I’m Not Your Fucking Entertainment.

A nonbinary person smirks at the camera, an eyebrow slightly raised. Their hair is in a short buzzcut, and ey are wearing stud earrings, a forest green shirt, and an oversized jean jacket. They stand in front of a cinderblock wall with an inlaid brick archway and wooden gate.

Today is National Coming Out Day, and I’d like to talk about my teachers, my colleagues, and my peers.

I didn’t come out formally, publicly, until May of 2020. I’d been out to handfuls of people here and there for a couple years already, but when I moved back to Phoenix, I found myself continually putting off and shying away from the announcement I’d hoped I would finally feel ready to make. Rather than sharing more of who I am with the world, I found myself discussing less and less, retreating into the few spaces (mostly online) where I still felt safe to be myself. It took me three or four tries to even figure out how I wanted to come out. And, you know, the onset of a pandemic.

In those first few months that I was back in Arizona, back when it was still the Before Times, I realized a couple fears of mine had come true: first, that the social and professional structures that had forcibly kept me in the closet as an undergrad were still thriving, and second, that many of the peers I’d studied alongside had become willing enforcers and gatekeepers in their own right. Yet we were still expected to all (or at least mostly) get along, so I worked with what I had. I wrote about paying your dues and other power structures that affected us all. I spent time with the community, engaging with some old friends and some folks I hadn’t been as close to originally.

But I didn’t come out, because I didn’t trust the “it’s better now“s and the sudden influx of “well, I’m just a straight/cis white man, what do I know”s that sounded harmless but reeked of something still lurking beneath.

Continue reading “I’m Not Your Fucking Entertainment.”

It’s Been A Year, ICD. Where’s The Change?

A year ago today, I published what I thought would be a relatively low-profile explanation to my readership about why I was removing myself from the Institute for Composer Diversity’s databases. I shared the email I’d sent to the Institute, along with some additional comments contextualizing my words and my decision. Something in there clicked with a lot of you, because . . . let’s just say my notifications were a mess for awhile afterward. My friends at Trade Winds Ensemble released their own incisive, blistering set of statements shortly thereafter, Rob (statistically speaking, it was Rob) misspelled my last name in a non-apology posted to ICD’s 7,000 followers without even asking if I was okay with being named, and thanks to a lot of public pressure and outcry from all y’all who read my post or Trade Winds’ or engaged with the ensuing conversation, ICD reviewed its own policy.

When that review went up at the end of January, I dug in, publishing somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 words (after edits—thank you, Nebal, for your patience) analyzing each and every finding and discovering that oh yeah, they plagiarized me and Trade Winds without even bothering to mention they were using our labor as their springboard. I sat on that anger for a month, wrote my analysis, published my analysis, and . . . waited. (Read it: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3.) Twelve days later, I decided two and a half months was long enough, and I emailed ICD’s leadership. Here’s an excerpt:

You didn’t ask for our consent to use our words. You didn’t cite us. You weren’t making this choice to protect us, because none of you ever reached out to ask if we wanted to be protected in this way. ICD’s theft of this labor continues its longstanding tradition of erasing the work of marginalized composers in favor of performative activism. Not only that, it completely eschews academic best practices, opting instead to punch down at scholars doing the work we’ve begged you to do yourselves.

In the interest of transparency, I’d like to note that Ciyadh (who, of the folks I’ve interacted with at ICD, is by far my favorite) got back to me the same day to confirm I was okay with how ICD planned to cite my work and giving me a firm date by which the updates would be completed (which I’d requested in my message). They definitely messed one up (Point 22 should be attributed to Trade Winds, not me), but at this point, I’m just tired and that in particular isn’t worth yet another email. I’m grateful the plagiarism was corrected and credit was given, but the review originally went up at the end of January, and the corrections weren’t issued until May. (And I started talking about them publicly, on my blog, in mid-March!)

But at this point, it’s been several months since I’ve spoken to anyone at ICD. (I’ll probably send Ciyadh an email when I drop this post, because I’m genuinely not always convinced the leadership team sees my writing if I don’t.) They’ve had time away from the public eye (or as away as they ever get), and in their review, they left us a specific set of changes we could expect to see at various points this year. I made further demands when I analyzed their review. And on this, the anniversary of the day my poor phone blew up (the first time), I’d like to go over those key changes and remind folks what we’ve seen so far and what we haven’t.

Continue reading “It’s Been A Year, ICD. Where’s The Change?”

How to Access My Queer Identity Lectures (after June 2021)

Greetings, folks! Happy Pride.

I’ve been blogging less this month because I’ve spent the past three weeks teaching and talking in a different format: on Twitch and Discord, where I’ve spent time with friends, colleagues, and some near-strangers talking about various LGBTQIA2S+ identities and struggles. We’ve gotten through a lot—asexuality, aromanticism, nonbinary identities, transphobia, pronouns/neopronouns, xenogenders, trans allyship, and some pointers on queer-friendly classrooms—and we’ve still got a little more to cover.

