Antigone Rising in the Time of Marriage Equality in the USA
A CRACK IS A CRACK AND THE PEOPLE FIGHT BACK
While June is considered this country’s LGBT Pride Month and October is considered LGBT History Month, this March may have been the month that set the tone for this country’s official stance on marriage equality once and for all. Not only was California’s Prop. 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) argued before the United States Supreme Court – both likely to go down in a blaze of glory for civil rights – it was declared by Time Magazine (and others) that the majority of Americans had come (or found) her or his senses and agreed that her and his fellow citizens deserved marriage equality.
To commemorate the evolutionary milestone, Time Magazine stated “Gay Marriage Already Won” and featured married gay couples on the cover kissing. The female couple featured on the Time cover was Kristen Ellis-Henderson and Sarah Kate Ellis-Henderson, a married couple from New York – where marriage equality exists for LGBT couples.
Sarah is a magazine executive and co-author of Times Two: Two Women in Love and the Happy Family They Made, a memoir she wrote with Kristen, which chronicles their simultaneous journeys to motherhood. Kristen plays bass and sings backing vocals in Antigone Rising, the rock band she co-founded with her sister, Cathy, who plays lead guitar and sings backing vocals as well.
In this exclusive interview we spoke to Kristen and Cathy about turning of the tides that bound us for so long.
Lesbian News: How did you end up on the cover of Time Magazine?
Kathy Henderson: We didn’t know that we were going to end up on the cover and we certainly didn’t know that we were going to end up kissing on the cover. We knew that they were shooting a lot of couples so now we were kind of competitively kissing. At one point I said to Sarah, “Kiss me better. We want to have the cover.” It sure was a good kiss!
LN: What was your reaction when the two of you saw yourselves on the cover of Time Magazine?
KH: My honest-to-goodness reaction the first time I saw it was, “Oh my god, they went with the other couple.” I didn’t recognize us. But I’ve never seen Sarah and me make out, so… It just shocked me, I guess, I’ve just never seen that.
LN: What about your wedding photos? Were there not any photos of you two kissing?
KH: Yeah, you know what? I guess you’re right. There are wedding photos. It was like a whole different thing, though. It had the Times logo over it. I’m not used to seeing that. I didn’t recognize myself. My brother said the same thing. He thought that we didn’t get it. Sarah totally recognized us.
LN: What motivated you to become these spokespeople for the issue of marriage equality?
KH: We have a family. We have two kids. It is very important for their self-esteem that we are as out and proud as possible. Any opportunity that Sarah and I get to speak up on the issue of equality or our civil rights, we are going to show up. Visibility is so important. I don’t necessarily subscribe to people outing celebrities in any way but celebrities who are not coming out are doing our community such a disservice. It is so important to be out, especially if you are over the age of 40. I mean, you are a real grown-up at that point.
LN: The Times article does address the fact that the majority of Americans are now supporting gay marriage. Simultaneously, the US Supreme Court is weighing in on Proposition 8 and DOMA. There are two camps of arguments about securing gay rights by votes and securing gay rights by law. How would you like to see gay rights once and for all accepted and implemented in the United States?
KH: It should just be a Federal issue that we can get married. It shouldn’t be state by state. It shouldn’t be people voting or rooting. That to me is a little too much government being involved in what’s happening. It is nuts that it is going state by state.
LN: I understand that you are following the debates in the Supreme Court. How do you think the Supreme Court is going to rule on DOMA and Prop. 8?
KH: I hate to try and predict and I’ve always been an optimist — I always want to believe the best. My gut [reaction] is that they are going to repeal DOMA but it will still have to go state by state. I’m not hoping that happens. I would rather it would just become legalized federally. With regard to Prop. 8, I’m not sure about Prop. 8. I was thinking that it was going to work out and then I kind of felt that after the first day [of testimony] the news reports were kind of wishy-washy on where the Supreme Court was going to fall on Prop. 8.
LN: Looking back, it has now been over half your life that you have been out. I understand that you came out when you were 19. How did you know at that point that you were a lesbian?
