So You Want To Change Your Name

All right! So you've questioned your gender, tried a bunch of alternatives with your friends, and settled on a new name for your new self. Now you’re ready to take the next step: Officially changing your legal name. Congratulations! A name change is a routine legal procedure that thousands of people do every year in this country alone. Follow the twelve steps outlined below, and you’ll be on your way in no time!

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Old Friends And New

My first few months in LA were lonely. I moved out here to take the job I currently have as a music archivist, but none of my friends were moving with me, and since I work in a room by myself with a bunch of old sheet music, I don’t exactly have a cohort of coworkers to bond with. I tried out for a spot in a youth orchestra towards the end of that first summer, but I didn’t win the audition, so playing bassoon — which in college was a great way to branch out and meet new people — became, like composing, something I would have to do by myself, in the solitude of my apartment. There were weeks where the only times I used my voice were singing along with the car stereo on my ten-minute commute and saying “hi” and “thanks” to cashiers in grocery stores.

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An Update on Pronouns

I generally don’t talk about the specifics of my personal life all that much on this blog, mostly because I think my actual life is pretty uninteresting. I mean, I’m obviously very free with my opinions on the media that I consume, but there’s a difference between knowing I had a lot of feelings about The Woman in Gold and knowing how many dates I’ve been on in LA, and with whom. I think I’m kind of a boring person, and I also put a pretty high value on privacy, at least as far as bloggers go. But this is one of those times where I need to step out from behind my veil of passwords and address something explicitly:

I’m trans. Specifically nonbinary, more specifically agender. They/them/theirs is the only correct set of pronouns to use when referring to me in the third person. This is not optional.

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Future by Flyby

New Horizons successfully made it past Pluto! At long last we have actual images of the once-planet's surface! It's all tremendously exciting and there have been many times over the last few days where I've given myself over to giggling and bouncing around with joy at this momentous occasion. I grew up when the Voyager planetary tours were already a fait accompli, and I'd always kind of resented that the decision had been made (for very good reasons, to be fair) to skip Pluto in favor of exploring Titan. Pluto was an enigma, sketched in with best guesses in the astronomy books I devoured as a kid, visible in photos as nothing more than a few distorted pixels.

That's all different now. Pluto may no longer be an official planet, but I think I'll always think of it as one, and the pictures New Horizons is sending back feel like the completion of something that's been nagging unresolved since the 70s. And personally, too, it feels like the completion of something else.

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What Brings Us Together Today

It's 2008. November. My junior year of high school. I'm sitting in my Gay and Lesbian Literature class, still riding the buzz from last night's election victory. Obama, not McCain, is going to be our president for the next four years. My teacher, herself a lesbian, is upbeat about the presidential election, but upset about a ballot initiative that passed out in California. (We are in Massachusetts.) It's my first brush with a phrase that will cling to my life for years to come: Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that stripped Californians of the right to marry someone of the same gender.

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Blame Your Tools

My low register was sharp.

This, in and of itself, was not terribly surprising. The bassoon is full of awkward acoustic compromises, and the low register on my instrument had never been particularly in tune, even under ideal conditions. I'd made some changes to my setup (including swapping out part of the instrument) senior year of college that had helped considerably, but still, it was hardly surprising that the first time I pulled out a tuner in LA, low B-flat was aspiring ever upwards.

So I did what I've been trained to do. I set about drilling myself with intonation exercises, training myself not only to be able to hear when notes are or aren't in their proper place, but also to be able to get them there from the moment they start to sound. For those of you unused to the joys of woodwind playing, this involves a lot of fiddly manipulations of parts of your body you don't normally think about: How high up in my throat is my larynx right now? Can I get it lower? What's the shape of the back of my tongue? Is there equal pressure coming from every direction around my mouth? All this while watching the needle on the pitch indicator stubbornly refusing to budge.

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The Courtiers and the Dragons

We all know it. It's rule No. 1 of the internet: Don't Read The Comments.

Most often, this is because the comments section is infested with trolls, people spewing racism, sexism, transphobia, and other forms of hateful bile. (Hence Lewis's Law: The comments on any article about feminism demonstrate the necessity of feminism.) While it can sometimes be hard to tell whether a given commenter is earnest but confused as opposed to flat-out trolling, I think most people would agree that there's little point in engaging those in the latter category.

Sometimes, tho, the comments will actually be on point, there will be an actual discussion of the issues going on, with people on both sides arguing in good faith. And sometimes, especially when the discussion involves the fundamental human rights of an oppressed group, the people in these comment threads, usually those who are members of the oppressed group in question, will become visibly hurt and angry. This can manifest in caps-lock-laden declarations ("I'M SO FUCKING DONE WITH THIS") or sardonic mockery ("lol, misandry"), but either way, they are often then accused of being "immature" or otherwise criticized for not carrying on a "reasoned, dispassionate intellectual debate" about issues that affect them on a deeply personal level.

I'm sure many of you reading this are familiar with a slew of defenses of this behavior (the angry, hurt commenting, not the criticism thereof). Members of oppressed groups are, you know, oppressed, and asking them to set aside the genuine hurt that they feel for the sake of a "calm" debate about their fundamental rights is pretty gross. (If you want a more thoro explanation of this concept, look up "tone policing" and have a field day. tl;dr: If your commitment to, say, "basic human rights for trans people" is contingent upon trans people being nice to you, people are probably right to question how deep that commitment really is.) This is all old hat.

Today I want to take a different tack.

