponed. Even though I am Canadian and I could move my partner here and we could legally get married, there is something that just makes me feel so sad. I just don’t feel it’s fair, I don’t feel like I should benefit and also while I expect and will fight to have that right in America I absolutely do not feel I have to get married, no.
So not for now, anyway.
It just doesn’t feel right. That’s what I have to say to my straight friends is like “you’re asking me to come celebrate your union, your wedding, after you’ve been together a year. And I can’t celebrate with my partner, and we’ve been together four, and you expect me to be OK with that?”
We’re here in the middle of Pride month. What do you think of Pride, of what it’s become and of the idea advanced by some, especially younger gay and lesbian people, this “post-gay” idea that maybe we should move beyond that kind of thing?
It’s funny, Pride just happened in L.A., and I was talking about this with my girlfriend, about how our friends were split. Like a lot of ‘em, were just like “Gay Pride, yuck, don’t care, don’t want to be part of that” and then others were like going to 500 different events. And here in Vancouver, people love it here. And it sort of feels like San Francisco in that it feels like a big portion of the city participates.
So you can enjoy it?
Well, I gotta say, I remember my first Pride parade, when I first moved to Vancouver. And my mom, who I think was initially a little shocked when Sara and I came out because, although I think she knew, she was scared. You know, we were gonna be musicians and not go to university, and we were gay, and I think she just thought, “Oh Lord, what kind of life are you gonna have?” Although she had tons of gay friends and was a social worker, parts of it still scared her. But the first year that we were gay, she came to Vancouver and we went to the Pride parade. And I remember sitting there watching the bears go by, and the naked people, and the Dykes on Bikes, and I just remember having this compulsion to turn to my mom and be like, “That’s not me! That, that’s not what we’re gonna be like!” And just one float after another, of the young twinks in their underwear all spraying each other down.
Do you find all of that fun on any level?
Now I do! But as a 20-year-old, I absolutely just wanted to say, “I’m just like you, mom. I just want to have a girlfriend and move in together and get a cat and play music and I don’t wanna get naked and ride around on a motorcycle!” So I don’t think that the younger generation has become apathetic because there isn’t a fight still ahead or homophobia or shame or whatever. I just think that when you’re young there is this need to feel independent of any community and I think there is this natural instinct to stay away from the mob. Like with this debate about marriage, I feel like young people are just “fucking get over it.” And I don’t think that it’s that they don’t care about their community, it’s that their community is so much more diverse. It’s so mixed now.
It is mixed, and it’s hard to see how life isn’t better for a young gay person now, even than it was 10 years ago, never mind 20 or 30. But—and maybe it’s just that we’re more aware of it now—but every other month it seems there is another heartbreaking story of a kid who kills himself because the bullying and the abuse is too much.
I think that it’s absolutely getting better and I think things have changed totally, since I was in high school, since I was 15, 16 years have passed. And I think if I was a teenager now I think that I would feel very different about my sexuality and I would have probably come out a lot sooner. But all that being said, you have to accept that being a teenager sucks for the most part. And bullying happens to everyone, not just gay people. I don’t know that much about the statistics on this but, you know, my mom teaches at an all-girls school, and it is absolutely shocking what girls do to each other. Not just gay girls or straight girls to gay girls, just girls are mean to each other and bully each other. And then when you take into account that someone is gay, or different or effeminate or whatever and it is just gonna be worse. And I try not to get totally crazed by “Oh my God, gay kids are killing themselves because they are gay!” I’m just like, fuck it, it is tough to be a kid.
Well, seeing people like you and your sister helps in huge ways for a lot of kids.
Well, that is my fight. It takes place on stage in front of thousands of people every day, making sure they know they have people like us. Or every time they see someone gay on television, or out there in a leadership role, or a powerful role, it’s gonna help.
For the most part though, you and Sara are not in-your-face confrontational.
I’m very cautious about using the stage as a soapbox, and I don’t want to preach. Or that’s not my intention. Our first goal is always, always music. But we’ve found clever ways right from the very beginning to insure that we were infusing our political and social beliefs into our music, and a presence there. We always have organizations tabling at our shows, we always have a charity for our tour. I also don’t want to alienate anyone, I guess because I do know Republicans who are Republicans for fiscal reasons, not necessarily for social reasons. So I try not to alienate anyone. I don’t see the benefit in that. I want to see that there’s always a conversation about everything that I believe in. I mean, there’s hard issues like racism and homophobia where there’s no middle room. But I want to be cautious. You slowly work on those people who are ignorant. And you transcend their ignorance with compassion and understanding and you help them move to the next level.
So how do you see same-sex marriage playing out in the States? A long state-by-state thing?
If we’re waiting state-by-state it’s gonna take a lifetime. I think there are some states that would never go for it. In fact, I think there are probably states that would still restrict a lot of other things if they could. Whether it’s a federal law or the Supreme Court—but you don’t put something like this up to the people. You don’t hold a majority vote on a minority right. We should have learned that already. We’ve got enough history to know that.