The complexities of being out, semi-out, and not out at work: some experiences of a nonbinary peripatetic music teacher


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very belatedly, but I’d forgotten about it until now, the wonderful Rainbow Teaching published an E zine for and by LGBT+ school staff in the UK back in September, including a piece by Yours Truly on navigating the complexities of being out or not at work. You can read the zine for free online.

More Shameless Self Promotion: My Dick Wins — A Zine


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So, I made another Zine. This one’s called My Dick Wins and is Available on my Etsy shop.

It explains how to play the game “My Dick Wins” in which cis men are invited to pit their mere flesh dicks against my Ourple Penis of Queer Silicone Glory and–inevitably–lose, painfully and with plenty of humiliation. There’s also a smut interlude.
It’s a bargain at 75p. What are you waiting for?

Policing the Line Between “Worthy” and “Umworthy” Music: a Raw Twitter Rant


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Earlier today I ranted on Twitter about how the line is policed between “worthy” and “unworthy” music. It got a bit long and eventually I stopped tweeting and noted it down to put here later. Here are the collated tweets (with corrections to typos and missed out words) with the extra end bit in an easier to read format, but it’s still essentially raw, unedited, rant…

Music and racism/classism rant coming up…

The way the imaginary line between “real”, “serious” or “worthy” music and “that other music which has little value” is policed by (mostly) white European and North American formally educated middle class musicians and audiences is damaging not only to musicians who fall on the “wrong” side of that line, but to those who fall on the “right” side too.

One of the ways the line is often policed is through how repertoire is passed from one musician to another: if it is notated it’s probably “good”, “valuable” or “worthy” music, if it’s passed on aurally it’s probably “bad”, “worthless”, “frivolous” music. The way it’s notated is a factor too: 5 line stave = “worthy”, guitar tab, lyrics and chord symbols, or notations such as Ethiopian meleket or notation in the Jewish liturgical tradition where marks are written above or below text to show which tune it should be sung to = “unworthy”.

Obviously, this creates a problematic “us and them” attitude between different groups of musicians and casts some as a lesser type of musician and others, but it also holds back those on the “worthy” side of the line too: I learned, from the age of 5, in a pedagogy that always centred around notation, and all my musicianship came from reading then doing. Consequently, there wasn’t much listening involved for me, and when it was there it was a secondary thing to the reading and doing, and I never quite played in tune. I went through learning with my local music service, to a specialist music school (considered one of the top in the world), and two and a half music degrees without learning to play in tune. I did a lot of ear playing in this time and really got into a musical tradition that is passed on primarily by ear, but I was still wedded to notation and reading and doing before I listened. It was so ingrained in me it was too hard to undo. Then I started playing professionally and got notes every performance that I had to play passages X, Y and Z in tune, but I just couldn’t do it.

Fortunately, a few years ago, I started teaching for an organisation who teach with a focus on the western classical tradition but use notation as it should be, to compliment what we hear, and the ongoing and high quality training I have as part of that is slowly turning me into a listening-first musician. I can’t say I *always* play in tune now (I frequently don’t) but when I don’t I am much more aware of it and able to fix it.

I don’t know what it is we teach classical musicians when we train them to turn off their ears and glue their eyes to a page, but it’s certainly not music.

Obviously, the majority of my teaching goes sing->play->read, sing->read->play or read->sing->play. There’s some read->play because this is a skill we need as musicians, but only when I’m certain they’ve internalised the singing part and the notes on the stave mean sounds they can hear in their heads first, and instructions for what to do with their bodies and instruments second.

To explain (but not justify) one of the reasons “notated music is best” is perpetuated: when musicians who have always read without playing from ear are put in a situation where they have to learn aurally, they find they don’t have the aural skills to do it and, rather than admitting they have a weakness, they write off the style of music that challenged their musicianship as “not real music”. I know this because I’ve done exactly this.

