Pride Month is winding down but having pride in oneself every day is a forever mood. Enter Stephanie Gayle, a P.G. County, Maryland-bred, New York City-based, singer/songwriter and graphic designer who makes a life doing what she loves — spreading joy and educating the world about LGBTQ+ humanity through music.
Gayle comes from a musical family and began singing and writing during childhood. Today, the independent artist boasts of performances at venues like the Knitting Factory, Bowery Poetry Club, the Highline Ballroom and more. She has most notably lent her vocal talents to indie hip-hop fan favorites such as QN5 and Substantial, which helped her to acquire a unique fanbase composed largely of hip-hop heads. We all know that sometimes hip-hop can be notoriously homophobic, but it’s also a diverse genre started by underdogs for underdogs. According to Steph — who is unapologetically honest about who she is — it’s all love when it comes to her fans because they love her authenticity (and mellifluous voice, of course).
But Steph’s biggest fans are her family.
Singing is something that has always come naturally to her for obvious reasons. Growing up, Gayle was exposed to several genres of music. Her mom’s side of the family has the singers, and her father’s side has instrumentalists. So her family’s bond over music is strong. In fact, she has fond memories of jam sessions with her family that continue to this day. However, Gayle tells American Urban Radio Networks that she struggled with living in her truth— despite her family’s musical connection —especially after being forced to conform to gender norms as a child.
“My mom would often make me wear dresses,” says Gayle, “but I was always the kid that was aware, like, why is she making me do this? I want to be in jeans or shorts, and I want to move freely.”
Eventually, Gayle gave herself permission to move freely after making the decision at a young age to do what felt right. What felt right was being herself.
“I went to a religious retreat in Baltimore,” Gayle explains, “and the pastor was talking about living in your truth and being who you are. I was 17 at the time, and the sermon really allowed me to question if I was living in my truth, and it forced me to decide I was gonna declare my sexual identity.”
It was a hard reality for her parents to accept at first, but they eventually came around, which allowed Gayle to flourish and continue to explore her identity through life experiences and, of course, music. These days she’s balancing her passion for music with a day job, but she is constantly working on new tunes. Some of her most recent albums include, Christmas at 7222 and Songs About V.
We caught up with the singer/songwriter to chat about her evolving identity—including the adoption of “they” as a pronoun, embracing who you are in a world that is constantly trying to label, and how to survive as an independent musician. Here are four key takeaways:
I consider myself a lesbian. I’ve been pretty much aware of sexual identity since the age of four. I consider myself masculine, or a stud, and studs tend to be more aware of themselves early on. My mom would often make me wear dresses, but I knew [as a child] this was not my identity and that I wasn’t going to wear dresses and skirts when I grew up.
On Discovering Pronouns
I’m beginning to come into an understanding of my masculine side and acknowledge it much more. But I didn’t really adopt the non-binary side of myself until I spoke to my last girlfriend. She has friends that consider themselves non-binary, so I’d started looking into it more. It really wasn’t anything that had occurred to me before. I didn’t know much about the non-binary existence; I kind of tapped into it because I had done research on chromosomes. There are people that are born with not just XX and XY, but also X X,Y, XYY— different combinations. So, when people talk about gender, that’s what they’re referring to, those different makeups and combinations. That’s why there are so many gender identities as opposed to sexes. Sexes can make up so many of those combinations, but I think we’re coming into the binary discussion more. I’m beginning to accept it more even though I still embrace the feminine side of me too.
There’s a certain aggression that comes out in certain songs—especially when I talk about intimacy, love, sex and things of that nature that I think straight men like. But I have been making a conscious effort to speak to my community, too, because they’re the group that needs the loudest voice. I’m hoping I’m doing my part. I hope at some point my music does reach a wider audience, as well as all over the queer community. I want to create that conversation and let the straight community understand that we’re just people— gay, lesbian, transexual, non-binary and what have you. We’re just people, and we have very similar experiences.It doesn’t matter who you have the experience with, it’s still a human experience.
Advice for Indie Artists
I’m constantly learning how to hone my business and learning how to direct it. I can always find people that will buy my music, but I’m learning more and more that you definitely have to find your niche of people that will embrace you and make that work for you. As far as starting out, I’ve been very fortunate to have been around some very talented people. I’ve known Substantial since high school, but even then he was a super nice guy. So, having that connection to talented people you can connect with is important, and as long as you all enjoy what you’re doing together then you can go from there. So have a group of people that will challenge you and help you find direction, and just have fun. Enjoy the journey.