'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Transgendered pianist at first shunned, now triumphant

A post-concert photo of the main hall's stage ...

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Call yourself Sara and hope bigoted jerks accept that you're a woman now. (Image via Wikipedia)

A story last week suggested America’s cross-dressing teenagers are earning more and more rights at school. The article made me feel both proud and old: Back in my day, you had to be a really brave, badass, or beautiful dude to pull off a skirt. And hapless administrators, when they weren’t too lazy or incompetent, generally always fell safely on the “don’t disrupt class” end of the freedom of expression spectrum.

Now there’s the story of Sara Buechner, who as David had made a successful career as a concert pianist. When in 1998 he began living as a woman, not only did a prominent therapist counsel his mom to choose rejection, but halls and universities began to shun the pianist as well. Too quickly, Sara’s career was over:

In the next years, Ms. Buechner largely disappeared from public view, though not by choice. David had done 50 concerts a year — performing with philharmonic orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Francisco — but as Sara, she couldn’t get bookings. “Apart from local gigs, from 1998 to 2003, I did three to five concerts a year,” she said. David taught as an adjunct professor at Manhattan School of Music and New York University, but as Sara, seeking a full-time professorship, “I applied 35 places and wouldn’t even get a response. Behind my back, I’d hear, ‘Is it safe to leave him in a room with undergrads?’ ”

In a really graceful tale, Timesman Michael Winerip shares Sara’s growing success and acceptance. It’s awesome: Read it and marvel at how far she — and all of us — have come.

via Generation B – A Work of Courage and Determination – NYTimes.com.


Filed under: Music, New York City, New York Times, Women, Writing, , , , ,

Will Saudi religious police attend tonight's concert in Riyadh?

A Saudi holds up his entrance ticket to see th...

A ticket to a film screened without a hitch this December in Jeddah, Saudi's comparatively liberal city on the Red Sea.

This evening I’ll be among men and women, watching live music played on a stage.

Such a scene would be typical in many parts of the world. (Oh, how envious I was of a barn-burning show in New York Monday night!) But I live in Saudi Arabia, where a delicate brew of competing interests helps discourage co-ed, public gatherings — especially if they aren’t connected to Islam or traditional Saudi culture.

As such, it’s worth noting that the Mexican Embassy here is sponsoring a three-piece marimba band. More noteworthy still is that this trio will be playing to a mixed crowd at a venue that holds 4,000 people.

This is the third event of this kind at the venue, Riyadh’s King Fahd Cultural Center. (The first, in May 2008, was a night of classical music; the second, in February 2009, was a crew of traditional Japanese drummers; and a previous contender for the third, a concert this spring by a Cajun band sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, was canceled at the last minute.) But whereas the classical music and drumming hearkened centuries back, this is the first time men and women are permitted to gather together in a public space to hear something akin to contemporary music.

And that’s why I’m eager to attend. This summer, organizers at the same venue attempted to show a feature film. Titled Menahi, the film grappled with modern life in Riyadh, portraying the plight of a rural Saudi who’d relocated to the capital. But on the first night, conservative Saudis attempted to disrupt the screening, reportedly yelling at attendees both before and during the show. (Religious police told a local newspaper the intruders “were not commission members and the commission did not have any role in the disruption”; I wasn’t there but have heard differently, including a report that chairs were thrown.)

Will there be another such disruption tonight, perhaps with an official visit by the religious police, known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? Or does such an event no longer merit their attention? Will men and women interact without incident? Or, out of practice and unaccustomed to such freedoms, will there be an incident?

Bonus: Wonder what happened to the Cajun band’s Riyadh stand? It was insane.

Update: In the end, there was no commotion. Still, the night was as interesting as they come, and I’ll have a full report for you soon.

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Filed under: Islam, Journalism, Music, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, , , , ,