Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for Drumming

Arisia 2010

Yay, my first Arisia with a boyfriend in tow! 🙂

So, the Darling Boyfriend and I went to Arisia this past weekend, and had sort of a super-amazing time. This was my third Arisia, and his second. We both had professional concerns that pulled us away from the convention at various points on Saturday, but we were at the con for most of it.

We stayed in a lovely room at the Hyatt, with a balcony and an amazing view of Boston and the Charles River. I could have spent the whole weekend in the room looking at the picturesque scene. It was that lovely. The Hyatt is built sort of like a two-dimensional zigguart, and created this sort of “looking out from the peak of a mountain” effect that was just stunning. Seriously, just the room and the view would have made me incredibly happy.

But then there was the actual ~stuff~ to do…

We got there Friday, and it took a while to check-in, but I’ve dealt with bigger hassles before. We had dinner with a couple guys we know from a local game store, and it was really nice getting to chat with them and get to know them better. We bumped into some other friends and hung out and chatted and just got settled on Friday night. We also went up to the top floor to see the art show, which is always one of my favorite parts of the whole convention. We didn’t make it to any of the panels Friday night, but we had plenty of fun and good times.

On Saturday morning the Darling Boyfriend had to get up early and go to work for a few hours, so I was on my own. I went to a really great lecture on music called “Fantastic Film Music Before Star Wars.” It was good, but it was definitely more of a lecture than a panel (it was given by one person, and was very much a presentation). I heard a lot of great music that I had been unfamiliar with, and it was really interesting. It sort of reminded me of being back in school. 😉 After that I had lunch with a couple friends, whom I don’t see enough. After lunch I went to a panel called “1980’s – The Silver Age of SF Movies?” It was a fun panel, until my friend (donned in an awesome custom-made corset – ya gotta love sci/fi cons) pointed out that 1980 was ~30~ years ago. Ouch.

After being made to feel very old I went and tried to donate blood. I got cleared and found that even my iron levels were good (I’m sometimes anemic). I was excited; I’ve never donated blood before. But the nurse stuck me and got a vein but my body just wasn’t giving up any blood. She had to stop it, so I ended up with a big bruise for nothing. I had a bruise on my other arm from a blood test that I had done a couple days before so she couldn’t even try the other arm. *sigh* I felt like a loser. The Darling Boyfriend was back by this time and tried to console me, but I was really bummed. Oh well; I guess I’m just not meant to give blood. 😦

After that we went to a panel called “Queer SF&F,” which was okay, but sort of all over the map. Then I scaled “Mount Arisia,” which means I climbed 15 flights of stairs (remember I said it looks sort of like a mountain, well so do the stairs).

And then I was off to Northampton to play a gig with Leslie-Anne Rios. It was my first time playing with her with an actual drum set; the other time we played together I was playing on my djembe. We played in The Academy of Music, which is a beautiful old theater. I played okay, I’m still sort of learning the songs, but it was a fun gig.

I dashed back to Arisia in time for the reading of The Eye of Argon, which is a really cheesy fantasy story. The game is that each person reads aloud as far as they can, with typos and poor word choice and all – with no laughing. I actually tried reading this year, and didn’t do too badly, either.

On Sunday morning we met a friend for the breakfast buffet, which is awesome.

After breakfast I wasn’t feeling all that well, so I went up to the room and laid down.

The Darling Boyfriend and I had a little tiff, but I still managed to make it down to the Munchkin Brawl, which is a Munchkin game with all the different flavors of Munchkin crammed into one blended game. We played for four hours and still no one got to level 20 (we were playing with “Epic” rules), so the Darling Boyfriend was declared the winner. He was level 12 with a +25 combat bonus. I must point out that even though I was level nine, my combat bonus was +31-+37, so it could be argued that I was on par with, if not ahead of, the Darling Boyfriend. It’s really hard to accurately gauge who is in the lead at any point in a Munchkin game, and that makes games that end early due to time sort of annoying. Anyway, the game was really good for my mood, as it was a lot of fun and I just felt really great by the end of the game.

