Taking Music Back

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It’s not super well known, but spent a lot of years playing trombone at least once a week. I played nearly non-stop from fourth grade up until my early 30s. From high school on I didn’t even take the summer off – I’d still be playing a few times a week. If you add all of this up, it’s roughly 20 years.

Most of that time was spent in a church setting. The church I attended from tenth grade until I left the church for good (again, in my early 30s) had a band. The membership varied from year to year, but I was one of the few constants. When I started playing in it it was mostly made up of professionals from the Air Force Band of Flight, and by the time I left it was mostly just a bunch of amateurs like myself.

The few years I spent playing with professionals taught me a lot. In school I learned how to play an instrument, but I never really learned how to play trombone. There is a difference in learning how to play an instrument, and learning how to play it like it’s meant to be played. Each instrument is different, with different histories and backgrounds, and to play it right, you need to learn about the instrument itself… it’s color, it’s timber, etc. It’s all unique to the horn you’re playing.

Since I was performing weekly, I was forced to get really good at sight reading. This is a hard skill to learn. Learning that it’s okay if you don’t make all of the notes – drop the ones you can’t play – but whatever you do, don’t get lost. My high school band (like all school bands, pretty much) went to “contest” each year. Part of the things the band had to do was sight read. We’d practice for weeks leading up to this. The teacher would give us a pile of music to read as a group, and we’d hand it back in at the end of the class. This was always super easy for me, because I was doing it each and every week, and learning from some of the best in the business.

I loved playing next to folks that really knew how to play. I learned so much, and had a lot of fun doing it.

 

But the good times didn’t last for forever. The group at church changed over the years. It got smaller and smaller. The professionals moved on. The music minister we’d had for forever moved on, and the new person came in totally determined to do his own thing, and tossed out all of the charts I nearly had memorized… and the new ones were super hard, and way beyond my ability to play. (But not read!)

At the end the weekly practices had gone away, and we were down to just a brief read-through before the first service, if we even got that at all. The thing I had totally loved to do changed radically, and not in a good way.

I tried complaining about this (the pieces were so difficult that I needed more than one read-through), but no one really seemed to care. It all fell on deaf ears. I felt like the band was no longer anything anyone cared about. Like we were just an annoying thing in the way that ate into time for sound checks before a service.

Finally, I hit my breaking point. I’d been really upset at how poorly a service had gone (one were we didn’t even get a single read-through – meaning I was sight reading for the performance), and when I said something about how we need more time, and more people (it was down to just a small handful of people at that point), they fired back with “well, maybe if people want the honor of playing in this building, they’d get here earlier.”

I was crushed. I felt like not a single person cared. I’d put 15 or so years of my life into this group, and we were just being tossed away. That was the day I walked out of the doors and never came back.

When I left the church, I thought for sure that music was just something I was going to have to give up. My trombone sat in my closet for many years, because I was scared to touch it. Just looking at it brought back all kinds of memories that I didn’t want to feel. All that angst I had from watching the group at church get tossed away would just bubble to the service and I’d be overwhelmed with emotions.

 

Playing trombone wasn’t the only type of music I did. I was also in choir, and had a pretty good range and ear. (Playing trombone helps a lot with your singing skills – both require you to find the right pitch yourself.) I had a pretty good range as a vocalist. I could sing bass and tenor, and just about anything in between.

When I transitioned, I re-learned how to talk. My vocal range changed. It’s much higher than it used to be. (Not because of hormones… they have nothing to do with it. It was just shear determination that I was going to pass all of the time, darn it.) I had to give up the range in my voice to do this. I bet I could sing alto, but my days of singing bass are long over.

It’s kinda weird. Trombone (and tenor and bass vocally) are all bass clef. I can barely read treble clef, which is the one most people think of when you show them a piece of music. If I were to try to sing alto, I’d have to learn how to read pitches all over again. Sight reading would be hard.

I’d just kinda felt like my days with music had come to an end. I couldn’t touch a trombone because of bad memories, and I could no longer sing the parts I used to. (Nor would I want to even if I could!)

It made me really sad that I’d lost something that was a big part of my life for so long.

