Lessons from Adult Band Camp

The great thing about being a teacher is that you have the summer to unwind, recuperate, and take time to do things that you enjoy. For example, in the month since I returned to the Lower 48 I’ve done things like go to the library, go to the movies, go to the theatre, and traveled to see friends and family. I’ve also been able to indulge my love of music by attending Band Camp for Adult Musicians at my alma mater. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m a musician. I started playing an instrument in fourth grade, and wound up minoring in trombone performance in college. Since I graduated five years ago, however, I’ve not really had too many chances to perform with an ensemble. I’ve kept in touch with Doc and J, my college music professors, and several times throughout the years I’ve heard them talk about Band Camp, and I always thought it sounded like fun. This year, my schedule and finances finally allowed me to participate. Over the course of five days, 80 people who love playing music played through almost four dozen pieces of music in order to put on two concerts. Here’s what I took away from the experience.

1) You can go home again (sort of)

As I’ve already mentioned, this camp is held at my alma mater, herein referred to as AC. Just driving back onto campus is a rush, bringing a wave of happy memories from my four years there. The music building looks exactly the same from the outside, and the inside hasn’t changed too much aside from some new practice rooms and a renovated basement area. What has changed are the names on some of the office doors and some of the faces in the faculty photo; looking at it, I realize that I know only about half of the people that work there now. Of course, that seems to be the case with most of the campus. As I mentally ran through a list of people I should stop in and visit, I had to keep reminding myself that more than a few of them have moved on to other jobs. Those that I did get to see were happy to say hi and catch up with me, telling me what else has changed and what has stayed the same.

2) Band camp? More like boot camp!

Since graduating from AC, the most reliable ensemble performances I would participate in would be when Beth, my former junior high band director, would call me to say she needed another trombone to sit in on her students’ concert that night. Flattering, yes, but not the most challenging repertoire. Even that opportunity is no longer available, as moving to Alaska means that I can’t just hop in the car and drive to the school. I still practice 4-5 times a week, but when you don’t have anyone to forcibly challenge you and push you, it’s easy to slack off. Attending camp this week has been like running a daily marathon when you’ve only run a mile at a time for the last ten months. The full band rehearsed from 9-11:45 every morning, and again from 6-8:30 Monday through Wednesday evenings. Afternoons were spent in small ensembles rehearsals, often 2-3 hours’ worth. Thursday evening, the small ensembles put on their concert, while the full band performed Friday evening. In other words, I played my horn for over 40 hours this week!

3) I’m a better musician than I think I am.

Otherwise, I don’t know that I would have survived the week! Sight reading (playing a piece of music you’ve never seen or necessarily heard before) is an acquired skill, much like reading any other language. Of the 48 pieces of music I played through this week, I sight read all but 3 of them. In addition to that, the entire group only played through most of the performed pieces three or four times each, which meant everyone had to be on point with things like dynamics and tempos.

4) I can be known for something other than my trans* identity.

To be fair, I’ve experienced this one quite a bit over the last year. However, when I was a student at AC my trans* identity was a big part of how people knew me. Even though I was back on campus, I was now more widely known for being both the youngster in the group (average age of the band: 66 years old) and for my teaching in Alaska.

5) My social anxiety is still present, but much more manageable.

I’ve never liked being in large crowds of people. I can manage if I’m in a place that I’m familiar with (on a stage), or have something to do (play my trombone). In a non-structured environment, though, I’m a wreck. This week wasn’t nearly as stressful as it could have been, though. After all, I already knew Doc and J, and I’d met Col. Tim, our conductor, before. Several other faces were also familiar from my time at the college. J, especially, made a point of introducing me around, and the fact that I was from Alaska meant that I had many people approach me asking questions. I even got up the courage to strike up conversations with people on my own.

6) There is a generation gap in the LGBT community.

