The Most Family-Friendly Thing You Ever Do

Dear 18 Year Old Tristan,

Your brother identifies as transgender. Coming out as non-binary was just him testing the waters to see how people would react and you probably could have handled it better. This was predictable considering you've always dismissed your younger brothers' opinions and have always been so self-assured in yours but it doesn't excuse what you betrayed. Christopher will forgive you, however, the way you're acting now is hurting him. But when the time comes you'll know when to step up and be a big brother and, good news, you'll be a better person because of it.

What will be more surprising than gaining a brother though is that there will be a bluegrass float in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade (which will be voted Best Overall Contingent at that) and you'll be there. While you're trying to rationalize how Mumford and Sons might eventually bring fans to "real" bluegrass, I just saw 2 million people hear live, traditional bluegrass, likely for the first time ever. You owe our Dad more credit than you're giving him because it will be his idea to go and take you and Ross and Christopher. This is what will begin to bridge the gap not just between your brother’s and your interests but between your family. And while you'll go to be supportive of the idea of inclusivity in bluegrass in general, the day will shift to where you, Dad, and Ross realize that you're really there for Christopher as you watch him march proudly, happier and more himself than you've ever seen him. This unwavering pride in your brother is where you'll find that long sought after familial feeling of love, belonging, and support. It will feel somewhat ironic that after running from your family problems into the welcoming embrace of the bluegrass community that bluegrass would ultimately bring your family together. But only because of Bluegrass Pride.

This will, potentially, be hard for you to understand (see: self-assuredness). You, like many people in bluegrass, will probably think that if Christopher had just practiced more, people in bluegrass wouldn't care how he identifies. But this view lacks empathy in that it doesn't consider how Christopher feels at bluegrass festivals. You already know that despite your vague ethnicity, you've never experienced any real discrimination in bluegrass and that this is at least partly to do with with the esteem people hold our father in. But something else will happen that will give you a bit of perspective on how your brother and others might feel at bluegrass events.

After Pride, while on tour in Europe (oh là là, I know. Take this opportunity to learn French now or your anxiety will nearly starve you to death in Paris), there'll be a belt buckle display full of Confederate flags (yeah that whole thing is really gonna take off too, by the way) at a bluegrass festival. Largely because of the irony but more because it reminds you of Pride and of Chris, you'll buy a rainbow flag buckle they are somehow also selling. You'll wear it on stage for the rest of the Europe trip and no one will say anything and it won't feel different than any other belt buckle. But when you return to the States it will be different. Nobody will say anything still (to your face) but it will feel VERY different.

Places, where you've previously played and only felt vaguely uncomfortable because of the way people talked about gay people, will suddenly start to feel more distinctly unsafe because you've seen people there bristle to perceived threats as sharply as real ones. They don't know why you have the buckle. And social media has given many of these people a platform to express anything from disdain to outright violent threats towards anything that they think threatens the music they've adopted as a cultural identity. A platform that puts ideas behind a screen and divorces the humanity involved in this conversation. It will make you wonder how many of those faces in the audience really "don't care what people do in bed" and how many just don't like confrontation.

Dad has acted admirably through all of this. The amount of support and respect he immediately showed Christopher will be inspiring. He proudly and deliberately wears his Bluegrass Pride shirt and button, knowing that few will challenge a 6'2" ally. But (spoiler alert) you don't get any taller and the muscles from that one semester of weight training do not last. And you start to notice and take note of people who aggressively and proudly insist on their right to do things that make you and others feel unsafe like billow smoke out of trucks or brandish divisive flags or carry guns around at bluegrass festivals, the place you previously felt the safest in the world. Because you'll be damned if you let anyone so insecure scare you into not supporting your family but you know it will only take one guy who thinks killing us will preserve bluegrass to end it.

Of course, you could just not wear the belt buckle. But Christopher doesn't have a belt buckle to take off. The closest thing he has to take off is a binder and even then people will just assume he's a woman and treat him differently for that too. This instinctual feeling of dread and possible danger is diametrically opposed to the feeling of community you associate with bluegrass. Through all of this, you'll realize that while you've struggled in life, people have mostly treated you unyieldingly with respect. A few have made you feel uncomfortable because of your race (limited almost entirely to that girl in elementary school that followed you around calling you "blacky" and well-meaning bluegrass fans in Texas who asked if you're adopted) but you have effectively experienced no discrimination. You will learn that this does not mean that bluegrass people do not discriminate. You will learn that even though you weren't dealt the best hand, you were still so lucky as to not even be bothered to notice how people like your brother felt at bluegrass festivals. How you never noticed this lurking aura of exclusivity around a group of people who (mostly) all feel happy and welcome but look and speak and act remarkably similarly. You'll know that even if Christopher had become the best fiddle player ever, he would still walk into a festival with more unshakeable doubt and discomfort than you ever have.

But you can be part of the change. You've always wanted to make music that made people feel how your heroes made you feel. Now you can also help make a community that makes people feel like they belong the way your found family did for you. People will be against the float because they think that Pride is no place for children and doesn't uphold bluegrass' "family values." But Bluegrass Pride will end up being the most family-friendly thing you ever do. Because family is about love and support. And you shouldn't have to make excuses for the bluegrass community. But soon, you won't have to.

Much Love,
Tristan

P.S. Cherish your brothers.


Older Post