Are You *Actually* Safe to Come Out To?

Happy Pride! It’s such a lovely day to be queer.

It’s hard to celebrate with pure enthusiasm this year, given the slew of anti-trans bills being passed across the country (more on that soon). Trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people are facing a fresh wave of violence, and most of our cis friends remain silent, even many of our cisqueer community members. A lot of the trans people I know are frustrated beyond belief, scared, and angry, yet still determined as ever to continue to honor ourselves and our community in our words and actions.

In light of this and other events, it can be really jarring to see the perhaps-inevitable social media posts from cis (and especially allocishet) people that say something along the lines of “I am a safe person to come out to!!” Every time I see one of these posts, my gut instinct is actually to think, no, you’re not. And today I want to sit with that a little and break down why.

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yes, this is a skill set

Hi there, everyone.

Holy crap.

If you’re reading this, we’ve made it past the ICD Review. Hopefully I’ll be able to take a few weeks after this and talk about something else, both on my blog and with my partner. I’ve got a few weeks’ worth of thoughts pre-loaded for you, but before I get to that, I wanted to take a moment to sit with y’all in the wake of this massive effort.

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The ICD Internal Review Part 3: Resign, Rob (And Other Big Takeaways)

Eleven pages of ICD's 2020 internal review, layered on top of each other, fill the frame. They are heavily marked up, with underlines, scribbles in the margin, and seven colors of highlighter denoting important sections of text. The number "3" is overlaid over the picture in a large black serif font.

Welcome back! Today we’re wrapping up our multi-day adventure through the ICD review. If you haven’t read the previous installments, I recommend checking out Part 1 and Part 2. After we conclude our point-by-point walkthrough, I’m going to mention some major concerns I didn’t get to talk about previously. As always, thanks for being here! I would’ve given up at Point 10 without y’all.

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The ICD Internal Review Part 2: Holy Plagiarism, Batman

Eleven pages of ICD's 2020 internal review, layered on top of each other, fill the frame. They are heavily marked up, with underlines, scribbles in the margin, and seven colors of highlighter denoting important sections of text. The number "2" is overlaid over the picture in a large black serif font.

Greetings, one and all, and welcome back to our multi-day escapade through the ICD internal review. If you’re new here, fear not! You can go back and read Part 1 to catch up on what we’ve discussed previously. Today, we’re finishing our look at ICD’s communications breakdown; we’ll also discuss ICD’s impact on composers, touch briefly on tokenism, and begin the long slog through the leadership review. I can’t say any one part of the report is the review’s darkest hour, but today’s chunk is certainly a contender. Let’s dive in.

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The ICD Internal Review Part 1: There’s No Policy Like No Policy

Eleven pages of ICD's 2020 internal review, layered on top of each other, fill the frame. They are heavily marked up, with underlines, scribbles in the margin, and seven colors of highlighter denoting important sections of text. The number "1" is overlaid over the picture in a large black serif font.

Good evening, folks, and welcome to my analysis of the 2020 ICD Internal Review. After spending months systematically failing the marginalized composers they claim to advocate for, the Institute for Composer Diversity has finally taken time to stop making non-apologies and engage in some institutional introspection. While this internal review should’ve been external, this document is the most comprehensive look we’ve ever gotten at ICD’s policies, goals, and priorities. On the surface, it looks good; they grapple with many criticisms from the past year, and they make some effective changes. However, a deeper dive reveals a heavily-plagiarized document that hides major issues while further stigmatizing the composers in its care.

Overall, the review reflects the legacy of performative activism ICD has grown into. I believe the review team did their best, but the Institute doesn’t walk the walk. This hamstrings their efforts—particularly while Director Rob Deemer refuses to relinquish control.

That sucks, because I wanted better. I used to be listed in the database; Rob informally recruited me to be a data-entry lackey when I met him at the International Women’s Brass Conference in 2019. Hell, I loaned ICD one of my blog posts last spring before realizing the full extent of their harm! I want to believe this organization that gets mentions in the New York Times is doing intersectional, antiracist work to tangibly better the lives of marginalized composers. I want to believe I don’t need to warn my band director friends every time I hear they’re looking for a new batch of ensembles to recruit. But I can’t believe in ICD when they have the chance to do something right yet squander it with linguistic carelessness and inconsistent policy decisions.

