Got an aching heart? Has school got you down? Want to talk it out, rather than text it out? Leave your heart at the tone; Queer Voicemails is here to listen.
The project, showcased on Instagram, is a culmination of anonymous voicemails left by LGBT+ folks from all over. Some stumble on their words, while others confidently assert their love for another. The result is a heartwarming and sometimes heart-wrenching look into the lives of queer people.
Since they launched the project in May, partners Mariella Mosthof and Lauren Burrows have acted as the self-proclaimed “warm, parental, mid-thirties dykes that you call to spill all your feelings to” through their anonymous voicemail line. There are no rules as to what one may leave after the beep; it just has to be under 60 seconds, and it has to be a voicemail—not a text or a DM.
Burrows said that the project blossomed from a poem she wrote during quarantine.
“In the middle of quarantine, I just wanted a project to do,” she says. “In the process, I started writing a poem in the style of a voicemail and it sprung the idea.” She told Mosthof about it, who was immediately on board. Soon enough, @queervoicemails was born, consisting of Burrows, who creates the Instagram graphics, and Mosthof, who transcribes the voicemails.
As millennials, Mosthof and Burrows say they grew up with old-school tape-recorder answering machines—and became the generation stereotyped as being afraid of talking on the phone.
“We thought a cool exposure element of the project would be to force people to use voicemails as their medium,” Mosthof says.
If the idea of leaving a voicemail is more or less like pulling teeth for you, you’re not alone. Despite Queer Voicemails being an entirely anonymous venting service, Burrows and Mosthof say some messengers have been reluctant or even critical of their voicemail leaving skills.
“We got a voicemail recently where the person ended up calling back right after they left the first voicemail,” Burrows says. “In reality, the first voicemail was perfect; it was all of what it needed to be.”
Indeed, as Mosthof says, there is no right or wrong way to leave a voicemail. So why has the voicemail, formerly a staple of communication for those who grew up without cell phones, become so taboo, or even frightening for some? Perhaps it’s the layer of vulnerability that comes with saying what we feel out loud. We can rehearse our voice messages all we want, but ultimately what’s said is what stays. We cannot self-edit our spoken words as we can with writing. For this reason, the anonymous voicemail can capture our most honest feelings, so as long as we give ourselves the agency to express them.
Though no two messages the duo receives are exactly the same, they say many themes have arisen; most commonly, people leaving messages for past lovers.
“I would say the biggest theme is people talking to their exes,” Burrows says. “It provides them with a way of speaking to them if there’s still a boundary.”
“I appreciate the people who need the space to get it out and come to us instead,” Mosthof adds. “Yell it into the void of queer voicemails!”
One of the most profound things to spring from Queer Voicemails is callers coming out for the first time over the phone. Burrows says many of their callers are younger and talk about going back to school amid the chaos of the pandemic.
“We’ve had callers that actually came out to Queer Voicemails,” says Burrows. “At the end of it they’re like ‘Oh my god, that felt good.’” She adds that younger people may be searching for a support system—whether they know it or not. And while Queer Voicemails may be virtual, the community of callers remains a sanctuary for users to feel connected.
In the LGBT+ community, sharing experiences is connective. With an overwhelmingly positive response from the community, Burrows and Mosthof say they hope to continue to spark these connections by lending an ear and sharing 60-second queer soundbites from coast to coast.
“We’re excited to see how many more callers we get,” Mosthof says. “We hope that it continues to bring comfort, feeling, and whatever folks need during this time.”
By Cierra Bettens