This June 22nd will mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. Besides being one of the five best albums of the 90s and one of the best albums by a woman singer/songwriter ever, it’s what got me thinking about pop culture and being queer. If there’s an album that would seem to have little for a queer girl to connect with, it would be an album with a song about one night stands with guys. That and a confession of taking advantage of men. All sorts of straight girl stuff, yet a queer girl could wrap her arms around it all.
A big reason is the very thing that wrinkled quite a few noses when the album came out. It’s a woman being very frank about herself, in every possible way. It’s frank, explicit and as such completely unlike anything else. Liz is a woman who is owning being a woman and everything she is, even the stuff she might be insecure about. She might pine for some perfect idealized boyfriend but she also sings of how she wants to be a a guy’s blowjob queen. And such a declaration of womanhood, is going to appeal to any girl who wants to stand as herself and not apologize for it. Plus Liz gives not a care about the old idea that “good girls don’t about/like that”. Which to girls who can’t say much if anything about anything about themselves, in any way, makes her damn near a hero.
Then there’s how even a song that is about something you don’t want, you still get what it’s getting at. I never once thought about having one nights stands with guys. But Liz singing about it in “Fuck and Run” is something I get. Because that feeling of “shit, this again” when you’ve found yourself in another situation where they say they’ll call even though you know they won’t, isn’t limited to straight girls. And anyway, isn’t like you don’t have a straight friend or two who talk about the same thing Liz is singing about.
Not that “Fuck and Run” is only something to relate to that way. When Liz sings,
I want all the stupid old shit,
Like letters and sodas, letters and sodas
she’s singing about wanting all those little things that if you don’t have in a relationship, you might wonder if it’s time to check out. Plus if you’re like me you find yourself on both sides of it. You want for someone who would do it for you who you can also do it for.
But there’s plenty about stuff you just get because it’s just things you get. Songs like “Divorce Song”, “Never Said” and even “Girls! Girls! Girls!” are about stuff that’s pretty well universal regardless of what kind of girl you are. “Divorce Song” is a song about not liking someone any more and how things don’t work out. That’s as relatable as it gets. And plenty of queer girls have chewed their lip while saying “I have no idea what you’re talking about, I never said a thing”. Basically living what “Never Said” is about. As for “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and taking advantage of men, you might not do it how Liz does it, but you’d do it or at least might. Plenty of situations where you find the ends justify the means and oh well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Even when it comes to a song that would seem way too straight for a queer girl to get, we get it. “Help Me Mary” might be about a straight girl with guys basically taking over her space, shit talking about her, seeing how far she’ll go, but that hardly makes it unrelatable. Getting shit talked about by guys? Welcome to being every girl ever. Either you’re on the receiving end or you hear it and think “God, just don’t have that ever be about me”. And going along with things, even things you don’t strictly want to do but you do anyways? You’ve done it, will do it, you hope you never have to or you thank your lucky stars you won’t ever have to. Or at least not that way. Not all the way, not your knees are red when you’re done all the way.
And with “Flower”, it’s Liz singing very frankly about getting turned on and what she wants to do. That’s not a thing a “good girl” is supposed to do. Talking about being aroused, talking about lusting after someone? Wanting to fuck their brains out? Oh that’s not “proper”, it’s supposed shameful. And here’s Liz not giving a single fuck. She’s not just owning it, she’s not the least bit embarrassed let alone ashamed of what’s going through her head. Which makes it so absolutely awesome. And the line,
Every time I see your face I think of things unpure unchaste
is relatable no matter who you lust after.
But there’s one more thing about Exile in Guyville and Liz Phair. Specifically for someone who found themselves in the spot I was in. When reality was the girls that were an option had very little chance of working out and the girls that could work out, weren’t an option, Liz made for a nice crush. A nice, safe crush. After all she’s pretty, looks like my type and is totally unattainable, out of my league and all that. Plus, girls like her aren’t just there. You have to find them, get to know how they are, no “I have a friend that’s like….” to deal with. Liz was a nice straight girl to have an open crush on. Since back then, openly crushing on a lesbian was not exactly going to work.
So it wasn’t just the album I loved, that I cranked way up and still think of as one of the best things ever. It was Liz too. A straight girl with an album that sounds as straight as can be. Except it’s not really. For this, at the time, closeted queer girl, it was perfect. And so was Liz.