Pride Essay: The Soundtrack to My First Summer As Myself

Photograph of Florence Welch against a sky background with her arm outstretched. Extending from her arm are rainbow colored musical notes. White text reads: "The Soundtrack to My First Summer As Myself"
Graphics by Sarah Tarlin

By Ella Mastroianni, Blog Assistant

Since you guys don’t know me: Hi, I’m Ella, I’m 20 years old and this is my sixth summer knowing that I’m a queer person, or being “out.” I don’t need to fill you in on all the details of these past 6 (woah) years, but there’s been confusion, happiness, heartbreak, turmoil, more turmoil, and even more turmoil. 

This Pride Month, I feel closer to myself than I ever have. With an approach of gratitude and honesty, I’ve been able to reflect on what has gotten me to this point, and steer myself in a direction that feels the most truthful to me. A piece of this has been being extremely intentional with the music I’m listening to and the messages I’m telling myself with those songs. Luckily, there are already a few special songs I can pinpoint that impact my life in a positive way…

From teachings on gentleness to embracing exploration and mistakes, these are a handful of songs that taught me lifelong lessons, and helped me along on my journey to my first summer feeling truly myself. 



This past year chewed me up and spit me out. At the end of the school year, I went back to my home in Massachusetts, and for the first time in a long time, I was able to breathe. This doesn’t mean that my anxiety and all the baggage the year gave to me didn’t follow me home — it absolutely did. But something about being in a new place (although it was an old place) allowed me to look at my life a little differently than I had been. 

During my first five years out, when Pride came around I would put my rainbow flag out front by my Mom’s flowers, and that would be that. I had that month alone to be excited about my queerness and at least for June, that was what I was— I was queer, but I wasn’t much else. I say this because I used to be so focused on one piece of my identity that I neglected all the rest. This sixth Pride is different.

The song “Free” by Florence and the Machine is a song that helped me realize that I could and should be proud of myself for everything that I am. The song is on Dance Fever, the band’s most recent album, and I could eat the songs off this album for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but “Free,” in particular, has a piece of my heart right now. I stomached a big move last week and this song was one I am so glad that I put in my metaphorical suitcase. As the song boots up, it reminds me of the feeling of running. Then, Florence’s echoey voice takes me up and away. As the song’s narrator says, I have been “on fire” for this last bit of my life, and I’ve tried not to show it. But the refrain of this song feels so true to my experience as a human being: “As it picks me up, puts me down. It picks me up, puts me down.” Florence wrote this song about her anxiety and listening to it is helping me work to embrace my own. It’s hard for me not to jump around when listening to this song, and when I’m alone, I always do. In those moments, hopping around on my hardwood floor like a madman (definitely concerning my downstairs neighbors) I feel the most myself that I ever have. And if nothing else, this pride, I am free.



Lately, I’ve been putting a lot of effort into accepting my reality — being okay with what didn’t work out and being excited about what could. “Hand In My Pocket,” is nothing short of iconic, and it's a song that feels like a cry of acceptance— at least, that’s what it is for me. This song is so ’90s sounding, but lyrically, nothing has felt more current. As a queer person, I’ve felt pressure to do everything correctly the first time around to validate my identity, including feeling like I have to choose the right label for my sexuality. When things inevitably don’t work out the first time, it’s been easy for me to chalk it up to failure and to call myself one. Alanis Morisette’s song offers a different perspective, a more optimistic lens to view me and the world. 

This song, in particular, encourages me not to take things so seriously; to be open to exploration; and to view the mess-ups as a learning experience. The way the verses are communicated makes me think about what I “am,” in the same structure as Morisette. For example, lines such as, “I'm sad, but I'm laughing, I'm brave, but I'm chicken shit,” make me consider different aspects of my identity without placing judgment on them. I think about how I’m stubborn, how gentle and compassionate I am, and how all those things exist within me, and I don’t designate them as “wrong,” or “right,” (à la Morisette). When I listen to this song, I believe things will work out and that the best is yet to come; I know I’m learning and can’t expect to know things without experiencing them first. I don’t know who I want to be or what I want — not at all — but I will keep one hand in my pocket and… well, you know the rest. 



Everyone who has met me knows that MUNA is my favorite band in the world and I would not be the person I am today without their music. That being said, “Good News” was never a song I turned to. I don’t think I completely got it, and what I mean by that is I was in my “Crying on the Bathroom Floor” and “Stayaway” era, and I’ll just leave it at that. However, this Pride month I have good news (I’m such a comedian); I am finally, gratefully ready for this song. 