After Munchkin we went up to our room and had a little alone time, which was really nice, because even though we were at the con together, we had been doing a lot of stuff on our own.

I went to the panel on “Coming Out,” which I had also gone to last year. I’m in a very different place in my life this year, and this panel was different for me. I don’t have the same relationship with my medical history or my body that I did a year ago. I’ve made lots of peace with my past at this point, and so I noticed how much of a “reclaiming of space” and “ownership of self” coming out can be for people. It’s interesting to see that more from the observational side. I even caused a little bit of trouble. There had been a running gag about people needing to come out as Republicans (which, in a hippy-liberal-geeky space like Arisia is something that people are just assumed to ~not~ be). Any time it was mentioned that someone might need to come out as Republican, everyone laughed on cue. I felt a need to point out that in this liberal and progressive and individual-empowering group we might be pushing some of our friends into a closet of their own. It was actually a point well met by the panelists, which made me feel good.

We went and had dinner at the buffet and then went to a panel called “Scening and Catharsis” which was fascinating, and then we topped off the night by watching some Japanese Hentai (anime porn).

On Monday morning, squeezing the last bit of good out of Arisia that I could, I went to a panel called “Stereotype and Religion in Literature,” which I’m pretty sure I went to last year, and was just as fascinating, especially considering that I’m much more comfortable with my Christianity at this point. Then the Darling Boyfriend and I went to “The Casting Couch,” which is a discussion about recasting different roles with different actors (so, your “perfect” Star Wars cast, and so on).

And then we were done.

It was another fantastic Arisia. I absolutely had an amazing time. And I can’t wait till next year!

Back to Life … Back to Reality …

[with thanks to Soul II Soul]

I’ve noticed something lately: I’m a drummer again. This might seem odd, as I often say, I’ve always been a drummer. It’s probably true to say that there never was a time when I wasn’t a drummer. I’ll never forget that when I told one of the other teachers at the store where I teach that I’d be undergoing treatment for transsexualism that he said that he hoped it was okay that he’d still think of me as a drummer first (um, yes, it’s okay!). But for the last couple of years I’ve had split priorities. Transition is like that.

I’ve mentioned a few times how draining of a process transition has been for me. One of the things that I often do is minimize that process. I remained in denial even as I entered the process, then I thought it was “mostly done” once I had gotten a few months past the date when I started presenting full time as myself, then I saw SRS as one more loose-end to tie-up, then I figured surely that after surgery I could stop thinking so damned much about it. I always felt like I was right on the verge of the whole process being behind me, only to realize that I was still very much in the thick of it.

I’m certainly not one of those that think that transition is a never-ending process. Life goes on, but eventually you arrive. I have been surprised, though, by the fact that it started before I realized and that it stretched longer than I expected. I suppose I feel like I’m in the winding-down stage now. But it won’t surprise me if there’s one or two last hurrahs left.

With all that said, it seems like my life is starting to be my life again. I’m not focused on transition, or the future, or surgery, or my health, or the way the world sees me. I’m just living. That first gig with Hypaspace last week (my first drum set gig in ten months [!]) really seems to have driven the point home. I’m thinking about drumming in a way I haven’t been able to in years. I’m excited about music in a way that is just super-refreshing.

I have another gig with Hypaspace tonight, and I am very excited. The break from playing has certainly made me hungry to play. Anyway, it’s nice to feel like I’m getting back to my life; I’ve had my focus diverted for too long.

Back to life …

Back to reality …

Hypaspace Rides Again

Dear me, was last night really my first drum set gig since surgery?

Wow; it was.

No wonder I feel ~so~ out of drumming shape. I’ve been practicing and jamming again for a few months, but last night was the first time I laid it on the line since January. I’ll tell you this: it felt really good. Performing music in front of people is one of the most incredible highs I’ve ever experienced, and as much as playing djembe in church each week is fun and spiritually fulfilling, nothing compares to playing drum set. And beyond that, it’s always super-awesome when it’s with the guitarist whose been an absolute joy to work with for over twenty years.

Last night was amazing. I played with Hypaspace, which is something I thought may never happen again. We played for two hours, and by the end I was wiped out. I hope I’m gradually getting back in shape.

