nonbinary musings from my first year out

I’ve been formally out for about a year, most of which has been spent in the relative solitude of quarantine. Covid has afforded me the space and time to figure out what versions of me feel more correct, but I’m increasingly conscious of the turbulence that will doubtless ensue when I start going places in person again.

If we’re being honest, I don’t really look different than I did last March. Sure, I’ve got a killer undercut and a ballet bun now, but on the day-to-day, I don’t dress particularly differently. I have not subscribed to the time-honored tradition of short-sleeve button-ups and general androgyny that some queer folks love but which society tries to shove all nonbinary identities into. If anything, the past year might have actually enabled me to be more feminine, because I’ve gotten to make (some) aesthetic choices for myself without the external pressure of networking and gigs. Because I’m out at work, I haven’t had to over-perform gender for my students either. The changes I’ve gotten to experience haven’t really been aesthetic. (I basically just look more comfortable now.)

In fact, this aesthetic consistency has impacted my treatment significantly, because there’s been little outward change. I don’t look obviously, there’s-no-other-option queer, and because my appearance makes it so easy to address and treat me as a cis woman, a lot of people still do. And will. (Including family.)

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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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Claiming “Woman” and the Nuance of Non-Binary Gender

I came out nearly ten months ago, eight or nine weeks into our continuing pandemic. I’ve spent the time since coming out staying… well… in. Though I wish I could do things like go to Pride and explore queerness in the presence of friends, I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to make much of my initial social transition while staying away from the complicated world of in-person networking. I have the space to explore aesthetic choices based on what makes me happy instead of worrying about what’s going to fly around my cis colleagues. When I have a rough day, I can lean on my partner for support. Beyond teaching, if I don’t want to be visible (or audible) at any given time, I don’t have to be.

Still, there are some days when the outside world and all its judgment encroach so insistently I can’t ignore it. Often this takes the form of reading the various calls for applications and proposals that have begun to re-emerge. I used to have no problem with my eligibility—though I haven’t been happy using “woman” to categorize myself for at least a couple years, it was an easy enough word to find in the eligibility section of any call.

But how many times have you seen “genderfluid” or “genderflux” in a call for anything?

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(Dude/Bro) Isn’t Funny: Let’s Talk About Pronouns

Okay, folks, I’m back. (Apparently.)

This isn’t actually what I thought would get me back out of my writing slump—the ICD stuff last fall took a lot out of me (and… stay tuned for the rest of that), but I have so many things I want to start talking about again. (Lecturing on actual musical subjects! Gender feels! Rocket League and found family!) I’m really excited to get back to publishing somewhat regularly, because shouting into the void the internet is part of how I keep my head in the game while we’re all stuck at home. Y’all are part of my community, and I’m incredibly thankful for it.

Recently, I finally decided to bite the bullet and publicly update my pronouns on Facebook. I’d been back and forth on it, considering I’m using the spring semester to take she/they for a test drive and see if everything fits more or less like it should, but I got bored, which is when I make most of my public-announcement decisions, and off to the social media printing press they went. I was spurred on by my frustration that Canvas went out of their way to add a pronouns field but limit your options to she/her, he/him, and they/them, which is problematic in ways we can talk about another time. (Maybe I’ll remember to back-link that post here once it’s published!) I couldn’t put my pronouns in as an actual option on Canvas, and I mentioned it on Facebook, along with what they were. The post was short and to the point, and a couple friends immediately came into my comments and inboxes to spread some love and make sure they knew the specifics of how I want to be referred to. Those early hours were exceptional.

And then someone came in with the dude/bro joke, and even though the intent wasn’t malicious, the ensuing fallout straight up ruined my evening.

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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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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.

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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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Hello Pretty Lady

[CW: sexual harassment]

Hey, men friends? Y’all who believe in equality and want to be on the right side of things? I need you to listen to this one. Bear witness. Brass players, this would be good for y’all to read intentionally, too.

I’ve spent the last couple days trying to figure out how to deal with a bass trombonist close to three times my age who showed up in my Messenger inbox, completely unprompted, and decided “Hello Pretty Lady” was an appropriate and acceptable way to start his brief introduction (which ended with a link to his website). He’d entered my social media sphere as part of the absolute deluge of Facebook friend requests I’ve gotten over the past week. Most folks have been brass players, and in the interest of community, I’ve okayed the vast majority. Many of those will turn out to be good decisions; this guy was not.

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