A note on freedom of gender expression

October 24, 2013

ONCE UPON one year ago, nested in the progressive slopes of the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, tucked in a small kitchen, my brother and I started a little folk band called June & the Bee. This collaboration made a sound that is described as a melting pot of traditional folk harmonies with an edge of original spice.

We don't profess to be political musicians using our art as a venue for activism, yet we acknowledge the inherent political nature of the stage and the social power that is gained when you have a platform and an audience. I felt a certain amount of apprehension in writing this reflection, but I realized that I must shed a light on a personal and recent issue of injustice that many artists can relate to--not through my customary medium of melody, but through written words of experience and truth.

Recently, my band June & the Bee took a press photo (as seen above) advertising an upcoming show in November. We weren't trying to be radical in any way. My brother and I happen to have matching outfits and we thought it would be visually fun to create a mirrored effect. Furthermore, I didn't consider that in dressing for the photo the way I dress every day, I was making some sort of radical statement on gender expression. I was just dressing how I dress every day. This is a demonstration of my naivety and my privilege in living in a progressive community.

Members of June & the Bee. From left: Emma Ayers, Zoe Langsdale and Eli Ayers
Members of June & the Bee. From left: Emma Ayers, Zoe Langsdale and Eli Ayers (Emma Ayers)

June & the Bee upholds the belief that the freedom of gender expression is a basic human right. On a day-to-day basis, I dress in a style that is often associated with being more "boyish." I am proud to be a woman. Breaking down the gender binary is not an attempt to elicit reaction.

The woman I am proud to be is not defined by whether I am wearing a dress or not. The woman I am proud to be is defined by her confidence, determination, dedication to her musicianship, and her freedom to express herself in whatever way is most authentic to her personal sense of identity.

Historically, I perform in a dress. However, I do not view this act of dress wearing as the central component to my artistry or musicianship. What I wear is not an everyday process of laborious decision-making--what I choose to wear is simply what makes me comfortable.

When we released this photo through our Facebook page and mailing list, we received a series of e-mails saying "June, I like you better when you wear a dress." I was shocked, disappointed, angry, and didn't know what to do. In the past, I have let injustice slide for the sake of public relations and commercial well-being. This is no longer an option.

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Fearful apathy, in my case, is no excuse. There are too many of us who eat hypocrisy for breakfast, me included. This incident hit me with the urgent fact that as artists, we have moral responsibility to employ the political nature of the stage and seek justice for self and others at all cost. We must use our artistry as an articulate arsenal and our passion as a platform.

AS A queer woman living in the Pioneer Valley, I am grateful for the active awareness of the community. Yet problematically, we get so distracted by how progressive we are that we often turn a blind eye on the everyday oppression, intolerance and ignorance all around us.

I hope that music listeners everywhere can appreciate their favorite artist for their creative ingenuity. Let your favorite artists chose their own outfits in the morning, and don't superimpose your expectations on their expression. Take a moment to reconsider and revolutionize your views on gender expression.

I want to be seen for the artist I am and not for the dress I am wearing, or how my legs look in said dress, or how my sex appeal increases depending on my hemline, or how I make you uncomfortable when you can't tell me apart from my brother. Listen to the careful poetry of my lyrics, the love I invest into the melody, and the attuned tight three-part harmony that speaks to the commitment and codependent trust of the band as a whole. Respect me. Respect us.

I wanted to take a moment out of my day and reach out to others, both artists and audience members who are contending with similar experiences to say: Enough is enough. We must share our stories of sexism, misunderstanding and oppression, and take a stand together.

I hope that people reading this can take a moment to reconsider their gender expectations and be open to the fact that everyone has the right to be who they are and express themselves in whatever way feels honest and true to them. This is not an attack but a polite demand for liberation from limiting views and freedom.

Also, I will be wearing a dress at our next show, because I want to.

Emma Ayers, from the Internet

If you are interested in sharing like experiences with June & the Bee please e-mail [email protected]. Have a listen at www.reverbnation.com/juneandthebee1.

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