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 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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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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(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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