Coyote Joe Stevens

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White Shame 

I know it’s an ugly phrase, but I’m going to admit it anyway – I have White Shame. I know the original term is “White Guilt” but guilt is too soft for what I’m feeling. I have overflowing tsunamis of grief, guilt, sadness, anger, and inconsequence over current and historical events. Sometimes I just can’t read/watch/hear anymore and I utilize my privilege to turn away. And I feel terrible about it. In the beginning I heard social justice people talk about how they’ve moved beyond White Shame, how it serves no one; they turned up their noses at it like an obvious fart that no one would claim.. (spoiler – we all ate the chili.) I followed suit, put on airs – I’m beyond it too.. I’ve done the work too.. (what work are they talking about??!!) I had no idea. I’ve dated Black people, I have Black besties, I’m trans! (See what I’m doing with my capitalizations?) I love the blues and my grandfather sang with Nat King Cole. Or somebody did, we have a signed picture in our family hallway. Certainly a lot of “the work” got done along the way, right..?

I remember blowing up at my most irreplaceable college best friend because she felt uncomfortable in my white-ass middle class family home. And that made me uncomfortable. I remember not kicking a loud racist friend-of-a-friend out of my house when he voiced his opinion on Black folks, when I was dating a Black man. Oh I gave him a piece of my mind alright.. and then we continued doing drugs. I should have sent him right out into the 105 Sacramento summer. But I didn’t. I remember reasoning that my family had come to America too late to have killed any Native folks or owned slaves… and it consoled me! Me, me, me and my feelings. I remember every time I don’t donate. Sure I’m a broke artist – but that means I should know the power of $20. Apparently it can get you killed. I feel like a terrible, horrible white person. Yuck!!!

I have NEVER in my life seen a white transgender man killed on camera, for everyone – including my mother – to see, let alone an endless series of killings of people who look like me. Can you imagine, white people?? I picture my white mother (picture yours), hearing that her child has been killed by police, hearing my character be trashed, well-meaning everyone saying that I shouldn’t have struggled, there must be more to it, maybe it was how I was raised, my mental illness and drug problems, everything happens for a reason, sending prayers.. No one of authority listens or cares, pats my mother on the head and tells her to take her broken heart and go home. FUCK THAT. Just thinking about it makes me want to loot a Target… there are few things in this world I would not smash if society treated my mother with such indignity.

I’ll say it again – I am ashamed to be white. The word “white” stinks to me of ignorance and arrogance, my first associations are ugly supremacy, entitlement, and self absorption. A truth about this shame – it is mine. It is mine to carry, mine to understand, mine to work on if I want relief. It doesn’t matter if I hate it, stuff it, drug it, deny it, pretend to be above it, bemoan it or blame it on everyone else – it’s still mine. This is my work to do. It is an incredible ball of energy that scares me.. like it’ll burn me or swallow me, like I might not be able to stand in the face of it. But it occurs to me, rather than a nuclear plant in meltdown, perhaps it can be more like a battery.. Maybe if I can calm my feelings about having it in the first place, I can point its firehose force at something that could actually make a difference. Maybe a steadied, consistent, anonymous effort to better more people’s lives than just my own is the best I might achieve with the advantage I was given.

I don’t love it, but I don’t want to be ashamed of this shame either. It’s heavy enough by itself, first of all. Second, if I didn’t have feelings about the fundamental fucked-up-ness of racism and the clear advantage I have just by being born white, I would be an asshole. My white shame proves I have a pulse. It pushes me to do better, be better, help make the world better. It reminds me that I am alive, an integral part of the web of life, and that I’m being summoned to help my species overcome huge evolutionary challenges. It can be a gift – but it is to no one’s benefit if I drown in it. This force WILL burn something down – it can either be the unfair structure that is keeping all of us in chains, or it can be my humanity. Choice is mine.

 

 

Joe’s Op Ed: Super Tuesday Hangover 

Hey folks.

I haven’t said much about the election. I am a voracious reader, someone who keeps up on the news (in a balanced way), yet I have only contributed soundbite opinions when drawn into a political conversation where it would be rude to refuse. I’ve been watching the mood of the headlines and my FB feed, tempted to chip in, but I just feel too tired.

I’ve had a lot going on. I recently moved to a new city (“moved” is a complex and nebulous concept in my world, as you may know). I’m sober again, there has been lots of attention and excitement around the musicals I have been writing for, and I’ve been dealing with some medical stuff. Money issues are ever-present, no change there, but my priorities have changed quite a bit. I have not had much bandwidth to be very active in this election, other than to vote. But in the waning Chicago light, I somehow feel moved to throw in my two cents.