 

Flash forward to a few years ago. I somehow picked up an interest in some forms of jazz music. (Namely pieces from the Great American Songbook.) I started listening to Great American Songbook music on the radio. I learned a few of the standards and could pick them out by ear. I’ve learned how different you can do a single piece by playing it in a lot of different styles, or changing the words slightly… all sorts of little tweaks you can do. (I’ve also learned that I like Frank Sinatra’s songs, but I can’t stand listening to him. Hello, Frank. Dynamic range is a thing!)

I sorta fell in love with Jonathan Schwartz when he was a program director for XM Radio (this was before the merger ruined XM). His tastes in music matched mine, a lot, and I’d listen to his program every day at work.

XM got rid of him a few years ago, but I found that he has a streaming show on the Internet weekly, so I still listen to him nearly every day. His radio show is one of the things that I listen to while at work, even. I’ve learned so much about that style of music… and the flame kinda got relit.

I’ve been listening to the Great American Songbook for a few years, and started to long to get back into music, but never really got up the courage to do so.

 

Until a few weeks ago. 🙂

In Rocket City we have a giant piano on the floor in the loft. Normally it’s for running on, but you can play it by touching the keys, too. There’s a game that myself and few others play (hi, Mr. Genesis!) where we’ll play something and see if other people know what it is. Normally I just kinda goof around, but a few weeks ago I really wanted to play… but I can’t read piano music. (It’s treble clef.) Soo… I looked up trombone music, because I can read that.

I spent a few hours playing trombone music on that piano on the ground (poorly, I might add), but that was enough to do it. Just reading music again for the first time in ages… having to think about time signatures, key signatures… having to remember that accidentals carry though the measure… how repeats, codas, and other things work… it all just started flooding back into my head. All this knowledge I forgot I had. Knowledge I had made myself forget about because it reminded me of a horrible time in my life… but this time I was surrounded by friends… and playing songs that I know very well from the radio, but aren’t church songs… it was… amazing.

Finally it all started to click that “you know, there’s stuff other than church music you can play. You listen to it every single day.”

 

On a whim I went online and just started searching for trombone music, and was reminded about “The Real Book,” which is a collection of jazz standards. When I last looked at one of these, I didn’t know any of the songs in it…. but now? I know like half of them, and learn more every day.

My Trombone

My trombone, back where it belongs. ❤

Finally, just in the last few days, I dared to get my trombone out of the closet. I set it up on the stand. I bought Vol 3 of “The Real Book,” because it has “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” in it… and I’m having fun playing music. But this time? I’m just doing it for me. 🙂

I’m really rusty. You can’t take that many years off from playing a brass instrument and not have some rust. Towards the end of each session where I play (for no reason other than it’s fun!), I’ll grab my iPhone and record a little bit. I have a long ways to go, but if I listen realllly closely, I can hear the way I used to play hidden in there. It’s coming out little by little. I’ll have a terrible couple of measures, followed by a few where I’m all smiles as I listen. It’s still there. I still have it.

It’s so nice to have music back in my life. I took it back from the bad memories. They may have robbed me of it for almost a decade, but it’s mine, darnit. And I’m gonna keep it. ❤

Losing Faith in Faith

Union Lake Baptist Church

I’ve been reading Losing Faith in Faith by Dan Barker. It’s one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, I think.

Dan is a former evangelical preacher that simply lost faith in his faith. The first part of the book tells his story on how he was “on fire for the Lord,” converting people to Christians while in High School, and even converting one of his teachers. I was never a preacher, nor did I go to seminary, but it’s very easy to see myself in Dan’s story.

Somewhere along the way, he started to realize that what he was teaching as a pastor didn’t really make a lot of sense, and in 1984 “came out” as an Atheist on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oddly enough, despite this, he went on to preach a few more times to fulfill commitments he’d made to other churches. (Wow, that must have been difficult!)

The book paints a pretty good picture about how there is no evidence that there actually is a god. Something that Dan is quick to remind people of, is that it’s not up to an Atheist to disprove God, it’s up to a Christian to prove that God exists. Quite often people forget this point.

His point is there’s no way to prove that God exists outside of the mind. Any conclusions a Christian might try to make aren’t actually based in science, they’re all things that exist only in their mind and aren’t measurable in the real world.

