I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray: Tegan and Sara’s “Back in Your Head”

I feel a little silly reviewing a song, compared to a movie or TV series; it’s mere minutes of a story, plus the convention of repeating choruses gives me precious few words to work with. But this is a song that I’ve always enjoyed, but which is only starting to make sense to me.

(I still don’t really have an explanation for the video, except that it looks cool and Tegan and Sara are cuties.)

And then, just because I’m sure to be quoting bits of them, the lyrics:

Build a wall of books between us in our bed.
Repeat, repeat, the words that I know we both said.
Relax into the need, we get so comfortable.
Remember when I was so strange and likeable?

I just want back in your head.
I just want back in your head.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.
When I get a little scared,
When I get a little scared,
When I get a little,

When I jerk away from holding hands with you,
I know these habits hurt important parts of you.
Remember when I was sweet and unexplainable?
Nothing like this person, un-loveable.

I just want back in your head.
I just want back in your head.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.
When I get a little scared,
When I get a little scared,
When I get a little scared,
When I get a little,
Run, run, run, run.
Run, run, run, run.
I just want back in your head.
I just want back in your head.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.

(See what I mean about repeating chorusus?)

Anyway, as much as I liked this song, I just could never figure out the line “I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.” How is that even possible? I’m not hot, but I’m warm? I’m not purple, but I’m violet? But I knew it had to mean something, or else they wouldn’t repeat it eight bajillion times (I counted.)

Especially after I learned that Tegan and Sara were gay (hurray!), I started to “get” it; I think it’s about a relationship that is failing, not necesarily because of problems among the two people, but because of the strain that being out can have on a couple. For support, the lines “When I jerk away from holding hands with you,/ I know these habits hurt important parts of you,” which makes me think of PortlyDyke’s post, Take My Arm, My Love (read it!), especially since it’s “when I get a little scared.”

And finally I came to the thought that that’s what the “straying” is. It’s not actually cheating on your beloved, but it’s the way you suddenly pretend you have no idea who they are when someone comes in the room. It’s the way you reply to “I love you” with “yeah” when you could be overheard. The way all your photos of your beloved disappear into drawers. Maybe it’s the way you turn down a good date because it would be in too public a place. It’s not unfaithful, technically, but it’s still a betrayal of the relationship. One’s partner matters, as a person, and that should be apparent in one’s life, not in a “it is the right thing to do” kind of way, but by definition. Someone who matters has a visible impact. If one is not allowed to be true…what about the other?

But at the same time, everyone gets scared. And I certainly find that as a woman and as a lesbian, my fight-or-flight response has been trained into a flight-dear-god-flight response. Run, run, run, run. So…I’ll start going into closet-mode almost against my will, when something penetrates my dangerously-thick safety bubble. I’ve done the “best friend” thing, the “not here, people are looking.” All the little ways of pulling away that are so painful. It hasn’t really happened for years, not since I turned 18 and became a lot more independent of my parents, but the instinct is still there.

I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.

When I get a little scared.

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8 Responses to I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray: Tegan and Sara’s “Back in Your Head”

  1. Crowfoot says:

    awww this makes me all sniffly 😦 One of the things that I love about Michfest (I may mention that festival at least once a week until August I’m afraid) is seeing all these lesbians unabashedly, unashamedly, without fear, holding hands or kissing, or lying together half naked in the grass, in the sun, listening to music. Safe. It breaks my heart a little, to leave it.

    But I’m also determined to make that a reality everyday. When I start dating again I’m going to try hard to not stray, to not run. I don’t know how brave I’ll be. I’ve been brave before, some years ago.

    as for the video – I suspect that it’s about being out – there they are on stage, everyone watching. everyone (all in white) are rocking their heads to the music, except for the one in black who doesn’t. The colours of the audience changes – rows and bunches of red appear and disappear and move around, but always in the minority. I kept thinking of “black sheep of the family” and how we’re only 10% of the population. But then the person dressed in black becomes several people dressed in black, then the people dressed in black take over the entire audience and come on stage. Then Tegan and Sarah run and run. But come back to the stage and look out and see one lone person in white.

    So I think it’s about shifting opinions and demographics? being alone in a group, being a minority?

    anyways, this was lovely, thank you. And I second the PortlyDyke recomendation *sniff*

  2. Samantha says:

    This is such a beautiful song. Reviewing songs/music are just like looking for television/movies/media for all different kinds of analysis, its own text provided for you.