It’s important that we analyze both ICD’s sweeping policy choices and the little wording decisions they make along the way. Many of ICD’s (and Rob’s) mistakes in the past year relate to concepts many of us learn over time. As a major organization dedicated to representing marginalized populations, it’s their responsibility to already know better, and I’m going to point that out a lot. When others have made the critiques publicly before, I’ll link to those posts.

But the knowledge I’m sharing here is for you, too—because with the right tools, you are capable of being a powerful force for change. And I’m really glad you’re here.

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I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity

[Hi there! I spent six weeks working on a deep analysis of ICD’s 2020 Internal Review, which they undertook after months of community pressure. I’m releasing it weekly in three parts, beginning on March 20, 2021. If you’d like to see where ICD is making important changes and where they’re continuing to fall short, I’d love to have you join me on the adventure!]

Many of you, like me, have been following developments at the Institute for Composer Diversity this year. The organization, originally created (as I understand it) as an intentional programming resource for educators and directors alike, has grown beyond its initial constraints and begun positioning itself as a juggernaut of diversity in music, particularly in the wind band world. I’ve recommended ICD as a resource in the past—even put them on my master list of resources I co-sign—but, sadly, that endorsement has come to an end.

Here’s the thing: like most institutions, ICD has messed up in the past, often pretty publicly. That in itself isn’t the end of the world! But it has increasingly turned a blind eye to the concerns and critiques of marginalized composers ourselves—the very people they claim to represent. That continual unwillingness to listen, acknowledge issues, and work efficiently to correct them (or to correct them at all) has soured their name among many folks who carry with them more expertise through lived experience in diversity and inclusion than many on the ICD staff.

I’ve also grown increasingly frustrated at ICD’s continued positioning at Midwest and other high-profile conferences as an authority on intentional programming, when in reality they offer very little (if any!) information or best practices on establishing relationships with the composers referenced within their database. There’s no discussion of the fact that many of us make more on commissions than we’ll ever make in individual score sales, no talk about how many of us are self-published because publishing favors notoriety over financial success (and many of us can’t get a foot in the door with the big houses, anyway). There’s no discussion about trauma performativity or the conditions under which it might be appropriate and meaningful to ask a particular composer to write a piece that addresses a specific marginalization or violence. There’s not even any discussion of ownvoices and the importance of prioritizing diverse stories told by the populations they most directly impact. It’s just a database, accompanied by vague encouragement to make marginalized composers part of your ensemble’s stat sheet without any attention paid to how their work actually informs and influences your programming needs and wants.

The stats they suggest are pretty conservative, too. If you go to one of the live ICD presentations, you’ll hear someone (probably Rob Deemer, head honcho of the project) say these are suggested starting points, but if that important caveat is anywhere on their website, I have yet to stumble upon it. (The website does cite a “minimum” stat, but it’s very easy to skip over the importance of the word while trying to process the numbers that follow.)

Among my biggest personal struggles with ICD’s work, though, is that it essentially weaponizes its composers’ marginalizations and markets to band directors without providing any specifics about their work, artistic practices, areas of specialization (beyond instrumentation), or even specifics of identity that composers may wish to share, like pronouns and other information that may vary from the traditional expectations that come with certain genders. We are reduced down to data points on a sheet, names that are guaranteed to check an ensemble’s diversity box without paying too much attention to the specifics of our identities and how those important distinctions might inform our artistic work.

Over the past year, it’s become clear that in allowing non-composers and others to submit information on a composer’s behalf, the Institute has inadvertently outed many queer composers without their consent. This isn’t just careless administration; it’s doxxing. A failure to check in with composers and ensure they consent to specific information being featured on a very public, easily searchable website is a colossal breach of trust. How are we to assume an organization that outs us alongside our contact information actually values our work, when they can’t be bothered to even consider how the release of this information might affect our day-to-day safety?

I first heard rumors of an email that would be sent to featured composers to confirm their presence on the ICD databases several months ago. At the time, I figured I’d sit on my thoughts for a couple weeks, then, when the email arrived, decide how to best proceed. But, like I said, it was months, not weeks—a time span that included much of Pride month, when many of us in the queer community had to lock down our social media to protect from coordinated doxxing attempts. All the while, our information remained readily available on ICD’s website. By the time the email arrived (a little over a week ago), I had lost faith that the Institute cared enough about the composers on their lists to protect them proactively.

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to ICD in response to their request to confirm my information in their databases. I am posting it in full because I firmly believe that an organization whose main mission is publicly espousing a reductive flavor of intentional programming should be held publicly accountable. I’ll post some suggested best practices next week, but for now, here’s what I told them (please note my dig at website hits at the end was due largely to the emphasis on their own stats they place in their promotional material):

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To The People Telling Us To “VOTE.”

