Ryan MacGrath, ‘Still Twirling’
Ryan MacGrath writes about his experience of growing up gay and becoming an artist. And twirling in his sister’s prom dress.
(Click Images to enlarge)
For LGBT History Month, Canadian singer-songwriter Ryan MacGrath writes about his experience of growing up gay and becoming an artist. He recounts the early moments in his life of knowing he was different, the artists whom he confided in when he was figuring himself out, and where he is as gay man living and creating in the world today. Personal accounts like Ryan’s offer some light to those who are, at any stage in life, confused and uncertain about what it means to be LGBTQ.
I was born and raised in rural Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. We had two television channels (three if you counted the French one), a few neighbours and lots and lots of space. My main preoccupation as a child was exploring the forests that surrounded our house, and constructing crude forts out of branches and brush. When the weather wasn’t permitting, I stayed inside and entertained myself by brushing the tail and mane of my purple My Little Pony. I also found great pleasure in putting on my sister’s yellow prom dress, and dancing around the living room to Dolly Parton records. I became very good at twirling in that dress, and I remember how pleased I was when the bottom half would bellow out like a parachute if I spun fast enough. I actually developed such a talent for it that when my parents had company they would call me into the room and say, “Spin, Ryan, spin!”. I guess my inclinations towards performing were fostered here – I loved the spotlight (or at least that patch of shag carpet in the living room that accelerated my twirling).
My pre-teen years were somewhat of a living nightmare. I stopped the twirling long before, and spent my time trying to understand why I was being bullied at school. I became quite introverted and shy, and took refuge in drawing. In some ways, perhaps this forced isolation helped me to develop as an artist. After all, I did end up graduating with a degree in fine arts. I try to make light of it now, but at that time, I clearly remember feeling so confused and hurt by the bullies’ actions. They somehow knew I was gay before I even knew what that meant, and they thought I should pay for it.
High school was a much better experience. I began to embrace the fact that I was never going to be “normal”, and there was freedom in that. I hung out with an eclectic group of friends, the “artsy” types, and I remain in touch with most of them to this day. It was during this time when I first kissed a guy. We were at a house party one night, one thing led to another, and voila, we were making-out. As soon as this happened, I immediately knew what I had been missing with the girls I’d been kissing. I wasn’t sure exactly how to come out, but I knew that I needed to start the process.
I also began really loving music when I was a teenager. With no chance to see live concerts in rural Nova Scotia, I tried to collect as many albums as possible, and watched MTV voraciously. The first artist I fell in love with was Tori Amos. As a gay teen in the middle of nowhere, Tori’s music made me feel like I was a part of something greater, more worldly. Then I was introduced to Joni Michell. I devoured every note and every lyric that Joni sang. I still adore her music, and it continues to influence me.
Another artist who has made a mark on me is Rufus Wainwright. I discovered Rufus just as I was beginning university, and I was thrilled that an openly gay man could rise to success while writing and performing songs about being openly gay. His songs and style propelled me to begin my own journey into music. I soon bought my first guitar, started to write, and then worked towards playing in small cafés and for friends in Halifax.
About 15 years have gone by since then, and I now find myself living and touring in Europe. I could never have imagined where my music would take me. And I am so grateful to those who listen and encourage me to express myself. Now, it’s time to do some twirling!