SF Trans March 2016

It is pride weekend in San Francisco, and it is a particularly poignant one after the shootings in Orlando only two weeks ago. It is an extra mission for many of us to show up this year and be present, and be defiant. Before the main parade and event today, I wanted to share a report from the annual Trans March that opened up pride on Friday evening.

I met up with the march on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, not far from CatSynth HQ.

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Here are some scenes moving forward with the march.

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I particularly liked this moment with both the transgender pride flag and the kitty cat.

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The march turned from Market onto Taylor Street and stopped at the corner of Turk and Taylor in the Tenderloin.

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I have written about walking the entire length of Taylor in a previous article, including passing through this stretch. But it turns out to also be a very important spot in LGBTQ history, in particular for the history of transgender identity and rights. The corner of Turk and Taylor is the site of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots in 1966 – three years before Stonewall. Compton’s Cafeteria at 101 Taylor Street was one of the few “safe” gathering places for transgender people in the city in the 1960s. You can read a brief account of the riot here. The history is not as well known as Stonewall, but this 50th anniversary commemoration was a step towards correcting that. The ceremony included veterans of the riots, and the unveiling of a new street name.

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Immersing myself in this history is a relatively new things for me, as I have been mostly involved in my own process and in the larger LGBTQ community. But I am happy to be getting deeper into it, and to participate in events like this.

#WeAreOrlando Personal Response

More than any of the mass shootings in the last few years (and they seem to happen more and more often), this one has especially rattled me and affected me. There is the realization that this wasn’t random, but targeting a specific group. Targeting the LGBTQ community. Targeting us. I see more of myself in the 49 names and faces than I do in the victims after most shootings, not because their lives weren’t as precious, but because these victims could have been me. And then there is the frustration that this will get lost in the prevailing rhetoric that predictably goes to gun control and fears of Islamic terrorism. Sure, there have been a lot of statements of sympathy towards the LGBTQ community, and articles documenting the sad history of attacks over the decades, but nothing that puts the violent hatred towards us at the center of the conversation or looks at the causes of why this persists despite so much advancement legally and politically.

It is connected to things that do not involve guns but involve similar hate, such as the series of killings of trans women of color here in San Francisco, or the “bathroom laws” targeting the trans community that “other” and demonize trans women making them such likely targets. It’s the long history of arsons of gay clubs and even churches. Of beatings, particularly of gay men. Of the much mythologized Stonewall Riots themselves.

This occurs not in a vacuum but in the context of issues in the U.S. that don’t get enough scrutiny. We need to talk about how toxic masculinity fuels hatred towards sexual minorities. Young men already disaffected by whatever repulsed by two men kissing or a woman who may have been born a man. And we need to talk about the problem of religious fundamentalism. Even when it’s not in the forefront such as discrimination based on “religious freedom” it’s lurking in the background, with some connection to Christian or Islamic fundamentalism in particular used as justification. One must wonder why these religions would put so much focus on sexual identity and behavior that they would justify hurting or killing someone, but they do. And statements simply saying “we believe in peace” is not enough – we need people of faith to question why tenets against sexual minorities are even important to their religions at all, let alone something of such dire importance to discriminate or incite violence (or call special legislative sessions). They should to start to move away from these doctrines even if it is a break with “tradition”, and make it a priority to speak out against fear, hatred and violence of LGBTQ individuals. And those on the progressive left of U.S. politics, whom I see as comrades in most circumstances, need to also make this a priority. It’s hard to care about who is getting campaign money from whom when misguided laws and violence put ones own existence in question.

I certainly hope this moment doesn’t turn into an excuse for counter violence against anyone, much less a call to war. That would be the wrong outcome. The important thing is for those from communities most responsible for the hate and violence, angry disaffected men and religious communities, to question and show that they are ready to change and to say “no more of this. Not from us.” That’s a lot to ask, but we can at least start.

Boulez and Bowie

In the span of just one week at the start of this new year, we lost two musical heroes (whose names, coincidentally, both begin with “B”). Pierre Boulez and David Bowie may seem worlds apart musically and stylistically, but they both had strong influences on where my own music and performance has gone especially in the last few years.

By Joost Evers / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joost Evers / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I am most familiar with Boulez not as a composer but as the founding director and god father of IRCAM in Paris; and as a renowned conductor. One fun memory of the latter involves one of his recordings conducting Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia. It was a favorite of mine, and when I got the chance to present it to Berio for an autograph, he declared his dislike of the recording, but signed my CD atop Boulez’ face. As a figure who loomed large in the world of avant-garde music, and then electronic music, he certainly evoked strong opinions from others. There is no doubting the influence of his leadership at IRCAM in both my electronic-music composition and research, even as I disagree with aspects of the institution’s culture, such as strict control and division of music and technology research. But it’s worth stepping back and looking at Boulez as a composer. His masterpiece Répons combines electronics with an acoustic chamber ensemble in ways that make the electronics disappear at times. It also has a very visual quality to it, evoking a complex film scene or theatre piece.