 

He was a bible scholar, and goes into great depth on showing how inconsistent the bible is from book to book, and even contradictions within the same book. This is something that, when I claimed to be a Christian, really bothered me. For example, one of the commandments is “Do not kill,” yet the bible itself is full of God-ordered killings.

The best example I’ve read so far is showing, exactly, how the four gospels differ on the Easter story. (You’d think for something so important to Christian that they’d get this right in their own book, but they don’t!) He’s gone so far as to issue a challenge to Christians – tell him exactly what happened on Easter.

He talks about what was, to me at least, the biggest challenge. If the bible really is God’s perfect and holy word, why does it take years of study of dead languages to be able to actually understand it? Christians would blow my questions off with “it was translated by humans, and they make mistakes,” but I was never happy with that answer. If the bible really is “God’s Perfect Word,” couldn’t he have directed the people translating it to do it correctly? That seems like an easy thing for him to do. 😦

 

Dan wrote several children’s musicals before his de-conversion and still writes music today, so the book is littered with bits of hymns and his own music.

He talks about how desensitized Christians are to a lot of brutal things… for example, here’s the first verse and chorus of a hymn I used to sing almost every Sunday:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

So, let’s think about this. There is a fountain, and it’s filled with blood. How much blood would that be? We’re talking hundreds (if not thousands) of gallons. That’s… disgusting. And morbid, and gross, and nasty… and the song is about being dunked in it. Yet Christians seem to be just fine with this. (The same people that will freak out at a violent movie!)

Lots and lots of hymns and other Christian symbols are like this. It was just really eye-opening to me to have someone spell it out, and I’m kinda mad at myself for not realizing what I was saying. I was just simply signing along with my brain shut off. 😦

 

And finally, he explains in detail something that I’ve written about several times in the past – hell and God’s love.

How is it loving to offer someone a bandage after you cut them with a sword? Not very if you ask me. Rather than say “God saved me from hell because I’m a sinner” (never mind that God made hell in the first place), isn’t it better to say “I was innocent all along?” I think so. 🙂

What is Love?

Today has started out very rough. I was texting this morning with my best friend and I commented that I never tell people that I love them. (She likes to tell me that a lot, I never respond.) This led me down this path of why I feel the way I do.

About the only person I tell I love them is my Mom, and I have to force myself to do it. It’s not something I want to tell her… I just feel like I have to.

What follows is the chain of emotions that erupted from that text. This is all stuff that started to connect in my head this morning. Christians, you don’t want to read this. Just stop here.

In church, the word “love” is jammed down your throat from the moment you walk in the door. “God loves you,” “Jesus loves the little children,” “God is love,” and many, many others are a constant theme anywhere you look.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m gonna say it again… the Christian version of “love” seems to mean “do exactly what we say, or else God is going to punish you so strongly not even death will save you.” That fear is what kept me in the closet for so long, putting my life on hold and having to live in the shadows.

The notation that “love” means … well, whatever that means… sigh. I guess the word has lost all meaning to me. It’s not a good word to me. There’s just so much baggage there.

So I started thinking about this. God “loves” me, yet he made me feel like my life was completely worthless. My life did not start to get better until I told God he wasn’t welcome in my life anymore. (And in fact, he doesn’t exist, so what am I worried about?)

In the name of “love” I’ve missed out on a lot of things in life. I’ve never really experienced romance. I’ve never had a boyfriend. I didn’t care enough about my body that I let myself balloon up to over 450lbs, something I feel the effects of today. I’ve gotten lectures from bosses about how I dress because I just didn’t care. I spent a lot of my life ashamed of myself in the name of “love”.

“Love” has pretty much robbed me of my extended family, and I feel like I’m not really welcome in my home state of Texas anymore.

The word “like” has a lot more meaning to me than “love.” I get to pick who I like.

There are folks that I’m pretty much “required” (in the Christian sense, I suppose, and maybe I should revisit this) to love by default, even if I don’t want to. All family members, for example.

But I don’t have to like them. “Love but not like” is a concept I picked up in church, and it just shows how twisted that word has become, but I still like the concept. I alone get to decide who I like. There’s no social requirements on it. Like is mine.

When I tell someone that I like them, to me, it carries meaning, because I means I chose them, and I’m not just acting out of a sense of duty.

