Why I Heart: Jenny Owen Youngs


Every day in March, a different writer will be talking about a woman they admire, all in honour of International Women’s Day. Today, TYCI contributor, writer and blogger Lisa-Marie Ferla talks about her love of singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs.


I was always one of those irritating girls with a folder covered in other people’s lyrics. Perhaps I thought it made me look like a creative type; perhaps I thought it made me look profound. Perhaps I was just really, really bored in a Public International Law lecture and hey, what does it matter because now I get to make my own words anyway. No, don’t look at that tattoo. My point is that I was somewhere in my mid 20s, sacrificing my heart on the altar of what I would LOVE to be able to claim was my last doomed romance, and I had found somebody who – just six months older than I was – had already put it all to music.

There had always been songs I would claim as my own – a verse here, a stanza there, a lovelorn five foot eight inches of messy-haired Americana I could pretend was singing just to me. But Batten the Hatches by Jenny Owen Youngs was the first album I could imagine singing: both for the words, and for the fact that the singer’s husky alto matched my own.

Like most of the great songwriters, Jenny Owen Youngs hails from New Jersey. She loves dinosaurs, her cat Trey and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She spent 2012 visiting various New York museums and writing songs based on the things she found there.

Her best-known song is based around the word “fuck”, sums up a good 85% of your romantic history and never got played in its entirety when it soundtracked a pivotal scene during the second series premiere of Weeds.

(No, what the fuck were you thinking when you made this video, Jenny?)

Thanks to her profligate use of social media and expert handling of crowdfunding campaigns, I tricked myself into thinking Jenny Owen Youngs was my best friend. I mean, I ordered a CD from her one time, and it arrived with a letter from her mum. So it made sense that, in 2012, when Frank Turner announced that she would be opening his US shows I emailed my friend Whitney and was, like, should I max my credit card and come see you in Boston? And she replied, dude, I already got us tickets.

But she wasn’t my best friend. So it was a surprise, albeit not entirely an astonishing one, when in 2013 she announced that she was “super gay” in an open letter on youth advocacy website Everyone Is Gay.

In a perfect world, nobody would have to experience any of the negative side-effects of figuring out that you’re gay, which can include feeling confused, shameful, afraid, lost, or alone. In a perfect world, everyone could just like who they like, and get on with it.

Spoiler alert: We do not live in a perfect world.

… I’ve come to realize in recent months that a big part of my desire to hide this aspect of myself was rooted in those dusty old feelings: that there is something wrong, something bad, something less-than about being gay.

It brings me no pleasure to admit to you that I have felt those feelings. I want to appear strong, because I feel strong now. But at the same time I know it is important – perhaps even the whole point of writing this thing – to make myself vulnerable. Because I know that there are human beings out in the world who understand these feelings but cannot give them a name. I want to tell you that it’s okay to feel messed up. Feeling messed up is a part of life, but it is not the only part. And the only way out of that feeling is through.

Two months later, Jenny married Everyone Is Gay co-founder Kristin Russo. Now, when I check my Instagram, I feel as though I have two best friends. Plus, Trey is super cute.

What’s the old saying: be yourself, everyone else is already taken? That, and Nelly’s Hot In Herre is 14,000 times better when sung by a queer woman. As anybody who has ever attended one of my TYCI DJ sets can attest.

[Lisa-Marie Ferla]

Read more in our special International Women’s Day Why I Heart series HERE.

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