It’s the same with teaching: to teach through listening first requires excellent aural skills from the teacher; music teaching is often funded by public money, which is limited, so teachers are told by managers to teach in a way they don’t have the skills or confidence to do, and there isn’t the money to train them properly to do it, so they just revert to what they know, which is teach the kids to read notation and do all the other aspects through that. If the kid struggles with reading they’re either written off as “not musical” or the teacher continues to beat them round the head every week with reading notation instead of getting on with the music and everyone involved gets miserable.

(FYI, this rant in no way contradicts or negates my rant [on Twitter] a few months ago about teachers dumbing down 5 line stave notation for kids.)

It can be hard to challenge the notation-first approach in teaching bc teachers most likely to do this are usually from the older generation when classical musicians who got as far as teaching or playing professionally were overwhelmingly white & often male, and it’s harder for younger teachers to challenge older white men, and new teachers coming into the profession work alongside these older colleagues and mimic their notation-centric approach. Coupled with inadequate training and the isolation of peripatetic music teachers, we wind up robbing generation after generation of classical musicians of their musicianship, as well as teaching them to hide their lack of musicianship behind the attitude that classical music is the pinnacle of musical achievement, far more important than all other genres.

Another problematic way the “notation over listening” approach is perpetuated is that some musicians who teach see teaching as something to do when you don’t have enough playing work and they don’t value teaching for itself, so they take the easy approach of putting a sheet of notation in front of a child and haranguing them into playing it. Again, this can only be addressed with better training and less isolation for peripatetic music teachers, alongside better pay and conditions (which have been significantly eroded in recent years in the public sector with a move to self-employment and 0 hrs contracts) to attract the best teachers.

All this is fed by racism and classism: can’t-be-bothered teachers can only get work with local authorities strapped for cash, desperate for *anyone* who can hold the violin the right way up, and wind up recruiting teachers who have the attitude that their students are “just inner city/Muslim/black/Traveller/whatever kids who won’t get anywhere with their instrument so don’t need to learn proper musicianship anyway”, while the teachers who do care are attracted away to affluent areas with offers of better pay, conditions, training, and support to teach in a way that challenges and improves their own musicianship as well as their students’. How do I know this? Again, it’s because I’ve done exactly this.

I appreciate this rant may piss off other music teachers and musicians. I don’t care: it needs to be said, and if you have a problem with it I suggest you take a long hard look at why it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I Made a Zine!


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So, I spent this weekend making a zine.

It’s called The Dapper Queer: a zine about ways I am queer (not a prescription for how anyone else should be queer) and you can buy it from my Etsy shop, QueerKnitWriter for £2 + 50p postage.

It contains writings, recipes, pictures and a knitting pattern.


FCKH8 Steal Queer Woman of colour’s Intellectual Property, Pass it off as their Own, and Use it for Profit


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The theft, and general shittery, by commercial clothing company has been well documented, but today I want to talk about their recent theft of a quote from a queer woman of colour, jaythenerdkid. 

Back in March, Jay tweeted “don’t ever compliment me by insulting other women/that’s not a compliment, it’s a competition none of us agreed to”.

A few days ago, FCKH8 tweeted an image with her exact words, without asking or crediting Jay. Their tweet has since been deleted, but here are some screenshots.


The tweet has links to their website and Instagram; the image includes their strap line and website. The purpose of this tweet is clearly to promote thier website and products, and to increase sales. Therefore, FCKH8 are profiting from Jay’s intellectual labour without her consent and without renumerating her.

Jay called FCKH8 out on this.

Others joined in to tell FCKH8 they were in the wrong, and some said FCKH8 had stolen their intellectual property too. As far as I am aware, FCKH8 have not responded.

Whether Jay’s words wind up on any FCKH8 merchandise or not, the fact remains that they took her words without her consent, used them without crediting her, and have offered no renumeration. FCKH8 used her words to promote their products, and have profited from them. This is unethical and illegal, but they are big and Jay and the others they steal from are small, so there’s not much they can do other than shout loudly about it. We can help by shouting loudly too and, of course, taking our business elsewhere.

Jay’s tweets reproduced with permission; FCKH8 can get stuffed.