Siiiiigh. This stuff is hard. I’m not really sure what to say. It’s the idea that God made me feel like my life was worthless, but yet I was still suppose to “love” him that made me get the most upset. I had good moments before I started living my life for me, but they were rare. Guilt and shame were the elements my life that guided everything I did.

Once I started living a little – like attending furry conventions and such – I had to lie about it to everyone. I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was doing, because I was scared of how they’d react. It was very rough… all in the name of “we love you, and we don’t want you to go to hell.”

I couldn’t even think about coming out of the closet until after I had left the church completely. It just wasn’t going to work any other way. I needed to get away from people that “love” me in order to feel like my life had meaning and value.

So if I don’t tell you that I love you, please don’t be upset. I like you too much to love you.

Reflection: Leaving the Church

[I’ve had something on my mind a lot, so I’m gonna write it down in hopes of flushing that buffer to disk, as it were.]

Leaving the church was a hard experience. The Baptist church was the only world I’d ever known my entire life, and when it was gone, it created a giant hole.

When I was in my dark days, dealing with coming to terms with being transsexual, I was seeing a very good therapist (as I encourage everyone to do). To start I was seeing him three times a week, then twice, then once a week, and finally we got down to once every two weeks. A good therapist never tells you what to believe, they simply encourage you to think about things in a different way and let you discover for yourself what you actually do believe. This was very valuable to me.

I had been dealing with a lot of guilt and shame over feeling the way I did. (That is, that I was born in the wrong body.) My therapist helped me to dig into this and I discovered what the root cause of it was – I had let the church define my inner core foundation, and I was at conflict with what I had been taught.

It seems obvious now, but what I learned about myself was telling. I let the bible be the foundation for all of my worldview. I still think about how I view things as something like the OSI model (sorry for the tech reference), where everything is built on everything else. I had let the church be my layer one – the facts on which I had based everything else. Why did I feel guilty about being transsexual? Because it conflicts with the foundation of my core – that is, that God doesn’t make mistakes.

I remember very clearly when this worldview shattered. I had just finished up a very rough therapy session and was sitting in the parking lot in my car trying to regain my composure. I started driving off, and a light went off in my head that said “the bible is just a book.”

That was earth shattering to me. The book that I had based all of my beliefs on at my core, was just a book. It had no power over me. It only had power because I let it.

Miss BunnyI got super emotional on the drive back to the office… so much so, that I stopped at a small store, got a Coke Zero, and texted my manager and told him I was going to be late getting back to the office. Instead of going to the office I went home, grabbed Miss Bunny, and laid in the bed and cried for a while.

I started reeling for a while as I tried to put the pieces back together again of what was my life. I started questioning everything. It was a rough few weeks. I was very thankful to have a good therapist helping me with this dark time.

I was left with a giant hole. I’d just proven to myself that the thing I left be my core, I shouldn’t have.

Instead, I’ve replaced that core with what I should have been believing in the entire time anyhow, science and technology.

With science at my core, being transsexual is just fine. It’s “just a weird birth defect” as I like to say. I have a female brain, but (had) a male body. It’s a birth defect with horrible social and physical implications, but one that medical science is getting better at fixing every day. The deep inner conflict is now gone.

Once I started realizing that I’m not going to hell for being transsexual (because hell isn’t even a thing), things started making a lot more sense. I’m a lot happier now, for sure.

The months following this epiphany were kinda rough. It happened late in the fall. On Christmas Eve that year I drove by a large Baptist church in Texas and saw that it was overflowing with people, and it made me quite angry. I’m not sure why I got so upset, but it did.

I’m still struggling. It’s hard to overcome so many years of programming.

For example, the church tried really hard to instill homophobia in me. It never really took (thankfully), but there are still times when a little bit of it reaches the surface. Luckily I’ve gotten very good at catching it and I quickly remind myself “that’s what you were taught, but it’s not what you actually believe,” and stamp it out, but fighting against that is hard. Very hard. 😦

Things are, of course, getting better. It takes a long time to overcome having your core foundation shaken up, but I’m recovering. I’m a heck of a lot happier now. Things make a lot more sense because I base it on science, not just blind faith in something that never really clicked anyhow.

Thanks for listening! I feel better after writing all of this down. 🙂

More on the Church (Part II)

Well, that escalated quickly.