To the men who are my peers and colleagues (and plenty of other people in my spaces):

I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, especially since RBG died. While I’m excited you’re all (theoretically) taking your civic duty seriously, I also know that for some of you, this is what constitutes activism. For some of you, this is how you check that little mental box of being a good feminist or an activist or someone who’s doing the work.

I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, and it’s easy to understand why. When you’re used to the system working in your favor, when you’re used to your requests being granted, it’s easy to assume the best way you can help the people around you is to reach upward and ask. But if that’s how you think the marginalized get rights in this country, by asking politely and waiting for the system to work, you might want to go refresh yourself on some history. Go back and look at how suffragettes and Civil Rights leaders and rioters at Stonewall were treated at the time. Go back and see how reluctant everyone was to give up power.

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JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

I read the essay.

Some of you likely know exactly which essay I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, I’ve just finished reading JK Rowling’s lengthy response to the correct and justified backlash she’s received this week for being more openly anti-trans than usual. As folks on Twitter may know, this isn’t Rowling’s first TERF-y moment: for at least several months, she has made statements in support of or liked Tweets by known anti-trans public figures. This week, she took severe issue with delineating a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” sparking the backlash that’s led to where we are now.

First, a note on this: we need a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” because those two things aren’t inherently linked. The Venn diagram of the two is not a circle. In obvious ways, it ignores both the trans community and the intersex community, and I’d be remiss to erase either group from the conversation. (If you’re not sure what intersex means, here’s a great primer. Please note some historical descriptors of this community are considered degrading and should no longer be used.) It also imposes ridiculous limits on AFAB (assigned female at birth) people: what happens when you hit menopause? Do you no longer count? What about if you’re on an IUD, and as a result you don’t have a period? What about AFAB people who never have a period at all?

That said, we’re not going to spend time centering cis women past this point. The argument is massively more harmful to transgender and intersex people, whose biological features may not align with the tropes (and, by extension, societal expectations) associated with their gender(s). And while it can be easy to encourage marginalized people to not care what society says, have you ever educated yourself (by reading plenty of available material, NOT by foisting emotional labor on your nearest relevant person) on how difficult it is for trans and intersex people to get quality health care? Are you aware that literally yesterday the Trump administration made this even more difficult by giving insurers and health care providers the ability to openly discriminate against trans people? Did you know that many intersex people are operated on at a young age without their consent to attempt to make their bodies conform to one binary or the other, often with negative long-term side effects? Have you realized that the insidious goal of anti-trans rhetoric is to produce tangible policy changes that, by doing things like cutting off access to health care (at any time, but especially during a pandemic), further disadvantage the trans community and will literally, quantitatively cost lives?

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The Men at IWBC

After my first trip to IWBC last year, I wrote a little round-up of my experiences there. I kept it pretty top-level, sticking mostly to safe topics and general stories. The plan was always to dive back into certain things in more depth, but I decided I wanted to wait and make sure I still felt the way I did some time later. The post kept getting delayed, and now it’s been a year. On the upside, I do feel identically now to how I felt last May, so while we’re all still stuck inside, we might as well talk about it.

I love IWBC because it is an opportunity to connect with my sisters (though, now that I’m out as queer, I’ll have to reexamine my place in it all), but the first thing I noticed after arriving was “wow, look at all the men.” Sure, there were a shit ton of women, but the gender binary that first day was balanced shockingly close to 50/50. I recognized a nontrivial amount of them: friends, colleagues, classmates, respected teachers. The night of the opening festivities, I made the rounds, checking in with old friends and making new ones.

By day three of the conference, almost all of those men were gone. Because what happened first? The mock audition.

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In The Wake of International Jazz Day

April 29th is National Dance Day in the US. It’s one of my favorite not-quite-official holidays; I spend time stretching and honoring what my body is capable of, I move in ways that make me happy, and I usually forget to post on Instagram until several days later. It’s an opportunity to honor dance’s lifelong role in my existence, wellbeing, and humanity, and I try to mark it every year.

April 30th is International Jazz Day. It’s one of my least favorite not-quite-official holidays; while there’s something important to be said for honoring the artists of color who pioneered and radically expanded the genre, it mostly reminds me how most of the jazz musicians I know personally are white. Moreover, the purported celebration often reminds me how much I and others don’t fit in the community.

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