When Adults Don’t Listen to Kids


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***Trigger warnings for child abuse, misgendering, and trans erasure***
There is an incident I remember very clearly from infants’ school (age five to seven): we were making yoghurt* and I piped up that my mum makes yoghurt in the airing cupboard (she did: she put boiled milk and some starter yoghurt in an insulated tub and put it into the airing cupboard for 12 hours or so). The teacher replied “no, she doesn’t” and I went home and told my mum how silly the teacher was.

The first time a child made a disclosure of abuse to me, I was a year or so into my teaching career, thinking “of course I won’t be that adult who tries to cover up child abuse when I come across it or doubts a child when they disclose”, but when a child told me they were being beaten with stick at a religious class many of their classmates also attended, my first response was a disbelieving “really?”. Fortunately, the child replied that yes, it was real; I told them I was sorry this had happened to them and that I needed to tell other adults and get it stopped; several children made statements to the police; and that person was removed from their post.

Today I walked past a child on the street who said “hello, That Man”. The adult with them corrected them: “that’s a lady”. The child was right: they’d noticed all the gender performances I put effort into that signal masculinity and deduced, reasonably for someone who has been told there are two, and only two, genders, that I was a man. 

Some weeks ago, I changed my hair style. As I passed a child I teach in a school corridor, they commented that they liked my hair. I thanked them and they followed it up with “you look like a boy” and I thanked them again. A teaching assistant overheard this, told the child off for “being rude”, and gave them a conduct mark. 

In both the above examples (and these are two of many involving children reading my gender correctly or near-correctly, or asking because they’re unsure), an adult corrected a child who was right, with their own wrong assumption. We teach children to misread trans people’s gender, we punish them out of their correct readings, and embarrass them out of asking when they’re unsure in favour of erroneous assumptions.

In the yoghurt example, the teacher gaslit a six-year-old child. If I hadn’t talked and laughed about it with my mum afterwards, I may have started doubting the things that happen in my family are real (I remember another incident with that same teacher telling me my uncle’s computer didn’t have a mouse). She’d never been to my house and had a look in the airing cupboard; and she’d never asked my mum how she made yoghurt.

And the disclosure incident: when I’d had my mandatory safeguarding training, and lived with a foster sibling who disclosed all sorts of unimaginable abuse to me as a kid, I still fucked it up, being so conditioned into thinking horrific things don’t really happen to people we know and that what children say is unreliable. If that child hadn’t been so persistent and had given up after my first reaction, saying they were just joking, many children could still be being beaten at that religious class.

Adults are shit at listening to and believing kids, even when those kids are experts in what they’re talking about. We need to do better.

*It was all a bit garbled… the teacher put some stuff in some jars and promised there would strawberry yoghurt tomorrow, but I don’t remember ever seeing the yoghurt. Perhaps it didn’t work and she quietly threw it away…

Dear Co-Operative Bank, Please Do Better


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Here is a letter I just sent to my bank:

Mx. Sally XXXX

The Co-operative Bank
25 January 2015

Dear Co-Operative Bank,

I’m writing to you to say I am planning to move my banking to RBS if certain issues are not resolved within one month of the date of this letter.

In July 2014 I phoned Telephone Banking to update my title from “Miss” to “Mx.”. This was done, and I started receiving statements, debit cards, and cheque books with my correct title. However, my title remained as “Miss” on Internet Banking and the Mobile Banking app, and whenever I phoned Telephone Banking I was addressed as “Miss”, even after correcting the person I was talking to. When I asked for this to be corrected, I was told your computer system did not allow it. I explained that calling me “Miss” misgenders me and that this hurts and asked for a request to be passed onto the IT department to allow the title “Mx.” To be used. Six moths on and I’m still being misgendered every time I phone you, log onto Internet Banking, or use your mobile app. This is not good enough and is wearing me down psychologically. You need to fix this by 25 February 2015 in order to keep me as a customer.