I have spent the past year or so listening to many sad songs, and while that’s fun to a certain point, I realize now that the music I’m listening to really affects how I feel throughout the day. There are so many beautiful sad songs, but I’ve taken a step back from even the artists I adore whose music doesn’t necessarily make me feel my best. I can still listen to MUNA’s sad songs, but right now the happier ones are the ones I am reaching out to and finally feeling connected to. 

“Good News” is such a fun listen. The lyrics are humorous and make me want to ask questions, and I think that’s a telltale sign that a song could become a favorite. Listening is also a visual experience for me, and every time I hear the second verse I try to place myself in the “art exhibit” that Katie Gavin describes; I see the sink and the dishes and the sign saying “Be where you are.” The way it looks is different on each listen, as are the wonders of the mind, but I’m filled with such gratitude, especially when in the pre-chorus she sings: “I'm gonna figure it out, 'Cause I'm already here, and I won't leave now.” This lyric is the one that makes this song what it is to me — a reminder not to give up, even when my first instinct is to run. With the support of this song, I move forward and face what’s to come. 



You can call me a hypocrite because I am about to talk about a sad song. “anything,” by Adrianne Lenker is a special addition for me this Pride month, because as I have been trying to be proud of all the parts of myself, I have also leaned into expressing myself in different ways. Long story short, “anything” is the first song I learned in its entirety on guitar. I have been playing guitar on and off for a few years now, but I didn’t want to wait around anymore to be “good enough.” In the past, I would pick up my guitar, and become frustrated when I wasn’t perfect at playing. I wouldn’t allow myself to learn because I would count myself out almost immediately, as though I didn’t believe I could learn something, could get better at something. That was my thought process before, but it was exhausting not believing in myself, so I picked up my guitar and started learning a song that scared me. 

Adrianne Lenker is talented beyond words, a creator of guitar-picking patterns that I’m sure challenge even more experienced guitar players and a writer of lyrics that feel like they were ice cream scooped out of my own heart. “anything,” has become a song that helped me find something I was missing — I love listening to music, and love creating it. I heard the notes on my guitar ping in all the wrong ways, and for the first time I didn’t walk away, and I am so proud of that. “anything” is tender and open in ways I only hope to be, and now it's proof that I am capable of more than I believe. 



As the world spins and the years pass, things will inevitably change. That may sound obvious, but change is one of the things that scares me the most, and part of my journey as a human has been learning to accept that there are things out of my control. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t constants. One of those constants for me is “Stay Gentle” by Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile is an artist I have always felt supported by, and this song specifically is a mantra to me and is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. This song has not for a second lost its power. I remember being in an AMC theater in 2022 seeing “Brandi Carlile: In the Canyon Haze - Live from Laurel Canyon,” and being brought to tears as she sang the final line, “Stay gentle, stay gentle. The most powerful thing you can do, oh, gentle, unbreakable you.” This song permits me to be me in all my gentle glory and to stay like this despite what comes my way. People can mistake my gentleness for weakness, and all I can do is let them. I know who I am when I listen to this song, which is the only thing that matters. 

I have spent Pride month in awe of the world and leaning into childlike wonder. “Grow younger while you'rе growin' older, be amazed by the sky,” is a mantra I wish to carry with me and follow daily. I have been spending time outdoors, being “amazed” by every little thing I can find. Walking barefoot across rocks. Sitting in waterfalls. It is in these moments that I don’t care much about how others perceive me; what stereotypes they think I fit; or anything else, really. The one thing I can control is how I treat myself, and I promise myself every day to stay gentle. 



I’ve learned a lot about myself after six years of claiming my queer identity. This Pride is so special to me because I feel a deep connection of self that I haven’t always had. I’m only 20 now, but I’m vastly different from 14-year-old, and even 19-year-old me.

20-year-old me doesn’t shy away from what scares her, she is someone who sees the good in the world and now in herself… She redirects love songs to herself, realizing that she deserves them, too! 

I’m sure my next Pride I will feel distant from this version of me, but I can honestly say that I have never felt more like myself. I couldn’t have become this version of myself without all the past versions. I am so grateful for everything that I was. And I reach out for everything that I am and can be. 

All of this doesn’t mean that things aren’t difficult, or that I don’t have moments where I question myself and my identity (which is a pretty common queer experience). But it does mean that I’m ready to accept the good things that could enter my life. I didn’t even have the chance to attend a Pride celebration this year, but this is the most proud, joyful, confused and lost I’ve ever felt — and what a good thing it is to feel so much.

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