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LGBT+ History Month: A Guest Post from Composer Hillman Mondegreen

LGBT+ History Month explores the history, celebrates the present, and looks to the future of LGBT+ people in the UK. This February, we invited Musicians’ Union members to share their experiences. Hillman Mondegreen, composer for Ephemerals, explores.

There’s a move among people born with transgender neurology to stop going on TV debates to discuss whether or not we exist and to stop writing articles to assert that we exist. Even if somebody has to make these points, it certainly shouldn’t be trans or intersex people anymore.

Allies have to do ‘the work’ and speak up for us on the absolute basics, and allow us to move past survival into some kind of life. I appreciate we said don’t speak for us and now I’m changing that, but now we’re moving on to decide who the actual hell we’re going to be.

So many cultures around the world had their own understandings of gender variance, only for it to be vanquished by the crusading black-and-white-ism that the colonialists tipped their swords with. An early 1800’s portrait by George Catlin, depicts Native Americans dancing in praise around a two-spirit person – which is the indigenous word for trans or intersex. The artist uses the slur “Berdache” to describe them.

The Indian Hijra perform badhai – songs and dances at births and weddings, owing to their honourable inclusion in the holy poem Ramayana, written a few hundred years before Christ. Although in common usage, the term Hijra is actually a slur, so the community refer to themselves as Kinnara, who are mythical celestial musicians, half human and half animal in form.

Similarly, Islamic culture has the Mukhannathun, a term which traces its etymology variably to words for ‘hermaphrodite’ and ‘delicate’. In the early centuries after Christ, historical records tell of “effeminate men” dressed as women with traditional henna markings performing music, a pursuit usually only reserved for females.

Humans like us have been trodden down in the earth for centuries, oppressed so successfully that we have no connection to one another except for in the trans brothels of Delhi and Rio, or on Reddit chats and in glances at the sexual health clinic. But we’ve begun to gather in other places. We are now in the business of growing ourselves a culture from the mud we’ve been planted in.

And this is why I am making music that is trying to be unique to us. Not content with assimilating into gay culture’s escapist club beats or the hopeful hypergender of pop’s girl-ballads. Jazz is how I feel at home in my body right now. I’m searching for the vibrations of what it feels like to fizz in a body that the world tells you is wrong, ugly and corrupt, but that bristles with its own ancient gifts.

I’m dog-whistling my community, trying to bring them into a safe, physical space to experience ourselves and each other in ways we never could when we were pushed so deep underground. I’m trying to make a sound that cultivates our artists, film makers, designers, architects, teachers, doctors – that inspires us to explore how exceptional we are as people born beyond the binary of 4/4 major, minor. We are flattened second Phrygian bodies, 7/8 signature brains.

You’re all welcome in my space, to come with respect as I respect yours, to listen to me work out how to score my beauty. I’m drowning out the pain of the endless eyes on tube trains, of the manic stalking by those who fetishise us, of the constant denial of our existence on television.

So you’ll have to forgive me, but I could do with you stepping in on the easy stuff if you love me, even if you don’t know me, because I’m not going to be arguing for which bathroom I can and can’t use at my gig.

Follow the LGBT History Month team on Twitter.

Find out more and download useful resources on the LGBT History Month website.

Published: 31/01/2019

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