By k_tjaaa (Flickr: David Bowie Mural) [<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0">CC BY 2.0</a>], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADavid_Bowie_Mural.jpg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

By k_tjaaa (Flickr: David Bowie Mural) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The theatrical is one of many ways David Bowie’s influence comes into the picture, along with the use of gender experimentation and constant stylistic reinvention. His gender-fluid and sometimes overtly feminine presentations on stage were “transgressive” for the time, but have certainly impacted many of us and made space for our own expression in music and in person. It set an example for me to be able to first come out on stage and then eventually in person. In addition to gender, Bowie’s onstage persona gave freedom to be decadent and glamorous, something which many styles of music seem to lack. Now when I perform Boulez-influenced music, it is definitely with Bowie-influenced staging and theatrics. And of course the costuming.

But David Bowie was himself a talented musician and writer. In the same ferment of the 1970s in which he developed his personae, he also pushed the use of synthesizers and electronics in music that was still referred to as “Rock”. His song Subterraneans is a prime example of both technology (ARP synthesizers, backwards bass guitar) and theatrics in his music, as illustrated in this tribute video.

The album that includes this song, Low, was preceded by Station to Station, one of my favorites for its funk influence, including the song Stay. The funk and soul sound of this album, along with his more unambiguously masculine persona in the album art (at least to my sensibilities), exemplify his ability to change and reinvent quickly from one project to the next. It’s the album I have returned to primarily after the announcement of his death on Sunday night. But I do want to close with one if his most hauntingly beautiful songs: Drowned Girl is one again something different altogether.

Farewell to 2015: Annus Asper

Farewell to 2015
[Click to enlarge.]

2015 was a rough year. There is no other way to put it. We looked over the precipice at some of the worst possibilities becoming reality. But we came through. Luna stared down an extremely dire diagnosis and is once again thriving. For that I am truly grateful. I rebounded strongly from my own health issues as well. And there were many other beautiful moments this year, a few of which are included in our graphic.

This was a year of many endings as well, most notably in the personal and musical domains. But new doors are opening for 2016 as a result, and there are some new projects and opportunities for which I am excited. 2015 left a lot of questions unanswered, some of which are also depicted in the graphic and some of which are beyond the scope of this site.

So we are excited for 2016, but also extremely anxious and apprehensive. There are more big challenges coming up; and if I have learned anything, it is that I have no idea how things will ultimately turn out. It’s just a matter of doing things one at a time incrementally – but also continuing even more than ever to speak my truths and accept the risks and consequences that come with doing so.

Meanwhile, we at CatSynth will continue to do what we do here, bring music, art, culture and cats to the world. Thank you for all your support in 2015, and especially all your support for Luna and me. We are truly humbled and look forward to sharing this new year whatever it brings.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)

We lost another of our art heroes yesterday. Ellsworth Kelly, known for his iconic works composed of color fields, passed away.

Luna with Ellsworth Kelly book

The above photo features the catalog from his large-scale solo show at SFMOMA in 2002-2003. The exhibition was a bright spot, both aesthetically and emotionally, in an otherwise depressing period of time and made quite an impression. I kept intersecting with his work during my numerous art adventures in California. His paintings featured large color fields, sometimes combined together into a single whole, while other times separated, as in Blue Green Black Red (1996) on display as part of the Fisher Collection at SFMOMA. I had the opportunity to see a large retrospective of his prints and paintings at LACMA in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. This, too, was revelatory as it showed other aspects of his work, including black-and-white pieces and connections of his abstract style to nature.


[Installation view. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings. January 22-April 22, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo (c) 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA]


[Installation view. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings. January 22-April 22, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo (c) 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA]

 

It is still, however, the color fields that I most instantly recognized as his.


[Installation view. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings. January 22-April 22, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo (c) 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA]

Kelly himself resisted being described as “abstract” or “minimal” or any other label that intersected with his career.  But I think this statement quoted in the New York Times obituary describes his art very well, and is a fitting conclusion.

“My paintings don’t represent objects,” he said in 1996. “They are objects themselves and fragmented perceptions of things.”

 

San Francisco SPCA Holiday Windows

One of our favorite holiday traditions in San Francisco continues to be the holiday windows at Macy’s flagship store on Union Square featuring adoptable pets from the SF SPCA. It’s hard not to melt a bit looking at the pets in the windows, located at the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell, waiting for their new homes.

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Of course, the cats were mostly doing what cats do best.

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I believe this trio are litter mates.

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All of the animals are available for adoption, and one can schedule visit time to meet them just as one would at the main SF SPCA shelter. At the time I visited, there were only kittens. I do hope to see more adult cats, who often have a tougher time getting adopted. When I turned back to photograph on adorable black kitten, her space had a sign saying she was taking a break to visit with a potential family. I certainly hope it worked out for her.

You can find out more about the SF SPCA / Macy’s Holiday Windows at this site, including information on visiting and donating. I’m sure I’ll be back at least once before it closes on January 3.