Several years ago, a person my then-partner and I were sharing a house and joint bank account with moved out. We filled in your form to apply to take their name off the account and they separately informed you of their change of address. They started receiving their own bank statements at their new address, as well as my then-partner’s and my own. We phoned to ask you to sort this out and you sent more forms to fill in and return. We did this and our addresses were corrected on your records. When I checked my credit record in August 2014, I found that I am now recorded as having lived at that old housemate’s new address. I never have: your incompetence has caused this error.

In August 2014, having broken up with the previously-mentioned then-partner, I moved out of the home we shared, and called you to request my name be taken off our joint accounts, and to change my address. You sent the forms, I filled them in, giving you the address I was moving to, as well as a friend’s address as my postal address (my post not being secure at my new address). Shortly after, my friend received bank statements and a credit card addressed to my ex-partner at my friend’s address. He phoned to explain how dangerous this is: fortunately, the break-up was reasonably amicable and my ex is not abusive, but didn’t know this. I could have been fleeing a violent relationship and your actions could have resulted in my ex finding out where to go in order to kill me. My friend explained this to you over the phone, and requested that you immediately correct my ex’s address details without informing him what of you had done, and to send us (my friend, and I) a letter confirming that you had done this, and explaining how you will ensure this never happens again. You agreed to do this. My friend didn’t receive any more post from you for my ex, but we are still waiting, five months later, for that letter.

Twice, several years apart, you have made the same error. This negligence could result in someone’s death and you would be directly responsible. I need to receive this letter, with a satisfactory explanation of how you are making sure you never do something like this again by 25 February 2015 if I am to stay with you.

I’ve been a Co-Operative Bank customer for 15 years. I chose you and have, so far, have stuck with you because you call yourselves an “ethical” bank. However, continuing to misgender me when I’ve explicitly asked you not to is not, in my opinion, ethical, and neither is putting customers at risk of violence through incompetence. RBS have announced that they now allow customers to use the title “Mx.” and I feel like we will bet on better.

I hope you can sort this out within the deadline I’ve given, as I’d like to stay with an “ethical” bank, but I don’t feel like staying with you is safe for me physically or mentally if these issues aren’t resolved.


Mx. Sally XXXX

Edit 28/01/2015: it turns out RBS don’t actually call people by gender neutral titles either. All that trumpeting in the media back in November 2014 was just that, they were only “considering” it and, three months on, they’ve either dropped it or are still “considering”. It feels like all the media crowing about how they’re wonderful about equality was just to shut those silly queers up who keep pestering for trivial things like not being misgendered every time they call their bank. Here’s a screenshot of a reply from their customer service account saying it’s they’re “unable to offer this”:


Leelah Alcorn: For Safe Keeping


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***Trigger warnings for suicide and transphobia***

Tumblr have taken down Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note. Copies have popped up elsewhere online and it’s still available on Google cache but I’m not feeling confident they will last long before being taken down as well. Too many trans teens are dying because they are not heard and this has to stop. Leelah’s voice was silenced in life, and I feel strongly that her words are too important to be silenced in death too, so I’m trying to do my bit by re-publishing Leelah’s words here:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.
At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

If you are feeling suicidal, or just need to talk to someone in confidence, you can call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or 116 123 (R.O.I) or email

Whitewashing the Blues: Why Music is Anything but “Colourblind”


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Pottering about at home earlier this evening with BBC Radio 4 on in the background, I was half-listening to an interview on arts programme Front Row, featuring an interview with singer Annie Lennox who was promoting her blues album, Nostalgia.

I wasn’t paying much attention when she was talking about how she feels an affinity for the blues, but then my ears suddenly pricked up when she declared “music is colourblind”. Really? Had I heard correctly? She was talking about her affinity for the blues, a musical genre born of racial oppression, and in three little words, she completely whitewashed that history, that entire reason the genre was born in the first place, erasing and appropriating it. Then, they played a clip of her singing Strange Fruit. Strange Fruit?! Does she have the slightest clue what that song is about? It’s not like the lyrics are some cryptic metaphor: they describe in detail lynched bodies hanging from trees; and they locate these bodies in a time and place where this type of murder was all about colour and race.