I voted for Bernie last time, and Hillary. It was painful to witness my mother watch Hillary lose that race, a memory I will never forget. It was otherworldly to watch what’s-his-face take the wheel of the US government, and it has been jaw-dropping to see so much good work dismantled in the name of blind tribalism. I think Warren is kickass, hooray for gay Buttigieg getting as far as he did, Kamala, Booker, even Biden as VP under Obama, go you. And I would be grateful for any of them in place of who we have now. But I voted for Bernie again this time, without fanfare.

Take an analogy, if you will – and this is actually NOT about healthcare! Hang in there with me – sometimes in life, one will likely get injured or sick enough to need to go to the hospital. Do you want to go to the hospital? No. Do you want to live in the hospital all the time? Of course not. Do you want to admit that you need to go to the hospital? Probably not – you have shit to do, life is hard enough without disruptions, and who wants to even entertain the idea that there might be something dangerously wrong that would require time, effort, vulnerability and trust – nobody ever. But, it is highly probable that at some point you’ll get injured or sick enough that you should go to the hospital. Is going to the hospital and potentially saving your life “right wing” or “left wing?” Conservative or liberal? Of course it is neither – something’s wrong and it won’t fix itself, so you should probably go to the damn hospital. Hopefully it’ll be quick, you’ll focus on the problem for however long it takes, change some things about your lifestyle so you don’t have to deal with it again, and go on about your life. Fingers crossed. But the sooner you go, the sooner you can deal with it and move past it.

I wish we could actually vote for policies, and not personalities or parties. I am not a Constitutional fundamentalist, I believe ideas and texts need to evolve or they will likely become harmful when conditions change (as history shows), but I happily accept the Constitution as a framework with which to run this country. Something noteworthy about the Founding Fathers’ original intentions is that they feared the electorate would split into warring political factions.. They even tried to ward it off but were clearly unsuccessful; perhaps tribalism is too ingrained in the human species, but I digress – I highly doubt they would have agreed to restrictions requiring a voter to register as a particular party in order for them to vote for the candidate of their choice. The votes for the electoral college system were based on population numbers that changed long, long ago, yet everyone thinks they might be able work the system to their advantage at some point and it seems too big a task anyway, so it hasn’t changed. Citizens United is an absolute abomination to a supposedly democratic society. The incomprehensible sums of money that are spent in elections are shameful – and I don’t use that word lightly – when politicians hem and haw over the cost of evidence-based social programs that improve people’s lives and the economic success of the nation in the long run. Economic inequality is a grotesque and mindless monster threatening to slobber all over and mangle this nation, munching it limb by limb, until it ultimately devours itself. Climate disasters are coming – they are here and getting worse – and we are not in any way prepared. It will get ugly. Our country is sick folks, we need to go to the hospital.

We need campaign finance reform. We need a single-payer healthcare system. We need to deal with our student loan debt crisis and find a way to provide accessible quality education for everyone. We need solutions to our massive contribution to Global Warming. We need industry turnover, for a healthier planet and so that people can have jobs that actually go somewhere and mean something. We need to quit meddling in the affairs of other sovereign nations for our own benefit and reign in our military spending. We need regulations on how much more a CEO can get paid than the bottom tier worker; some kind of redistribution of wealth (sorry, not sorry) – it’s obscene, immoral, and it’s causing massive problems. We need to cooperate and spend our collective money (i.e. taxes) on things that are actually beneficial to the Earth and all it’s creatures, and not just a few humans. Emergency interventions are needed to get us healthy and moving in the right direction, and that requires admitting unpleasant truths, cooperating with each other, and changing the way we live. Yuck, I know, I don’t want to have to deal with it either, but reality bites.

Do I think these challenges can be met without difficulty, or within the timespan of a single presidential term? Absolutely not. Do I think one single leader has the power to either save our souls or doom us to misery and death? Hell no – as if we could get off the hook that easy.

Do I think a better future is worth fighting for, even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our efforts in our lifetime? Yes I do.

Will I vote for anyone who is honestly willing to take these challenges head on, speak truth to power, call it what it is, and get us moving in the right direction? YES.

