Mary Lambert On Writing A Gay Anthem, Singing With Madonna, And Watching Queen Latifah Marry Gay Couples
Last Sunday the supremely talented Mary Lambert performed in front of her largest audience yet when she sang the chorus of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s anthemic “Same Love” during the Grammys telecast, which developed into a duet with Madonna and, even more famously, a mass wedding officiated by Queen Latifah. It’s impossible to overestimate the influence the performance had on a global audience who perhaps had never expected to witness a same-sex marriage. The out performer has spent the past months on tour with the rap duo and performing solo shows around the country to support her EP Welcome To The Age Of My Body, a lilting collection of Lambert’s own compositions, including “She Keeps Me Warm,” a full song that evolved from the haunting chorus on “Same Love.” Currently at work on her first full-length album, Lambert recently chatted with Queerty about performing alongside Madonna, growing up with a lesbian mother and writing a song that’s become an undisputed LGBT anthem.
Your lyrics are very confessional and you’re very candid when you chat with the audience between songs during your live shows. Is there anything that’s off limits or that you won’t reveal about yourself?
[Laughs] That’s a good question. I just left an interview and I felt like I gave too much of myself and I’d never felt like that before. I’m actually in the process of learning to set a balance now. There are some things in my life that I want to keep private and sacred, especially if they involve other people. But it’s important to have discussions about abuse and mental health and rape and body image. Those are all very important things to talk about. I don’t expect everyone to be as vulnerable as I am but the only way there can be solutions to these problems is if we’re honest about [these issues].
You were raised Pentecostal, which follows a very conservative religious doctrine. What sort of homophobia did you encounter?
Because of the nature of trauma and coping mechanisms there’s some of my childhood that I have massively blocked out. One thing that I do know is the reaction to my mom in these situations. One thing I did understand is that we had a lot of really close friends in the church and we had a great community in the church, then when my parents go to divorced that community was shut off. I remember not seeing any of the church friends anymore. We were shunned. I remember my mom being really, really depressed. I remember thinking it was the most ridiculous thing. I remember from an early age that I wanted to be a champion for all things good. I found an Evangelical church in high school so I looked thorough different patterns in my relationship with Christianity.
Do you still consider yourself religious?
I still consider myself a Christian, but to me it’s more of a personal journey than anything else so I don’t talk about it super openly. I have divine moments with God and those often happen through music. I definitely think my relationship with the Christian community has shifted, but not my relationship with God.
Your mother is also lesbian. What was it like growing up with a gay parent before you came out yourself?
It was never weird to me. I think it’s that way for a lot of kids with gay parents. It’s only weird because other people make it weird. I started standing up and telling people they couldn’t say gay with a negative connotation. I remember being in fifth grade and saying “You can’t use ‘gay’ in a derogatory way.” [Laughs]
How did the kids react when you admonished them?
Oh, they started calling me a lesbian. Of course some of the kids were cool, but in general I was a total weirdo. I was just a weird kid anyway. I know a lot of people say “I was so awkward” and they’re usually not. I was really, really weird. [Laughs] I was one of those kids that talk to themselves. I didn’t own a pair of jeans until I was 15. I only wore stretch pants every day. Looking back now I was way ahead of the game. It was never an option to me that I could be gay because I’d never met anyone my age who was gay. As soon as I realized it I thought, Oh my God, could I really be gay? Is this a thing? I had journal entries from when I was 13 in which I wrote, “I might be gay. I am attracted to women. I do like kissing my friends. But to be in a relationship would be too weird.” Then when I was 17 I met a girl and thought Oh, OK.
I’m fascinated by the dynamic between a mother and daughter who are both lesbian. How did you come out to her and what was her reaction?
I thought it was going to be really easy. I went home one day and said “Hey mom, I’m dating a girl now and I’m gay.” There was no real coming out process for me. I never felt it was a discussion I needed to have. I had previously expressed that I had feelings for a friend of mine but I was really shocked by her reaction because she was upset. She said “I think you’re going through a phase and I think it’s really dangerous for you t come out right now if indeed you are gay. I think you should wait until college. Over time I understood her motivations. She just didn’t want me to get hurt. She was just concerned for my safety. She was also relieved that I wouldn’t get pregnant. [Laughs]
And you two are obviously still close because you took her to the Grammys.
Yes, she was my plus one. We’re still close and we were close then, too.