When I was sixteen, I started to bring a purse along with me to school. Well, OK, it wasn’t a purse so much as it was a repurposed tote bag, because I was neither cool or fashionable at the time, but what it represented to me was my first break with prescribed gender norms. It was born out of a desire to be “one of the girls,” an idea I had back before I knew that there were people out there bucking the binary altogether. That bag would end up playing a major role in my coming out — I distinctly remember standing in my living room a few months later, and my mom was needling me about carrying it around: “What, does this mean you’re gay or something?” I’m not sure what made me decide that was the right time, but I remember clutching onto that bag and responding, “What if I told you I am?” A dead air hung in the room for a few seconds and then I started to cry, feeling like I could finally breathe for the first time in a long while. The purse ended up being a phase, a stepping stone in a long line of them in the constant negotiation between my identity and society.
Adult Mom’s debut full-length, Momentary Lapse Of Happily is about that negotiation. Not just over identity, but also the fight between what you deserve and what you get, the power imbalance that plagues bad relationships, the struggle between being consumed by your trauma and overcoming it. It focuses on the little moments — where decisions like carrying around a tote bag for a few months serve as the catalyst for big change, where assertions of identity blossom into self-realization. Or don’t. But the power is in the movement, in finding the freedom and comfort to explore.
“Thought I lost me, but there I was,” Steph Knipe sings on closing track “Lose/Recover.” That sense of loss is universal, but the feeling that there’s a real possibility you may never find your place is, I think, unique to the queer experience. Knipe provides a light at the end of the tunnel, and Momentary Lapse Of Happily is a testament to the power of perseverance, even while recognizing that there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way. I don’t know that it’s fully relatable to people who haven’t gone through that. Not that it isn’t an enjoyable record outside of that context — the twee-pop vein Knipe taps into on these songs is instantly likable — but, for those who need it, the album will serve as a beacon. Not in the simplistic It Gets Better sense, but more in an It Gets Possible way, where there’s a promise that the overwhelming anxiety and confusion of it all will someday abide, or you’ll at least find an outlet where you can let it all out in a constructive way. Knipe has their songs; other people have writing, painting — whatever makes you feel fulfilled.
A few weeks ago, a commenter noted that they didn’t really understand the title of the record. On the surface, it seems to be a reference to the Pink Floyd album of a similar name, but I’ve been thinking about it in the time since and have come up with this: Moments that we feel truly OK with ourselves are fleeting. It’s not a negative thing, just a fact of life — there will always be some new anxiety, some fresh struggle to tackle. But I remember those moments where I do feel fine, and draw on them in the times when I’m feeling not so OK. Those momentary lapses of happily are essential to who we are; they shape us, even if we can’t live up to that ideal every second. To end the record on that note, and then highlight it again as the title, is an important statement.
“Everyone has a different experience with queerness, and to me, that’s why it’s so sick,” Knipe said in an excellent Impose profile that accompanied the debut of the album. This is their experience, but it could also help with yours. Listen below.