I didn’t vote for Bernie because I like him, or because I think he earned it or deserves it; this isn’t about Bernie, the guy, at all. I have my biases – I want a woman to win, I want someone LGBTQ to win, I want anyone who isn’t white to win – but that’s not why I voted for Bernie. I didn’t vote for him because I’m a democrat, or because I think he is “electable.” I voted for his ideas and his policies. Period. It is not radical to go to the hospital when you are really sick or injured – it’s prudent, humble, and good for everyone, not just yourself. I voted for him knowing that our system isn’t fair. I voted for him knowing I would be accused of naive idealism. I voted for him knowing he may or may not win. I voted for the ideas that I think will help this country evolve into a safer, stronger, smarter, fairer, and more loving country.

And whoever wins – I will continue to fight for the values of compassion, humility, justice, and the search for truth, and I will continue to believe that the world will evolve into a better place – eventually.

 

“Mine is a faith in my fellow man” – Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

The Real Albert Cashier 

I’m off next week to the New York Musical Festival, where the Albert Cashier musical will have three readings! We will have a new batch of actors (except Dani Shay will be with us, as our young Al), a smaller ensemble of piano, fiddle, and me on banjo and guitar, an awesome new director Shakina Nayfack, new charts and arrangements, and an edited script. We had a great opening run in Chicago last year, it was the first time the creative team got to see the thing we have been working on for two years actually performed on stage. I got to experience it 30-something times during our seven week run, since I played in the band, but I had to sit in the pit, so I never actually got to see it from the audience.. So it goes. We were nominated for a Jeff Award, a Chicago area awards ceremony running for 50 years – and we WON!! Albert Cashier, best new musical!

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This project came to me totally by surprise – Jay Deratany wrote the script, his friend and fellow writer Keaton Wooden decided it should be a musical, and went poking around for musicians and found me. I had no idea who these fellows were, no experience writing music for theater (except in college), but when asked, I said “sure,” as I often do. Two and a half years later, we are heading to New York to throw our hat in the ring and see what happens next. Ideally, this is an audition of sorts, to find whatever it is that will take us to the next step, whatever that may be. Hopefully there will be a big production next year, either in New York or on the West Coast.

Albert-Cashier

The story is about Albert D.J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier and Irish immigrant who was born female and lived as male. There have been so many questions to probe as we are trying to tell an artistic rendering of Albert’s story.. how did Albert identify? Was he trans or merely seeking opportunity? Was he full-on FTM or maybe just non-binary? What pronouns should we use? I have found the answers seem to be more reflective of who’s giving it than of Albert. As the creative team, we have had endless discussions on what our intentions are, what we are trying to say, who we think Albert was, and what is ultimately important about the story. We have come to a few conclusions – no one can know how Albert would have identified today, with the plethora of modern identity markers available. Albert was illiterate, none of his own words exist in writing. Most of the information we have is from the many letters written by his friends, second hand sources, court documents, and other official records. All we know is that he chose to live as male. That is all we need to know. We don’t need to know “why” he chose to live as male to call him “he.” The creative team takes no official stance on his identity, and that is an important point for us – we do not have to fully understand someone in order to respect their wishes. He chose to live as male, we call him “he.”

In my personal opinion – I do think Albert was probably trans. There are enough tell-tale signs of dysphoria in much of the available evidence, and to me – to go to those lengths to live as male, when it would have been so dangerous and shameful, speaks to the power of one’s internal identity. Yes he had more privileges in society as male, but he couldn’t have a family or children, had to be VERY careful to avoid doctors or injury (which is what ultimately blew his cover), and generally had to live a more marginal life. People unfamiliar with the trans/queer community seem to be more perplexed over the question of his identity, whereas I know so, so, so many trans and queer folks… It is not crazy to think that someone back then might have been trans – it is more of a statistical certainty. One of the most poignant stories of Albert’s history – he was old and ailing, stuck in an asylum for the insane, wearing a dress. He was caught trying to pin his dress together to make some semblance of pants, a last act of self expression when everything else had been taken from him. If it weren’t poetic enough, he tripped and fell in that dress, which caused the wound that he ultimately died from. If that ain’t determination to live as you feel, I don’t know what is. But again – opinions about Albert’s identity reflect the person giving them.

Back to the deeper point – his identity doesn’t actually matter as much as the life he lived and how he was treated. He lived alone, he was a hard worker, a contributing member of society, was in service to his country. When his secret was revealed, he was treated as less than human and died away from his home in a humiliating condition. Albert’s story is more than a story about gender – it’s about how we treat our fellows, how we treat immigrants, how we treat our veterans, how we treat our elders, and in a way – how we treat ourselves. It’s about letting people be who they are and contribute in the way they are called to, even if we don’t understand them. We don’t have to fully understand people to treat them with kindness and respect.

