"Nature versus Nurture" | An exploration of the cycle "Define Me" by Brian Armbrust

I’ve always known. I haven’t always had a name for it, or known what it meant, but I’ve always known. It’s funny how I can look back and see all the clues in old photos, in the way I wanted to spend my time – lost in some world of imagination that didn’t involve sports, or whatever it is I was supposed to be interested in as a young boy.

I’ve always known. Growing up in the south I was never allowed to forget. A happy kid playing and minding my own business when someone runs by and yells “Sissy!” and then goes about playing kickball or whatever they were doing. Leaving me to sit there and wonder what I had done to make them so mad at me.

I’ve always known. “God Hates Fags!” Wait…that’s me, right? I mean, that’s what all the kids at school would yell out at me. It’s hard not to be scared of religion when all you hear about is how there’s a special place in some eternal land of judgment waiting just for you.

I’ve always known. I’ve always known that you’re wrong. I’m one of the lucky ones that frankly doesn’t care how you want to define me. That isn’t your right. I’m not giving you that power. But guess what – we aren’t all lucky. I hope that my music helps at least one person out there know that they aren’t alone.

When I began thinking about how I could express what my queerness means to me, my mind jumped to this idea of being “defined” by others and to this old point of debate of Nature versus Nurture. I came up with the answer to that debate many moons ago; Who cares?

The thinker in me is fascinated by the science behind it all – hormones this and DNA that – but the queer punk in me knows that when it is all said and done it doesn’t matter one bit. It doesn’t matter if I was “made this way” from patterns of proteins or from some childhood experience. The only thing that matters is that I AM. Period. Full Stop. It isn’t up to anyone else to accept me for my queerness; I’m the only one that can do that.

So, when I set about determining what a song cycle would look like that shared my experience with the world I landed on a few things:

1.       It would be called Define Me

2.       The three songs that immediately existed in my head were “Nature”, “Nurture”, and “Small Town Queen”

3.       It would be the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to create

I had no clue how true #3 would end up being. I had to go back and revisit the 15 year old kid inside me that still recalls the pain of coming out to his mother. Our relationship is great now, and I couldn’t ask for a closer or more loving connection with her; but, that day was one of the most emotionally painful days of my life. It’s only now that I can look back and understand that she wasn’t the person sitting on the couch with me that day – it was some idea that had been created by influences from outside of her nature as a loving mother and human being. This idea of how we, as a society, should react to the queerness in others. Religion was speaking (but only from the darkest most twisted parts that have the fingerprints of humans all over them), and the hateful words from the mouths of bigots (which are often allowed to ring out and loud because we are scared to shout back), and the lies in the guise of science from old dusty texts (because we think we know so much about so many things) were speaking. This one moment in my life shaped this entire cycle and upon retrospect shaped me into who I am.

The cycle is called Define Me because you can’t. Only I can. I’ve structured the piece into 6 songs with three of them focused on the societal influences I mentioned earlier; each of which is entitled “Define Me” with the subtitles “How are the mighty fallen!” (religion), “Slurred” (bigotry), and “Homosexuality” (lies in the guise of science). The three other songs, “Nature”, “Small Town Queen”, and “Nurture”, are direct responses to the “Define Me” songs.

The songs map my journey from a scared 15 year old boy baring his soul to the world to a 40 year old man that knows who he is and embraces the journey that made him. I have defined me. I’ve always known…it just took me a while to figure out the best way to let the rest of you know.


This is me.
This is love.

I am rooted here.
This is my core.

My wounds are there, and there, and there.
They have made me strong, and weak, and strong.

This is me.
This is love.

-Brian Armbrust

Brian is the founder and General & Artistic Director of Seattle Art Song Society.

Brian is the founder and General & Artistic Director of Seattle Art Song Society.