I have never been a heavy commenter. At times, tho, I have been a heavy comment reader, especially back in middle school and high school, when I had different priorities involving how to use my free time. These were dark days indeed, my friends, when I didn't understand what feminism was, still thought I was heterosexual, and was kinda homophobic to boot. (What can I say? I had a lot to learn.) But still, I'd often wind up reading long comment threads about these issues, rife with some people arguing calmly and logically for whatever it was (gay marriage crops up a lot in my memory, but it could have been for any of a number of other issues) and others raging in anger and hurt.

And I have to say, it was the latter category that gave me the most pause.

Because carefully reasoned arguments? Sure, if you're being strictly methodical and intensely rational, those can be hard to overcome. But if you're reading quickly, just trying to get a feel for the positions? It is very easy to just go "Eh . . . maybe. I don't really care enough to tease it out and put my finger on it precisely, but I feel like there's something I disagree with buried in there, so I'm not going to accept that position as my own. And reasonable people disagree about things all the time, so like whatever.". But people screaming with hurt? People so upset by these positions that they could do nothing but cry out in frustration and rage? That's a lot hard to dismiss. Those comments made me hold myself accountable. "OK," I would think to myself, "If you're going to continue to hold a position that is this upsetting to this many people, you had better be damn sure that you can answer every objection to it." Those comments made me go back and do the careful, methodical work of trying to pick holes in the opposition.

And often I couldn't. Often, the discomfort I felt reading those arguments wasn't the discomfort of a hidden logical flaw but was instead the discomfort of realizing that I held a homophobic (or sexist or racist or . . . ) position and being confronted with the necessity of change. I never would have done that work if it hadn't been for those angry comments. In all likelihood, I would still be the sexist, racist, homophobic jerk I was in middle school. (I am not claiming to have completely rid myself of any of these ideologies. But to the extent that I have gotten better about them, I feel a pretty direct causal link to angry people commenting on the internet.)

Many of the attacks on tone policing that I've seen quietly abandon this point. I've read too many articles that, while offering a full-throated defense of the acceptability and necessity of unapologetic, confrontational outrage, tacitly seem to cede that these angry comments don't win over allies. Winning over allies isn't the goal of every debate, nor should it be, but even when it is, I maintain that calm, dispassionate comments are not the only kind that are helpful.

Because when you're commenting in a public or semi-public forum, you're not only engaging with the other commenters. You're also leaving a record for other people just passing by. Snark and fury may not directly convince the person posting counterarguments, but they can have a powerful effect on people lurking on the sidelines. I'm not arguing that everyone should scream all the time in every context; I am merely offering another defense of its use that I often see get short shrift.

So if you're thinking of tone policing: 1) Don't do it, because it only ever serves to further oppression and 2) Remember that there are people who read without commenting. It isn't always about you.

Taking Stock

I’m still getting over the intensity of the audition on Tuesday (and the (very mild — don’t worry, Mom!) downtick in physical health that inevitably followed on Wednesday), so I’m going to do a lighter post this week. Instead of my usual essay-ish format, I’m going to post about what i hope to accomplish in the next little chunk of time.

  • Assuming I didn’t make it into AYS, I’m going to start working up one of the Bach cello suites (probably the third one) to post movement by movement on YouTube. I may decide on a specific and explicit schedule, or I may just see how it goes. I still want to make music with other people, but this will be a good way to keep my hand in the bassooning game.
  • Related to this: If I do hear back in the negative, I’m going to ping some of my contacts for thoughts about how to keep an ear out for gigs in the area. I’m fine with something super casual/chill, I just want to be making music with other people again. (If any of my followers have tips on this, they’d be more than welcome!)
  • This weekend I’m going to procure a desperately-needed second bookshelf, a butter dish, and hopefully a nightstand of some sort. Then, when the piano arrives, my apartment will finally be out of the “gradually setting up shop” phase! (I know it’s taken me more than two months to get there, quiet, you.)
  • On the composition front: I’m pressing on with arranging some of the music fromWindow Full of Moths (specifically the opening number, “Beside You”, “Hey” + “Stop Dreaming”, and the final sequence) for wind ensemble. I ran out of giant staff paper (more is coming with the piano!), so I’m starting to enter parts until I get more. I feel like I’m making good progress on it, and that it’s going to be a fun thing for people to play. 
  • Once that’s done, priorities are: Revise the clarinet sonata, revise Window and get the parts and score into reasonably presentable shape, and then arrange the clarinet sonata for wind ensemble as well. In the meantime, I’m also going to keep my eye on the ACF opportunities page, and send scores in to those that seem like things I want to/can do. The world will not come knocking; I have to take the initiative.
  • I’m going to hold off on looking for opportunities to volunteer until I know for certain how the AYS audition turned out. Too many variables on that front at the moment.
  • I want to get back into the habit of reading. Since I have the job, I don’t think I can quite get away with the hour and a half with a book thing I did every morning last summer, but the “half hour before bed” should be pretty doable.  I’m still clearing out a lot of links that I saved during term, but now that I don’t have how-to GoogleDocs to write, I’m making pretty good progress.
  • I feel like I still need to build up my apartment as more of a “home base”. I don’t really mean this in any physical sense; I just still don’t quite feel like it’s 100% home. I think this will mostly involve giving myself permission to just veg out in front of a Netflix show or two, to teach myself that it’s OK to not be in constant motion doing all the things all the time. I’m still definitely weaning myself from the Yale lifestyle, and that’s something that’s just going to take time.

So yeah. These are things I’d like to do. Some of them are super vague, some of them are super concrete, but all of them feel pretty plausible to me. Sometimes it’s nice to take a larger view of where I am and what I’m doing. It doesn’t all have to be the breathless rush of the moment.

Regular posting resumes next week!