This past week I saw a pair of trumpeter swans a’swimming on Swan Lake in Wyoming.
Since identifying the lake as a destination on our hike, Tchaikovsky’s Swan’s Theme has been firmly lodged in my brain. When we reached Swan Lake itself I dramatically sang what I knew of it from the shore, one of my companions helpfully picking up the tune, my arms spread wide, for once not really caring whether I disturbed the people or creatures around me. (And hey, it’s important to scare off the bears!) I even made a fair attempt at a lesser-known section that leads up to the repetition of the leitmotif.
A few moments later an older white couple walked over to us, one of them smiling and then enthusiastically thanking us for our performance and appreciating that we managed to stay on tune. She laughingly claimed that the pair of swans across the lake, which I actually hadn’t seen before I began singing, beat their wings against the water to applaud us as we sang. (I later joked that they were probably beating their wings in frustration, thinking “goddamn it can people stop singing that fucking song at us already?!?”)
I’m fairly certain that out of our group of four in which I was the only non-white person, this woman did not expect me to be the one who’d first encountered Swan Lake when learning an adaptation of the theme during piano lessons at age 6 or so; the one who is probably most personally sad about Tchaikovsky’s life trajectory and deeply moved by his music in that light; or the one who would, upon returning to reliable and secure wifi, download a good recording of “Swan Lake,” listen to it incessantly, marvel at the Swan dancing en pointe in YouTube videos, and tell their partner happily of their newfound appreciation of ballet after having stuck primarily to non-ballet classical music and opera for the past three decades and that they’ll go to the ballet with her more enthusiastically than expected after all.
This morning I found myself sitting in my favorite neighborhood spot, Akat Cafe Kalli, where the politics are as palpable and potent as the coffee. I sat here, eating my breakfast sandwich, drinking my café de olla, reading my book , nodding my head along to the music, which I was growing increasingly aware of and was increasingly digging, but also increasingly scared to trust it. As I listened to the explicitly political lyrics on police violence, racism, sexism and homophobia that seemed to speak directly to me as a queer, leftist, womanish person of color, my suspicion grew that I might feel significantly less in tune with other, yet unnamed politics of the artists whose album was playing. The feeling increased as the words, now in Spanish as well as English, continued to resonate as much as the music to which they were set.
A few more tracks in, and I was digging the music too much to not know whose it was. I searched online for a snippet of the lyrics–“i’m a bird who sings in the springtime”–and found that it was indeed Climbing PoeTree, and that I was indeed right to feel betrayed. (In short, Climbing PoeTree performed at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival despite a longstanding call for a boycott because of their exclusion of trans women; the duo’s public response, the only one I know of, was weak, as was their response to me in real life after I yelled for them to stop selling out trans women while they were on stage at an organizational event I attended.
Despite feeling so seen, heard, included and even centered by this music and these words, I couldn’t stop thinking of those who are not included in the circle of these artists’ politics, those whose exclusion these artists have endorsed and even embraced–trans women. I couldn’t let myself go with this music, as much as my ears and body wanted to, because I cannot leave my sisters and siblings behind in order to enjoy my own inclusion.
…I just felt it was crucial for some of us in the hip hop community to speak up on the issues of teen suicide, bullying, and the overall anti-homosexual sentiment that exist within hip hop culture. I felt so strongly about these issues and this song that I had to do a video that would command some attention, even if it makes some viewers uncomfortable. Even if it came at the cost of my own comfort.
Warning: depictions of extreme homophobia-fueled intimate partner violence (a murder-suicide) between two young men of color are included.
Edited to add: I’m really grateful to my partner M. for pointing out my initial blind spot: this video depicts intimate partner violence driven by homophobia. She added that “it’s important to note that all oppressions [including homophobia, racism, and classism/poverty] are ‘outside stressors’ in relationships.” Very, very true.
I am generally feeling more emotional than usual today; that said, this made me cry, because it was very moving, beautifully done, heartbreaking and very difficult to watch, and because I was glad to know that this exists. I know the video is probably worth a closer look and deeper analysis, but for now, this is what I’ve got.
PS: Murs’ album is called Love and Rockets, which rocks. Murs was at Comic Con, according to his Twitter feed. I gotta check him out more!