Lennox’s comment about music being “colourblind” was especially white-washing in the context of the blues, but it would be inappropriate whatever the context. I wrote about several examples of race creeping into music from my own work as a musician and music teacher here, but I’d like to discuss a couple of examples from my own experience now, in the hope of demonstrating that Lennox’s attitude doesn’t have a place anywhere in music, blues or otherwise.

Not long after I started teaching in London schools, I was working in a school with an almost entirely Bangladeshi Muslim population. One day, I was chatting to one of my students as she helped me prepare the classroom for the afternoon’s violin and cello lessons. She was telling me about an ornament she has at home, describing it as “a white man with a cello”. I was completely unprepared for what she said next: she looked me in the eye and said “cello is for white people really, isn’t it?”. I didn’t know what to say. I feel strongly that the cello is for anyone who wants to give it a go, whatever their race, but there wasn’t anything I could say to back that up. There are no Bangladeshi cellists on the international concert soloist circuit. And there’s no-one wearing a hijab in the London Symphony Orchestra. There was no-one I could point to and say “no, cello is for people like you too”. That kid played the cello, she did it every week in school and she clearly enjoyed it, and yet she didn’t own playing the cello: it was something she did, but it wasn’t something she did that defined her. I play the cello wasn’t part of her identity in the way it had always been part of my identity right from the very first time I sat down to try out my first instrument at the age of four. I’d worked to give her and her classmates a sense of ownership of their weekly violin or cello playing, using terms like “musician”, “cellist” and “violinist” to describe them, but I realised I’d failed because of race: the white cellists on TV, the white china cellist on my student’s mantelpiece, and my own whiteness as their principle role model, had all conspired to shut them out.

When I was doing my ethnomusicology degree, I undertook a short fieldwork project with a musician and fiddle restorer friend. In one of our rambling conversations — I still have the tape somewhere — he told me about his experience as a working class Scot attending a Glasgow state school staffed by English teachers. “How they snobbed at us”, he said, and described how music lessons had consisted of the teacher lecturing the kids on how the traditional Scottish music (at which my friend was proficient) they played wasn’t “real music”, then shoved “real” classical music down their throats to the point where my friend was still, some 50+ years later, in awe of and intimidated by classically trained musicians such as myself. Again, music is polarised along racial lines, with the English teachers using a combination of musical genre and race to belittle their Scottish students.

In my examples, the racial divide of who plays what and how, and whether they feel a real ownership of that music so that it becomes part of their identity or not, is somewhat subtle: you could, if you didn’t think too hard about it, overlook the dominance of white faces — they are, after all, the default “normal” face we are presented with in the media — in our professional orchestras; and, in these post-independence referendum times, it’s perhaps easy to forget that a few generations back, Scottish traditional music wasn’t valued as highly as it is today in Scotland’s education system. But erasing the racial aspects of the blues, especially when you’re singing such overtly racially-charged songs as Strange Fruit, takes a special level of white privilege.

The Power of Socks



On a recent Friday evening I was knitting the second sock of a pair on my commute to work on a rush hour train. A woman who looked to be in her 70s or 80s sat down next to me and asked if I was knitting gloves or socks. I told her I was making socks and she was clearly interested, so I took out the completed sock to show her.


“Oh,” she said, taking the sock, “it’s years since I turned a heel.”

For the 15 minutes or so the journey took, she held the sock in both hands, examining it, and a flood of reminiscences poured forth: how she’d learned to turn a heel at school (I’m guessing this school was in Ireland in the 1940s or ’50s judging from her accent and age); the darning she did; and how, after she’d mastered socks, she graduated to knitting jumpers. She examined the ribbing and complimented me on how it wasn’t too tight, then retreated into her own thoughts, still staring at the sock. When we got to my station I was rather reluctant to take the sock back as she was still engrossed in it.

I feel honoured that she shared this glimpse into her life with me, and awed that something mundane as a sock could provoke such strong memories. Knitting really is a feminist activity that connects people (still mainly women) through the generations.


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