Learning From Lily

December 09, 2021

By Scott Helman

Scott Helman has established himself as one of Canada’s leading singer-songwriters. Since the release of his breakthrough 2016 EP Augusta, the seven-time JUNO Award nominee has dominated the Canadian music scene with his 2017 debut full-length Hôtel de Ville and 2018 EP Hang Ups, earning three platinum and three gold certifications to date, plus collaborations with Alessia Cara and Hunter Hayes, as well as tours with the likes of Tegan and Sara, Shawn Mendes, Vance Joy, Walk Off The Earth and Dean Lewis. Earlier this year, Scott was selected as a panelist on CBC’s Canada Reads, following the release of his sophomore album Nonsuch Park (sa), which featured the explosive gold-certified lead single “Wait No More,” the #1 most added song at Canadian radio upon its release. Since 2019, Scott has invited his fans to sign a document he named the Evergreen Manuscript, an effort to draw attention to the climate crisis and help cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half. Scott collected nearly 1,000 submissions, and through his “MayDay” initiative – which was lauched during the COVID lockdown – is encouraging fans to help deliver the document to politicians and corporate leaders around the world.

Pledge to Take Action

(Courtesy of Scott Helman)

When I met Lily, they were standing huddled in the rain, and I was doing everything I could in my power to not speak. I was on tour somewhere in Canada, and I had an ungodly flu. I could barely sing, and I had a big show that night.

But there was Lily, and Lily’s mom, and Lily’s sister, and they formed an unavoidable barrier between my tour bus and the venue. It was 3pm, and I just needed to get inside to soundcheck. I really didn’t want to talk.

So I waved. They said hi. I got inside quickly and closed the door. Phew…

But something felt wrong. I don’t know what, but it just did. That kid with the shaved head and thick-rimmed glasses. If this show was bound to suck, I might as well make someone’s day?

When I went back out, I said instantly, “Guys I’m so sick. Stay away!” but they didn’t seem to care. They came closer. I asked if they were coming to the show. They said they didn’t have tickets. So I got Lily’s mom’s number and told her I would put them on the guest list. Just text me. Ok? We took a photo. I went back inside. Easy! Done. On to the next.

The show didn’t suck. It wasn’t my best show, but it didn’t suck. I thought about that family on stage; it made me happy to know they could be there.

When I was finished, my opener Ralph came up to me – she told me she spoke with a woman downstairs – that her kid was queer, maybe trans, not sure. They were going through a horrible time.

The music helped. It saved their life, in their words. The show meant a lot. I texted Lily’s mom; I asked if I could be a friend. If I could help.

That was when I really met Lily.

It’s August, and I’m walking through downtown Los Angeles. The smell is deathly. Evil. Corrosive. There are sounds I’ve never imagined I would hear. The way the sidewalk fizzes against the air like ice cream hitting soda is nauseating, like hot lava, ready to burn up flecks of dust. But my smile won’t be invaded, not by anything. Because on the other line is Lily, who I keep misgendering, and who keeps laughing it off and calling me an idiot, reading me the potential dates for their top surgery. And they are talking like it’s Christmas, and I’m asking how that can be if it’s about a surgery, and they explain that to be gender non-binary is to be a walking protest; and I get that, I feel that in my bones.

I wear my smile like a sign for Lily as a man with one shoe screams “WHO AM I?” into the sidewalk. And I swear as I turn back to look, the flecks of dust in his eyebrows are an inch from burning up into flames.

“I tried to die once,” says Lily, “and I was so numb I felt no pain.”

The man finds his shoe. His eyebrows are okay.

“Now I want to live, and I’m about to be in a lot of pain.”

We both laugh hard. The man turns a corner, skipping.

Me and Lily talk once a month. Sometimes they’re okay, and sometimes I’m okay. Sometimes we’re both bad. Sometimes just one. 

Lily goes by Will for a while, but they change it back. I see more each day that being a friend is also to not try and fix. It’s just to listen and care. Even if you’re older. Even if you have an answer. 

So we cry about parents, how they have trouble understanding. We laugh about hamsters, how we buy them but they die so quickly. We disagree about music, even the stuff we both like. 

“It’s weird I was a fan when we met.” They say with disgust.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I reply, half offended, half holding in my laugh. “So you’re not a fan anymore?” 

No. I know too much now…”

We laugh hysterically. They go quiet.

“Would you have been my friend if I wasn’t like this?”

“Would you have been mine if I wasn’t?”

And so we countdown the days until the outside of one of us can fit just right. Maybe then we would know that what’s inside is what makes us each other.

Lily isn’t fixed, but they’re better. And It’s everything they wanted. It’s always going to be hard, but it’s everything they wanted. They’re grateful- so so so so so grateful that their mom is supportive and dad is supportive and sister is supportive, and OMG IT’S FLAT. It’s flat. My name is Lily, and I’m flat. And I’m wearing my smile-sign again. I ask what I can do they say be you. Be you, be you, be you. That’s what you can do. Just be you whoever you are today. 

And so I am me today, for Lily.

Yesterday I texted Lily. We hadn’t spoken in a while. They said they were good. We laughed about the song Apple Bottom Jeans. Then they said they liked my new song. It’s called Pretty. I wore a dress in the video. I play with gender in the lyrics. I was worried. I was worried I was taking up space that wasn’t mine. That I was interfering in a landscape that wasn’t for me.

Lily said sexuality and gender are an infinite spectrum of possibilities. They say so long as I use queer voices and listen to them and use my platform to uphold them, there’s no issue. I tell Lily I want to uphold their voice. They say thank you, that it means a lot. I write this to Lily and for Lily. I hold my smile for Lily and put on blush for Lily. Because I feel like it. 

Because Lily told me to be me. And that’s the best gift I’ve ever received from a friend.

Pledge to Take Action