KH: I just had this crazy epiphany at some point. I was in Colorado visiting a friend and her friend walked in the room and when I saw her I instantly wanted to kiss her and I had this serious epiphany. So many things came back to me at that moment. It just never dawned on me until that moment. But I didn’t come out then. I struggled for a long time. Even then, not realizing until I was 19, it is kind of shocking when I think back on my life but I guess we all can say things like that. When I think back, I always had crushes on babysitters growing up but I just never put it together. I remember that I would rather hang out with my girlfriends than go to the movies with my boyfriend or spend time with my boyfriend. But I just thought all girls felt that way. It seemed like a normal way to feel. It took me a long time and I struggled with coming out publically. For a lot of years, too, in the band, I didn’t want to come out. I was cautious about that. I didn’t want to pigeonhole us or put a ceiling over our heads. I thought that it could impact out careers. I look back on that now and I feel kind of bummed that I felt that way.
LN: Cathy, how did you respond when your sister came out? Did you already suspect your sister was gay?
Cathy Henderson: That’s a great question. I am also gay and out. Kristen and I followed quite a similar path where in college, about 19 or 20 years old, I had my first experience. I absolutely kept it on the down low. At the time — we’re talking about 15-20 years ago — we were at a very conservative college (Bucknell University) and I just couldn’t even conceive of allowing that to be public in any way, shape or form. So I hadn’t really grasped it. Unlike Kristen, I knew when I was little. I had already started realizing I had crushes when I was 5 or 6 years old. I kind of knew that at some point the walls were going to come crumbling down on me. I never had an idea that Kristen was gay. Kristen always had boyfriends. I always had a little more trouble with that; it just really wasn’t in my DNA. I came out in college as well at the same age as Kristen did, not telling anybody. When I got out of college, Kristen called me one night and just basically said, “Are you sitting down?” At that point I had to start telling people because it’s just too toxic to keep inside. It’s your true self coming out and once you open that jar, it’s kind of nonstop. So, when Kristen called me and said, “Are you sitting down? I’m gay also.” It was just like…
KH: I don’t even remember this.
CH: Yeah, well, at that point I had started telling people.
KH: I remember telling you I was gay. I thought I told you and then you told me you were.
CH: You were just like, “Are you sitting down?”
KH: Yeah, I remember that.
CH: Honestly, simultaneously we were both like, “Oh, no, Mom.” [Chuckles] Here, both her daughters are now gay. That was kind of our beginning of our journey into becoming who we are.
KH: Amen. It’s been a ride.
LN: When did you two know that you wanted to start a music group?
KH: That was even before I knew I was gay.
CH: We were always in bands. We were always grabbing the pots and pans out of the cabinets and banging on the piano and having all the kids over, writing songs and starting bands. When we got into middle school and high school, we had real instruments and anybody who could play an instrument we would bring into the band.
LN: So, even when you rehearsed and performed together, you both were essentially in the closet?
CH: People would know that I was gay but I was not necessarily vocalizing it. Especially once we got a record deal. Unequivocally I would say that the band had an understanding in the early days, when we were touring full time, that we shouldn’t come out. We were worried that it would affect our career.
KH: We had other obstacles just by being an all-women band and being pigeonholed into… The way people view it, it’s like girls are their own genre of music. It doesn’t matter what you play, you are a girl. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves even further. Quite frankly, there were still prejudices out there regarding it as well as in the music industry and at the label.
CH: Friends and family knew. People who needed to know knew but we weren’t really discussing it publically.
LN: How do you think coming out and being vocal about it affected your career?
CH: I so much prefer it. It was so annoying to not be out, it was ridiculous.
LN: How did coming out affect your music?
KH: Motherhood and starting a family — it all goes hand in hand, living honestly and truthfully. I feel like those life experiences have more affected my songwriting. Now that I have a family and kids, you know a love on a whole different level, at least I have. My perspective on things kind of shifted in a huge way…I never thought I would have a family because I was a lesbian, so I feel so blessed. I feel so lucky. I look back and I think, “How could I have thought that I couldn’t have a family?”
CH: We are so much more comfortable now. We are so much more stable. When you come to our show now, you are looking at four very happy people on stage, having a great time, interacting with the fans, interacting with each other.
LN: What can you tell us about your upcoming tours or projects?
CH: We’re working on an EP which we hope to have out late spring, early summer. We did drop a single, “That Was The Whiskey.” We are looking to do a lot of shows and festivals over the summer.
LN: The legend of Antigone has taken a few turns of the last thousand plus years. What is behind the name of your band?
KH: She was the real deal. When we named the band, it was with that in mind. She stood up to the king for her rights and for what she believed in. I feel like in a lot of ways that’s really how our story is evolving as well. I hope we are doing her name justice.