‘Just like Jaws,’ explained Kiley Lotz, the lead singer and force behind the indie rock emo band, Petal, as she recently wrote how it felt to ‘come out’ for the first time. “It was like seeing the film as a six-year-old,” she reiterated.
“I was terrified. I was 25 when I finally came out as bisexual. And I felt such anger swimming inside of me: the familiar and haunting tune that would play whenever I’d feel myself admiring a woman. Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh. …”
“My mental health seriously declined after I came out,” Lotz went on. But, as she proclaims, she simply had to:
“The shark was in my belly. It would glide toward my throat. I had to tell someone my truth, that I was a queer person, or it was going to kill me…Just because you don’t see the sharks, doesn’t mean they’re not there.”
Lotz relates how the parallels to the thriller are as deep as they are murky: “You can know you are queer before having queer sex or a queer relationship.” Though it came with all the trepidation of the Spielberg classic, like many artists what Lotz did was “I worked these feelings out while writing my music.”
Despite the work done, questions pursued her. The kind that most young people with complex emotional lives are forced to ponder. “What if I’m not queer enough?” she would ask herself. “What if I’m a phony or a liar? What if people thought I was trying to jump on some sort of “trend”?
Though owning her sexuality was an ultimate release and a coming to terms with emotional undercurrents felt like progress, Lotz was aware that some people would be cynical enough to think of coming out as a gimmick for fame. She knew that it was precisely those who were fine with the idea of people being gay who were also the kind to suspect an artist of jumping on the bandwagon of ‘cool.’
In a sense, it’s no different for many women who finally feel courageous enough to type out #metoo and confront the pains of the past. Instead of pats on the back, they’re often met with shrugs and skepticism even by those who are supposedly happy about sexual predators being outed. The fact is that by the time people feel that it’s okay to tell someone that they’ve been abused, there’s a whole slew of people who feel they may just be exploiting a trend to cash in on publicity.
In addition to fearing what others might construe as her motives, Lotz felt stifled rather than released after coming out. As she explains, “The idea that I still needed to fit in this binary of femme or butch or straight or queer, even after being out, exhausted me. I stopped trusting myself. My depression and suicidal ideation grew worse. I knew I wasn’t half straight/half gay. I knew I wasn’t lying.”
Not only was she oppressed by the idea that she suddenly had to choose some arbitrary set of sexual norms within which she was expected to categorize herself but “I feared that I would never fully accept myself even with the validation of those who loved me.”
Her imaginary shark was back and it was headed towards her. “The lack of trust in myself lead to paranoid ideas that I could not trust the people around me. The orchestra grew loud. Duh-nuh. I felt like I was being pulled under the water. I realized I was not being pulled under by the great teeth of a prehistoric, living relic, but pulled by exhaustion weighing down on my legs and arms. Treading water that had seemingly lost it’s silky, atomic structure and became a gentle, cement blanket on my limbs. Water filled my lungs and I blacked out.”
She was living below sea level. Bait to her own fears. The metaphor continued as relentlessly as the potency of her music and lyrics: “Crippling depression and suicidal ideation came swiftly. I moved home and started intensive therapy. I felt that I had ruined my entire life. That if I could look out into the ocean of my life, and ignore what lie beneath the water and focus on the horizon, no matter how loud that familiar tune played, I could make everyone, including myself, happy. Unfortunately, these are all very common experiences for bisexual people.”
And so Lotz learned to swim in the turbulent emotional waters of life once more: “Fast forward eight months later into recovery and I was about to record ‘Magic Gone’. The first record I’ll release with songs explicitly talking about my sexuality. It is the most honest batch of songs I’ve ever written, and I feel at peace with who I am, and I’m prepared to share it with the world.”
Despite being able to appreciate a beautiful sunset over what was once an ocean of potential pain, Lotz still feels the pain of those who have not yet come to an understanding with their place in the world and how their own lives can make communion with their feelings.
“I will always feel hurt that so many bisexual people struggle and face such disparities in care, acceptance, and validation. But now I vocalize that hurt, I sing out the pride of living through the pain and I hope that it rings in the ears of people who need to hear it. I look out at the ocean and decide to go for a swim, fully aware of the sharks, and mystified by their strength and beauty.”
Lotz may not be freely floating about in the sea of life just yet. But she does allow herself to be taken by the waves. Though she is aware of the undercurrents, she enjoys looking out at the endless horizon. She sees the oceans reflecting the endless lights that make up our sky. She rejoices in knowing that the waters team with life. Dangers exist in the depths but her sea is a colorful constellation of opportunities and choices. And so, shark or no shark, Lotz continues to swim. To sing and swim. One breath at a time.