“I Contemplated Taking My Life Many Times”: An Interview with Parker Long
The musician/composer expounds on his coming out journey.
This is the second interview in the “Queer South” series, in which I shed light on LGBTQIA+ individuals thriving in the American South.
Clay: Where are you from?
Parker: I was born in Jackson, Tennessee on February 5, 2000. My parents were married in ‘89, March 4. They waited to have me because they wanted to be financially stable before having kids.
Clay: Do you have any siblings?
Parker: I have a twin brother, who is 2 minutes younger than me. He’s a bodybuilder. Ripped. Has a girlfriend and lives in Virginia. Our dynamic wasn’t good until about a year and a half ago.
Clay: Why was that?
Parker: I was the outgoing, witty kid, and he was in the background. I’m outgoing around everybody, and I have an opinion on everything. I was also the control freak. I tried controlling things because I didn’t want him to get hurt.
Clay: When did you realize you were gay?
Parker: When I was 10, in third grade. I hadn’t hit puberty yet. I looked at some guys one day, and I was like, “You’re, like, really handsome. You’re, like, really pretty.” I had so many fucking girlfriends because that was the social norm. I just never knew how to put a handle on it until I was well through puberty in junior high.
Clay: When did you come out?
Parker: I came out to my parents in October 2014. It was nighttime. I was really upset, and my dad — he’s really empathic — saw that I was upset, so he sat down with me.
I was shaking. I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how to say it. I finally wrote that I was bisexual on a sticky-note because that was an easy cop-out. At least you get half of me, I thought. He gave me the biggest hug and told me we would get through it. I was fourteen. I thought I was okay.
Then they forgot about it. One night, I heard my parents crying, and that continued for a while.
Clay: How did you cope?
Parker: I joined marching band at Jonesboro High School because music was a safe haven for me. My teachers always pushed me into music. I started writing. It never seemed like something I got from my parents.
I also started rebelling, talking to this guy, who was straight. He had this overwhelming sense of shit hole-ness, but I didn’t realize that at the time. He would bring me Monsters and coffee for first period because he knew it was the right thing to do. We stopped talking, and then I started talking to another guy. He was territorial, in that he had to be friends with everyone I was friends with to keep a hold on things.
Then, on September 25, 2015, we shared our first kiss on the way home from a band competition in Pocahontas. It was the turning point. I realized then that I was a big ol’ homo. My parents didn’t take kindly to it. My Dad took me to his old Leachville home, and we looked through all our memories. His name and his brother’s name are still on the basketball post, and the swing set my grandfather put up was still there. While we were there, he talked to me about the value of family, how a person will go to the ends of the Earth to protect their loved ones. He thought what I was doing was harmful, but I can’t condemn him because that’s how he was raised and what he believed.
Clay: Did you continue seeing the guy?
Parker: Yes. On September 29, we started dating. It was the biggest mistake of my life, but not for reasons my Mom and Dad thought. He wanted to make sure every gay person close to me wanted him so that they wouldn’t want me. He didn’t realize what he was doing, but now I kind of do. I was manipulated, but there was nothing I could do because it was my first gay relationship. I couldn’t let him go because I knew nothing else other than him, and I certainly couldn’t give my parents the opportunity to say, “I told you so.” I became a bitter person, so I had to get on anti-depressants that next year.
Clay: How long did this last?
Parker: Until June 25, 2016. He broke up with me that day, and then my Mom took me to a church conference on June 26th. I convinced them that I had changed, but the entire time I was talking to him. I should have let him go, but he was good at weaseling his way back in.
Around this time, I was also taken to a hypnotherapist to “reverse my mind”. The thought was that if he could tap into it, maybe he could fix the situation. But even he said I was a homosexual, and there was nothing anyone could do to change it. I contemplated taking my life many times.
Parker: Yes. I came really fucking close.
Clay: Can you remember what stopped you?
Parker: No, I can’t remember any of the details.
Clay: Let’s delve deeper into your safe haven then, your music business. How did that come about?
Parker: My Mom and Dad were good at pushing my brother and me into what we loved. When I was younger, I gave everyone a copy of my music. Then, one day, my Dad told me to start a business. “Get a website,” he said, “Invest in this.” So I did. He talks about us everywhere he goes, about my achievements at Arkansas State.
Eventually, I was sought out by people asking to see my music, so I sent my stuff to directors all over the country. I also got involved in Phi Mu Alpha Music Fraternity at ASU, the same fraternity Fred Rogers was in.
Clay: No way!
Parker: Yeah. It’s really cool. I got connected to a publishing company whose owners were Sinfonians. I also got connected to military bands in America, and to the Royal Air Force in England.
Basically, a couple of people picked up my stuff and liked it. That’s all I wanted. They felt what I felt but in their own way. That’s what makes music special to me. Of course, I still make sure my parents are the first to hear my stuff.
Clay: Do you think being gay has influenced your music?
Parker: I wouldn’t be as good of a musician if I wasn’t gay. Like I said, music is my safe haven. The arts is my safe haven. Anything that has to do with expressing suppressed emotion. It makes everything I produce more beautiful. I wouldn’t have the value of accepting other people if I didn’t know the struggles myself. What I can do is express my life through music, through one meaning that can be completely seen as having an underlying meaning.
Clay: Thank you for sharing your music and your story with me. I appreciate it.