We are running a small fundraiser to help get us to New York, if you’d like to help carry the message, check it out here!!!

Wish us luck!!!!

Coyote Pays Rent 

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It’s been many years, but I finally did it – I signed a lease….

I have felt a wide range of emotions.. ambivalence, excitement, impatience, terror… like the walls are closing in, like I’m so tired and just want to hang my hat somewhere for a while. So here I am – my storage unit is empty, Valcore is in side gig mode, and there is an extra set of keys on my keychain.

(Valcore is the name of my trusty Sprinter van, btw)

The Real Boy gigs are winding down. The Albert Cashier musical is ramping up for the next phase of development. I have a little studio set up, and am getting ready to relaunch Songs of the People, which I have decided to rename – Real Folk. More on that as it comes together. I have very few shows on the calendar so far. I’ll be offering songwriting and guitar lessons very soon. I am spending lots of time with my family. It is a new era, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes.

The grass is green in the Central Valley, soon it will be yellow and dry. The oaks will stand out in stark contrast, and the temperature will rise, rise, rise. There is chaos and conversation in Sacto after the police shooting of Stefon Clark. The US government is like a kindergarden class smashing all its toys that the tax payers worked so hard to provide. New research shows that the ice in Antarctica is not only melting from the sides, it’s melting from underneath.. further raising sea levels and the probability of ice chunks slipping out to sea. I need new front brakes and a decent spatula.

Life is beyond surreal. The gap between the profound and the mundane is elastic. Everything is at once meaningful and meaningless.. agency and futility occupy the same space. Absurdity is the new common sense.

Signing a lease is the weirdest thing I have done in a long time – we’ll see what happens..

 

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Real Boy and Beyond 

 

I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year.. The easy answer is that I was perpetually drunk and high up until Feb of this year. To my credit I suppose I have managed to accomplish a fair amount in that shape, but it has not been easy and I have to look back through my calendar to remember much of it. What comes to mind are a constant stream of failed attempts to dry up, frustration, stoking the tiny fire of hope in the figurative rain, punctuated with shows, screenings for Real Boy, workshops for the Albert Cashier musical, family dinners, and hazy AA meetings – all in no particular order. Oh and not to forget the empty bank account and endless nights being wasted alone in my van, chain smoking and yammering on in my journal about how I wish I was sober. I haven’t had a night like that in almost five months now, and I can’t say I miss it. That’s a welcomed change.

This week Real Boy hit the greater public via broadcast on PBS, it’s amazing to remember back 4 years ago when this started with Shaleece and her camera, filming things I didn’t think were very interesting at the time. Since the film was released last year I have been hopping around the country and the world speaking and playing music and screenings and film festivals, fully enveloped in a world of Real Boy. I have seen it dozens of times now, I get the songs and bits of dialogue in my head as I’m trying to sleep. I am currently in Norway, getting ready to play at an event for Oslo’s Queer Youth Pride event, put on by Skeiv Ungdom, Oslo og Akershus, the organizer found me from seeing Real Boy at the Oslo Queer Film Festival.  This is my last Real Boy event until the fall; I go now into full musical-mode, gearing up for the premier of The Civility of Albert Cashier, a musical I have been working on for the last almost two years that premiers in Chicago in September.

It has been a whirlwind of travel, early sobriety, a new ladyfriend, and many things to do that I have never done before, but I am mostly content, if a little scattered. When I get home I’ll have a few days of jet lag and dental work, then I get to drive my favorite route through the Great Basin and the Rockies with my new travel buddy en route to Chicago. I am working hard to get my wits about me again – I have fallen out of touch with many a dear friend over the boozy years, my online presence is terribly sporadic and out of date, and my reputation for being a flake precedes me in a painful way.. For any of you who have had the frustrating experience of corresponding with me, I am so, so sorry – agonizing over my poor communication keeps me up at night. I have been “sorry” for so long now, the only thing that can make those apologies mean anything is to actually change my behavior. I was hoping that just the act of quitting drinking and drugs alone would clear it all up, but alas, it will actually take some work. I’m on it.

I hope to be more present online, in my communications, in my family and my communities. For now I will go out into rainy downtown Oslo and find some food before a presentation tonight on the state of LGBTQ rights in America, should be interesting.

xoj

 


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