Okay, yes, there are generation gaps everywhere. Allow me to explain. For years, I’ve carried a reusable water bottle with me. I decorate it with stickers, from the mascot of a favorite company to a “Greece” sticker to a gigantic comic-book style drawing of dinosaurs. It also sports the Human Rights Campaign’s classic yellow equal sign. Following the welcome dinner on Sunday, a gentlemen approached me, introduced himself as Dale, and politely asked about the HRC sticker. As a member of the gay community, he recognized it, and apparently assumed that I, too, was a gay man. I smiled and explained that, no, I’m trans, which visibly startled him. At his request we had lunch together the next day to discuss the similarities and differences in our experiences. He was particularly interested in my experiences living in rural Alaska. We had several good conversations over the course of the week, and will continue to keep in touch.

Another person who recognized the HRC sticker was Sam, a good friend of J’s. He didn’t approach me directly about it, but did ask J if I was gay. I gave Doc and J both permission to tell my story years ago, so she patiently explained things to Sam. She related this all to me the next day, noting that Sam was immediately accepting and awed.

I found it interesting that, on seeing the sticker, two people that I know of, and probably more than a few that I don’t know about, made the assumption that I was gay. No one thought that I might be an ally, and certainly no one thought I was trans.

7) There are LGBT allies out there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Even with the age of the average camper and the grueling schedule, more than a few people kept an eye on social media in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling. By the time the break rolled around Friday morning, the 5-4 decision had been announced, and a few conversations were celebratory in nature. Yet my joy was tempered by the knowledge that there is still a lot of work to do, as had been graphically demonstrated to me just the day before.

During the afternoon break, Doc and J invited a select group of people out to their house for drinks and conversation. At Doc’s invitation, I’d been part of this group from the first day of camp. Thursday afternoon, one of the other musicians started showing people a picture of “Caitlyn Jenner’s new formal gown”. I didn’t see it, but apparently the pic showed a woman with her back to the camera in a sheer dress, lit in such a way to show the large penis between her legs. Other people began to refer to Caitlyn as “Bruce” and “he” and “him”. J and I both corrected people on the name and pronouns, noting that the photo was in poor taste. It was put away, but got trotted out again later once more people had joined the group. It shortly disappeared again, and didn’t reappear that afternoon. Even as I played in the small ensembles concert that night, though, I couldn’t help thinking I should have taken more of a stand against that type of behavior.

Friday morning, J asked if she could talk to me in her office for a moment. Apparently, the picture showed up again while people were cleaning up from the reception that followed the concert Thursday night. The same musician was responsible, and J snapped. She informed him that the picture and his comments were extremely insensitive. He replied that he would never show it or say those things if any trans person was around. She asked him how he would know, and he replied that he’d “just know”. J then informed him that there had been a trans individual at her house that afternoon. She didn’t name names, but given that I was the only “new” person at the gathering that afternoon he figured it out pretty quickly. In her words, he became angry, the kind of anger and bluster that often accompanies the horrible realization that one has put one’s foot in one’s mouth. J felt the need to tell me because she didn’t know if he would say something to me about the incident, and also because two more people now know about me (another musician, a good friend of both Doc and J, was privy to the exchange). I thanked her for both the knowledge and for standing up against that kind of stupidity. The musician in question never said anything directly to me about the incident, but he did make a point of seeking me out and saying that he hopes to see me again at camp next year.

8) I am incredibly privileged.

I am a transman, but as has been illustrated this week, I “pass” as a cisgender man. I’m white, just like the rest of the campers. I have had and continue to have the benefit of a musical education, something available to fewer and fewer children these days. I have an unbelievably good job and salary for someone my age, one that allows me the time and money necessary to attend a camp like this. I have a wonderful family, which includes people like Doc and J. And I have you, my readers, who take time to share in my life and encourage me. Thank you.

  1. Jenny Morris said:

    I was there Thursday afternoon, but didn’t realize anyone there was ‘trans’. I could tell J was offended and thought she handled it well. I guess I missed things on Thursday pm….story of my life! But I’m going to be reading your blog in the next few days. one of my closest friends has a child (14 yrs old) who has begun the process of gender transformation, and so I want to learn more. I’m surprised to see you writing about social anxiety! You seemed perfectly comfortable with me, and I enjoyed getting to know you.

  2. It’s funny how people think it’s ok to say things when the subject you’re talking about isn’t around. He obviously didn’t think about the possibility that someone of the present might have a loved one who’s trans and that they might be offended too.

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