'My dream come true': How LGBTQ history was made with the 'Happiest Season' soundtrack

By Suzy Exposito, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Tranter: I grew up super lucky. When I came out, my parents barely flinched. My family was never traditional, so I was able to have high school boyfriends and bring them home for holidays. In this movie, though, it's a very traditional Christmas that they're trying to navigate their way through. There's a song on the album called "Chosen Family" that's about how your family can be a traditional family, or a chosen family (based on) romantic love, friendship love.

Quin: I've known Clea for 12 years, and we've spent a bunch of Christmases together. She and I were talking about how crazy it was that there wasn't a Christmas movie for gay people — for gay women specifically, as there are plenty of gay men in movies. I was like, "I want like a 'National Lampoon's Christmas,' but lesbian." What I love most about the movie is that it reflects a story that's still really common. Especially in North America, there's the struggle to come out, to accept who you are, to feel comfortable in heteronormative or religious spaces, to fit in with your family. It's not my story — I was very much embraced — but it still resonated because coming out is always kind of awkward.

Q: Did you consult with Clea DuVall on the soundtrack? What did she have in mind for the music?

Quin: When the movie was done, Clea called Sara and I and said: "I want you guys to write a song for the movie. I want it to sound like that big Mariah Carey Christmas song." And I'm like, "Do you mean the biggest Christmas song of all time?" And she's like, "Yeah, something like that!" And I'm like, "You clearly don't understand my abilities or how music works, but sure."

Tranter: I got first a call from Warner saying, "Hey, there's this movie and there's already a Tegan and Sara song attached." I said, "A queer holiday movie? This is literally my dream come true!" The movie is a classic holiday love story, it just happens to have this modern setting of two women in love. So I wanted to give it a classic holiday soundtrack feel.

Quin: Sara wrote a really depressing Christmas song about breakups — Sara always wants to write about divorce and sadness — and I went in and put bells and Christmassy sounds over it. Then we pulled it back to Mariah Carey territory!

Tranter: In the pandemic, I turned my house into a recording studio. The amount of sleigh bells brought to my home was truly shocking. There's this young Canadian woman named Kennedi who's an amazing songwriter and artist who's written for Ariana (Grande). And I was like, "I want to write these songs with a younger woman, because this movie is about younger women." Also, if we're trying to make a classic Christmas album, the most classic-sounding soul singer I know happens to also be a Black trans woman, and that was Shea Diamond. Clea was like, "Get Shea to your house!"

Q: Shea's song, "Mrs. Claus," rallies around the fact that so much of the magic behind Christmas is actually women's labor. ("Without Mrs. Claus there'd be no Christmas at all!")

Diamond: It is 2020 and women are still being erased. And before we even speak about Black trans women, let's speak about women in general. Women are being erased. They are second class or third class. I think of people like Kamala (Harris) and what it means to us to see the first woman vice president in 2020. We still have so many obstacles and so many barriers to cross. And so why not just get straight to the point? Fa-la-la-la-la, what about Mrs. Claus? Who's bringing Santa the milk and cookies? Who makes sure he's OK when he gets sick? Her story has never been told.


Quin: You just exploded my brain. Santa Claus gets all the praise!

Q: In "Happiest Season," a really important lesson for the community is that everyone has a different relationship to their sexuality — while some people are forced out of the closet, others may never come out at all. What's some advice you have for LGBTQ folks trying to navigate the holiday season?

Quin: For people who have a hard time around Christmas, I really think building your chosen family, building your own new traditions and shaking off the past, that's a key to finding your Christmas joy.

Diamond: I have an amazing chosen family in the LGBT community. As of late I've spent (holidays) with Justin. We'll get a phone call from Sam Smith or somebody else like, "Hey, what are you doing for the holidays?" And as I've reconnected more with my birth family, I still got my chosen family to guide me all the way because when you try to reconnect with family, some triggering things can happen. Emotions are flying everywhere. But it's been 10, 20 years, and life is too short.

Q: What is a formative Christmas memory you have?

Diamond: It's a long story, but I had just been reunited with my birth mother for the first time. She had been working her ass off, trying to figure out how to buy toys for all her kids, but she bought me a TV that I wanted. I heard her silently crying at nighttime because she was really stressing over the other kids. Me being the oldest child, I told her to take the TV back. So we took that TV back and got the kids something. I realize what really encompassed Christmas was the gift giving and not so much receiving.

Quin: As adults, Christmas became the only time Sara and I spent quality time together outside of our band. As our job got bigger and our schedule got busier, Christmas became this extremely special, coveted period of time and we wanted to protect that. Our parents got divorced and remarried, and we were done being passed around. So one year we invited the whole family to Palm Springs, and it's been like that for years. We have new traditions: We don't do gifts, we don't have Christmas dinner, nobody's emptying the dishwasher. Now we just sit by the pool, go to Target, buy Christmas hats we don't need and enjoy our time together.

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