    Tegan and Sara are just amazing, I have a shirt that says “Tegan and Sara are my homegirls” and they truly are.

  3. Samantha says:

    it its*

  4. The song reminds me that when I feel like my ability to be myself is threatened, I have a tendency to silence myself before others do it for me. I do this for my religious beliefs (I went to a church that told me I couldn’t possibly love because of my nonchristianity for an entire summer – I definitely didn’t learn to love myself), my bisexuality (the only place I’m out is the internet, in various safe-space environments), my politics, my aspirations to veganism, my hairy armpits, and all that goddamn swearing…everything that makes me who I am, really. And this tendency scares me – am I that insecure in my beliefs and sexuality that I can’t stick up for myself? Is this silence an expression of self-hatred? Of acquiescence and subservience to some close-minded bully’s desire to get me to shut the fuck up? I’m not unfaithful to my beliefs – I still believe them as much as ever, but I stray from acknowledging them, from allowing anybody else to see “this person, un-loveable.” I stray from allowing anything to crack that “strange and likeable” chocolate coating to get at the opinionated, presumed undesirable nut-center.

    As far as relationships go, I want my significant other to be, well, significant. I want it to be crystal clear to all involved that this person is one of the most important people in my life, that I am romantically involved with this person, (falling) madly in love for being who they are, regardless of whether or not our genitals are similar. And I find it all kinds of fucked up that if society notices we share a sex, we’ll have to censor ourselves to be deemed acceptable to the same bigots that scare me into silence already. That I have to obfuscate my relationship (“Hey mister. She’s my sister!” to borrow from Rent) to not worry as much about being forced into submissive silence once again. In celebrity-land, Lindsay Lohan’s relationship to Samantha Ronson is treated as a novelty or flirtation, not a years-long serious relationship built on mutual respect and desire. I don’t want my relationships to be trivialized (“She’s only bicurious. She’ll come back to men once she’s bored with it.”) because it doesn’t fit into the heterocentric view that most of society takes. I want them to be seen for what they are. And yeah, my attraction is primarily to males, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a serious relationship with a female (and I’m preaching to the choir, but oh well).

    And in the video, I think there’s a lot of symbolism going on there, though I’m not sure what to make of it. Tegan and Sara both being clothed in black and white (and the designs on the shirts – the skull and the sideways face), the black-clothed menaces controlling things in the factory-setting, the two nude female statues framing the stage, the organized blocks of red-clothed people while the black-clothed and white-clothed seem more randomly distributed. I think that last scene, where they stand by each other as curtain closes in front of a menacing audience is very much a PD “Take my hand, my love” moment – a decision to be vocal in the face of adversity. Their faces in that moment look determined, where before the glances they exchanged as the black-clothed people took over the auditorium were worried and frightened.

    As far as Tegan and Sara being cuties, I for one haven’t seen anybody rock a mullet that hard. And I’d never heard of them before – I love it, and will probably obsessively listen to them for a week or two. 🙂

  5. […] are lots of ways in which we subconsciously change our behaviours to be safe, ways in which we stray from fidelity to our own sense of self. Scott’s writing illustrates that, bringing to life aspects of my […]

  6. Satsuma says:

    As time goes by, lesbians learn courage. A lot has changed since I first met my partner in 1975. We all worked together to create a lesbian feminist movement and lesbian space and Michigan and everything.
    It always takes courage to be out and proud, and the more courage you practice the easier life becomes. It’s fun to see how much progress has been made on issues we’ve worked on for well over 30 years now 🙂 I smile to myself thinking how we worked on lesbian and gay marriage starting in 1987, so far ahead of our times. That’s the joy in the process. So good luck to the next generation of lesbians here!! We’ve never been alone, we’ve always been the pioneers of a 1000 years.

  7. books says:

    “I still don’t really have an explanation for the video, except that it looks cool and Tegan and Sara are cuties.”

    damn right they are. especially tegan. i have a huge crush on her. :/

  8. Roo says:

    The protagonist of the song has difficulty with emotional intimacy, and while committed to her partner physical she knows deep down inside when things are starting to feel too close emotionally she get scared. In that fear she will self sabotage the relationship by holding back or worst be cruel, is was like allowing herself to emotionally engage with an outsider; to stray from the commitment but still technically being fateful. A dysfunctional way of protecting oneself from getting hurt by controlling the the relationship and doing the hurting first. A way of running from what you want the most.

    A quintessential Tegan & Sara song seemly simplistic but yet one very much with complexity and depth.

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