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Marriage is a crapshoot but divorce is forever

Songs about getting into and out of state-sanctioned intimacy in the 21st century.

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I want to tell you about a project I’ve been working on called The Gay Divorcees. For about a year I’ve been remotely hanging out with a bunch of queers who were all “gay married” in one form or another but are now “gay divorced.” I joke that once you’re gay divorced you’ve reached Level 10 Gay, and part of me really does feel like I’ve completed the gay assimilationist path and can now do whatever the fuck I want with joyous queer abandon.

The project was organized by cellist and writer Ethan Philbrick, who convened this group of artists I had never met before to create a performance about being divorced. When the project started, it was meant to be an in-person event, of course, so we’ve spent the past year bobbing and weaving with the punches of 2020 and reconsidered how this thing would actually look. We’ve settled on the following:

The Gay Divorcees is a band of real-life queers who got gay married and gay divorced, led by composer Ethan Philbrick, who have come together during a pandemic to write songs about getting into and out of state-sanctioned intimacy in the 21st century.

Throughout February 2021, The Gay Divorcees will be streaming their album of songs over the toll-free number 1-855-GAY-DIVO. On Sunday, February 14th, they will team up with the One Archives at USC to present a remote Valentine’s Day listening party filled with performances, readings, and other surprises.

In a moment when many people are trying to figure out how to get out of situations that are no longer working or keep going after the end of something, The Gay Divorcees approach their experience with marriage and divorce as potentially instructive. Divorce your old patterns! Divorce your broken political systems! Divorce your inherited ideologies!

I want to emphasize the fact that the phone number is real and you should absolutely call it and listen to the songs that way too. It’s cute and a bit nostalgic and you can even leave a message for us, a question, a comment, a rant about your ex, whatever you want.

The songs run the gamut of queerness from lo-fi Magnetic Fields vibes to club hits. One song is mostly just the phrase “fuck you, it’s over” repeated over and over. I love it.

Collaborating on music remotely isn’t always easy, even with people you know well, so I’m impressed with how this all turned out and cherished the opportunity to produce and mix a few of the songs myself. The project is one of healing and self-reflection and critiquing the institution itself which you know is one of my all-time favorite things to yell about.

While my experience talking about marriage with queer folks usually descends into a chorus of “the state doesn’t define my family, fuck you,” our conversations were more vulnerable and considerate of the fact that the paperwork was necessary at the time, even if a mistake in the long-run. Now on the other side of the experience, our approach to the concept of marriage seemed less about the tradition or societal pressures and more about the kind of family we had been looking for and why. Describing legal marriage brings out a lot of people’s assumptions about relationships and love and monogamy that are surprising, especially when it comes to spousal benefits through one’s school or employer. The whole thing is pretty ridiculous to me, and I’m glad to use this project to get over any stigma attached to my marital status.

If you want to hear my song in particular, it’s called Backyard Garden and is Track 10. It’s the most complex home recording I’ve ever worked on and includes a string section and saxophone, played by other members of the group. There’s going to be more where that came from! I also had a hand in the songs Us Both, Future Ex-Husband, Better Than Maybe, I Did My Job and Sick With You. Many thanks to Paul Legault, Ita Segev and Ashton Young for trusting me with various aspects of your tunes!

On February 14th we’re having a FREE remote listening party courtesy of the ONE Archives, because what better way to spend Valentine’s Day than thinking about your divorce for a couple of hours! Join us!

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