As we’ve adventured through the month, I’ve talked with my Discord server and a few other folks about where this content should go after the month is over. I fully expect that I’ll give some of these lectures again in the future (Nonbinary Day is July 14!), and while I’m sure they’ll get better over time, I know at least a few people have been considering visiting (or revisiting) this month’s material in VOD form.

Continue reading “How to Access My Queer Identity Lectures (after June 2021)”

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.

Continue reading “Are You *Actually* Safe to Come Out To?”

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.

Continue reading “yes, this is a skill set”

Please Stop Dirty Deleting

Okay, folks, now that I’m a little more back to having a real internet presence, I’m excited exasperated resigned to talking in more depth about queer identities generally and how power imbalances in musical and artistic life (plus, you know, everyday life) impact us. Perhaps of note is that this will probably include more ground-level education than I’ve had to do in the past—while at the time I started blogging it was at least somewhat safe to assume everyone sorta knew what feminism was, I’m quickly realizing my online circles are roughly divided into two groups: people who are super queer-savvy (and usually queer themselves) and folks who haven’t done all that much reading on the subject.

I know a fair bit, but I’m not a great end-all-be-all source. I’ve started compiling a collection of threads, posts, and other really informative output on various aspects of queer identities and struggles over on my Discord, and y’all are welcome there if you want to check it out. It’s worth noting that at least on the blog, some of the topics I discuss will intersect with other topics I’ve written about before, because plenty of the same oppressive tools affect folks with different marginalizations! So if something sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is; what we’re focusing on is the effect it has on a specific community.

Today’s discussion, for example, centers around emotional labor, which I’ve talked about before. My last post functioned more as a general introduction to the topic, plus my best attempt at explaining how frustrating it is to be constantly asked for more and more of this energy when so often it goes unrecognized and underutilized by the people I give it to. As an educator reaching a wide audience of people I have varying relationships with, some of this is part and parcel for the job, but the moment my labor is then exploited by people who assume they’re closer to me than the rest of my audience, it becomes assumptive, disrespectful, and inappropriate.

See, people who have seen me teach often enough—in person or in a virtual setting—tend to assume, for a time, that I’ll teach whenever the moment arises. However, like the rest of the populace, I have a limited number of hours and spoons in the day, and that’s not always feasible (or what I want to be doing). I already do more labor than I realistically have the energy for. And that, folks, is why it’s exceedingly frustrating when someone decides they don’t like that labor and opts instead to take it all away.

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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):

Continue reading “I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity”

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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Some Of My Friends Are Probably Rapists

I work pretty much exclusively in male-dominant fields, and while I can’t say I’ve seen “it all,” I follow in the footsteps of and learn from a group of those who collectively undoubtedly have. I was also sexually assaulted at a very young age, and as that subject matter has become a greater and greater part of my work, I’ve been increasingly unable to turn a blind eye to the power dynamics in our musical communities that enable and encourage continuing sexual abuse among our colleagues, superiors, and peer groups. For those of you who have read me before (be it in years past or last week), none of this is a surprise. And while I don’t often talk about it on here, a nontrivial part of my deep thinking on the subject revolves around being prepared to be an active force for good if I’m ever able to step in and prevent an assault or provide care and assurance in the aftermath.

Honestly, I should probably talk about that more, since I know I’m far from the only person in my circles who would want to help in those situations. However, I spend a lot of time around a lot of men, and due in part to my own risk tolerance and in part to my knowledge of my communities, we can’t have that discussion until we have this discussion.

See, some of my friends are probably rapists, and some are probably guilty of assault.

Continue reading “Some Of My Friends Are Probably Rapists”

Knowing Stories and Art In Chaos

One of the unexpected side effects of government-imposed solitude and a new work-from-home life has been my willingness to get back into video games. (Cutting down on commute helps exponentially with freeing up time.) I’ve been P2 to my brother’s P1 my entire life, following along from one epic adventure to the next but never quite leading or developing my own individual relationship with a lot of games. Growing up, I was the epitome of the casual player—willing and capable, but not the kind of person who’d put in hours upon hours in pursuit of perfection. As I’ve become an adult, my partners have joined forces with my brother to suck me into various games. This has made room in my life for some pretty great things, but it usually also comes with a steep learning curve as I step into worlds the people I love have inhabited for years on end. In short: I spend a lot of time playing catch-up.

So when the end of March rolled around and my partner suggested* I try out Rocket League, I was more than game. The early hours were painful for everyone involved—I am a mouse-and-keyboard player as a default, and RL is most definitely not designed to be played that way—but one controller later, I’m well on my way to zipping around and absolutely already capable of wreaking havoc on the pitch. (Maybe not always in my team’s favor yet, but still.) With this new adventure, too, comes a contingent of new people. Folks who used to mostly play with my partner are now helping me learn to suck less and hit the ball more consistently. And, true to form, I’ve hijacked the whole system and made them my friends. More nights than not, when I’m finished grading and responding to messages and whatever else the world has thrown my way, I’m online, battling it out with strangers or friends or myself.

Continue reading “Knowing Stories and Art In Chaos”