The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is going on right now. This is sort of like the conventions that Political Parties have… but it happens every year. The member churches will send a representative to the convention and they decide on church business for that year.

One of the motions that was voted on was to accept a resolution on “transgender identity.” The full text of this resolution can be seen (on a first party website, no less) here. (Search for “On Transgender Identity.” It’s near the bottom.)

Patheos has a pretty good writeup on it.

I don’t need to quote the whole thing. It’s pretty readable on its own. Here’s a few good bits:

…That we oppose efforts to alter one’s bodily identity (e.g., cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery) to refashion it to conform with one’s perceived gender identity…

…That we oppose all cultural efforts to validate claims to transgender identity…

Fuck off, SBC.

More on the Church

Note: If you are an Evangelical Christian, skip this post. It’s only going to make you mad. Either you’ll be mad at me for writing it, or you’ll be mad at the churches I attended for putting me in this position. Either way, you’re going to find it upsetting.

I have been thinking a lot about the church lately. I’m not sure why, it’s just been on my mind a lot.

I spent the first 28 years of my life very deep in the church. Really deep. I have family members that are graduates of the Southern Baptist Seminaries and everything. It runs really deep in my family and has been since I was born.

Now that I’m a few years on the other side of it and have had a chance to start sorting out my own feelings from the ones I was taught as a child (and then over and over again as an adult), there is one thing I keep coming back to: the concept of Hell.

Southern Baptist churches are independent churches that elect to join the Southern Baptist Convention. Each church is otherwise independent, but they share a common doctrine, the Baptist Faith and Message.

Section X (“Last Things”) of the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message states: “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”

The more I think about this statement, the more messed up it seems.

If you think about what this is really saying, it’s saying “Do what we tell you, or else God will punish you so bad not even death itself will save you.” What a messed up idea that is… the idea that if you don’t do what the church tells you, you’re going to be burning in a lake of fire for all entirety.

This idea helped shaped my entire life up until the point I left the church. I was so scared of being true to myself because I didn’t want to get tossed into the everlasting bonfire. I’d heard this since I was a kid, to the point that I just believed it to be true without giving it much thought. (Today I believe that religion has no place around children. Let them make up their own mind when they are older.)

The picture the church paints is “Hell is a horrible place! We love you, let us save you from it!” Which… just makes me mad, now, thinking about it. There’s this horrible place that we made up and we’re going to save you from it! 😦

There’s a traveling show that goes around Baptist Churches every now and then called “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames.” Take a few minutes and watch the trailer for it on their website.

This show came to my church when I was in high school. I’m still trying to recover from it. It’s just amazing that churches use fear of being punished even after death as a motivator for their message.

I feel like I let fear of a fictional construct called Hell rule my life for so long. Being able to be punished so hard that not even death will save you is…. horrifying.

I let something designed to help churches win over people from being true to myself for over three decades.

😦

Religion

Union Lake Baptist Church

I grew up in the Baptist Church. I spent the first 28 years or so of my life very deep in the church. I served on committees. I was someone people could always depend on when things needed to be done. I was really, really deep into the church… yet most of it never really clicked in my head. I was just doing what I was suppose to do.

There was this long running dialog in my head for years that went something like this: “God doesn’t make mistakes. God made males and God made females. The roles are very well defined. God doesn’t make mistakes. Why do I feel the way I do? What’s wrong with me? Is this a sin? Am I going to hell? God does NOT make mistakes.”

I’ve had some very difficult conversations with my therapist working all of this out. Christmas last year was really rough, hopefully this year will not be so bad. (I had a big crying breakdown on Christmas Eve – there’s a big Baptist church near my apartment and the parking lot was parked for Christmas Eve services and I just lost it.)

I’m still really struggling with the notion of “God is Love” vs “Behave exactly the way God says the way you should or else he will punish you so hard that not even death itself will save you.”

These days I identify as agnostic. There might be a God, there might not be. I’m not sure. (And if there is, I have to keep reminding myself that Baptists do not have a monopoly on God.) For now I am focusing on what has always made sense to me – Science and Technology.

So that’s been my life for the last year. I’ve been working on all of this. It took a long time for me to get where I am and it’ll take a while for me to get it out of my head.