I am a white, queer, nonbinary trans music therapist. The artwork shared from this project emerged from a collaboration with a cis artist who sought to artistically represent trans and nonbinary students on our university’s campus. I experienced a lot of frustration in this collaboration due to this cis artist’s dismissal of my concerns regarding the focus of his project and due to his parallels with the broader world in rendering me voiceless, invisible, and insignificant.
Separate from this, I was taking a “Social Justice Approaches in Music Therapy” course for a Master of Music Therapy degree. I created the work of art and music seen/heard here as a final requirement for this course. The creation of this artwork assisted me with articulating my own experiences of this collaboration at a time when these experiences were being silenced. It further provided me with the opportunity to process this experience. The artist that I was working with is a cis gay man of color. His project took pre- and post-transition pictures of trans and nonbinary folks and created before and after visuals through the use of linoleum block printing. His approach became a source of conflict for me in the collaboration because his understanding of the community was not accurate or affirming. He frequently used outdated terminology to talk about the trans and nonbinary community and demonstrated a simplistic understanding of trans and nonbinary experiences. Further, his focus on physical pre-and post-transition was not and is not reflective of my experience of gender—my gender is fluid and shifting and therefore in a constant state of becoming something else. There is no pre- or post. I was filled with frustration, sadness, disappointment, and hurt. To be involved with his project, I bought into the narrative he placed upon me, and through his feedback, it was clear that the pictures that I felt comfortable with him using were not trans enough, androgynous enough, or nonbinary enough. I contemplated dropping out of his project several times; however, I was the only nonbinary person involved and wanted at least some kind of representation.
Overall, it felt as though he was appropriating the experiences of trans and nonbinary folks for his own artistic and personal gain without ever taking into consideration our personal narratives or input. Although I offered critical feedback and suggestions at multiple times throughout this project, these were ignored. This artist was not a part of my community, and his work harmed me. What right did he have to take my photos and narrative, (mis)use them, and then leave the experience with praise for his work and what was probably high marks for a school project despite the negative impact that it had on me—a person he (mis)represented? He held a community art show displaying this work, to which I was invited; however, I did not attend because I did not want to be associated with his representation of me. I never saw the final artwork of myself.
The musical and physical artwork I share here serve as my artistic response to this person and are representations of my experience throughout this collaboration. I offer it now because my experiences are important and also because I feel the physical artwork, music and lyrics are representative of (un)related current political events that continue to impact the lives of trans and nonbinary individuals. The current U.S. administration has made direct attempts to eliminate the limited protections that do exist for trans and nonbinary individuals (e.g., attempting to narrowly define ‘sex’ through Title IX, banning trans and nonbinary persons from openly serving in the military, instructing the removal of the word ‘transgender’ in official government documents, etc.). Amidst these attempts, I returned to this artwork months after having created it and came to understand the artwork as articulating how each of these events was ‘just another’ utterance of the larger oppressive system of cisgenderism. Further, the artwork articulates an overarching feeling of misperception, misunderstanding, silence, and miscommunication that perhaps individuals of other various oppressed communities may relate to.
Finally, my personal experiences of misrepresentation by someone from another marginalized community have given me insights into my own clinical practice. These insights include how it is imperative for us to interrogate our attempts to work for social justice alongside people who are a part of communities to which we are not. Specifically, it requires a willingness to listen and really collaborate with the people within that community. It begs us to (re-)examine our assumptions about experiences as these may be reductionistic and inaccurate. In the event that we cause unintentional harm through our assumptions, we must not only respond with empathy but work to repair the harm we have caused.
“Missing the Point”
Just another story written ‘tween the lines. There’s meaning in the spaces of what’s yours and what’s mine. Just another stalemate. Whatever do we do? ‘Cause we’re moving ‘round in circles. What will it take to get through to my truth? What will it take to make you see? What will it take to make you know that you’re missing the point? You’re missing the point of it all.
Just another stanza in this never-ending game. And I get that you are trying. Doesn’t mean you’re not to blame. What will it take to get through to my truth? What will it take to make you see? What will it take to make you know that you’re missing the point? You’re missing the point of it all.
Maevon Gumble, MT-BC, is finishing their Master of Music Therapy degree at Slippery Rock University and is working with youth with mental health needs in residential placement. Their professional interests include gender affirming voicework, working with LGBTQ+ persons, and community-based work. firstname.lastname@example.org