The Darling Boyfriend came to see my play, and that was just neat. I got to introduce him to a whole other circle of my friends, which was mad cool. He really liked the show, and said that he thought the band was great. It was awesome.

I saw an old friend from High School too, he came to see us play. I should mention that my High School was an all-boys Catholic High School. Seriously. It was great to see him, and just goes to show that I can be me and the world can deal with it, even people from my way past. How cool is that?

I’m feeling at quite a loss for words lately. Even with my usual hyperbole, I’m just sort of having a difficult time putting the wondrous experiences of my life into words. So much lately I’ve been falling back on stuff like “it was amazing,” because there are no words that do the magical experiences of my life justice.

Anyway, it was great playing with Hypaspace last night, and seeing tons of people that I hadn’t seen in quite a while.



The One Who Knows…

I teach mostly beginners; that’s because there’s a huge turn-over in music lessons; kids start and discover that they don’t really like the instrument, or they have zero aptitude for it, or they’d just rather do other things. This means that only one of the students that I currently teach knows that I’m transgndered. He knew me before my transition. He lived through my transition with me. It was difficult for him (at the time hiw mom and I spoke and she said that he felt like he was losing a friend).

So, for all of my other students that I can be coy with about saying that I’m taking a leave of absence or having surgery and they have no idea that I’m having GRS, this one student knows, and it makes him uncomfortable.

So, tonight when I gave him the note about my leave, and he asked why, and I said because I’m having my surgery, he just said, “Oh.” 

And we ignored it for the rest of the lessons, because I’m certainly not going to force the subject in his drum lesson.

And then as he was leaving he wished me “good luck,” which did make me feel a little better.

But overall this made me feel like shit.


One Little Sexist Boy At A Time…

When I transitioned I had to get used to existing in the world as a woman. Things change; sexism is still very much alive, and I had to get used to the world changing how it saw my worth as a human being and as a drummer (amongst other things) simply because I am a woman. Going from one side to the other gave me a pretty interesting perspective on where we stand on sexism; like I told and tell my women friends: “You know how bad you think sexism is? Well, it’s worse.”

Anyway, I don’t want to go on a sexism rant, I just wanted to relate a very small way in which being a female drum set teacher changes minds one at a time.

A while ago one of my younger students told me that “girls can’t drum.” When I said that yes, indeed, girls can drum, he said, “Well, boys are better.” To which I retorted: “Nuh-uh.” (Sometimes you have to talk to kids at their level.) This little boy still studies with me, and when he found out that the substitute that will be filling in for me while I’m gone is a man, he said that it was weird. Ha.

Then, today one of my regular students asked if a friend could sit in and observe. [I generally don’t allow this very much, it’s usually very distracting to both me and my student.] I said it was okay, and as we were all getting settled in the teaching studio, I heard my student whisper to his friend, ” See, girls ~can~ drum.”


[One of those changes I was referring to at the beginning of this post was that after my transition people started complimenting my drumming by saying that I was “pretty good for a girl” or some variation thereof.]

I remain shocked that drums are ~still~ considered something “just for boys.” But, by being a talented and unabashed female drummer and drum instructor I feel like I’m doing my part to put an end to that little pile of nonsense. And I get to combat sexism by doing what I love more than anything else. That’s pretty cool, yes?


For the second year in a row, I helped kick-off the Discernment Day process at the Cathedral. We provide a little Crossing-style music to hopefully relax the folks before their day of very heavy stuff. As I know, for different reasons, “discernment” is a deep and tiring process.

I really enjoy sharing music with this specific group of people. My life required more really complicated decisions than the average life [I did luck out on my job, though, I’ve always been a drummer]; I relate to the process of discernment very closely. 

It was a very fun morning; a couple other folks from the Crossing handled the singing/leading, and we got the folks gathered singing pretty well. My favorite part was when one of the singers, who has admitted to me that she has no rhythm, “taught” the group to dance; it was pretty funny [and she’s right, she has ~no~ rhythm].

There is something very special for me in drumming, and drumming in a spiritual setting, and drumming in the cathedral. My spirituality is very far from something from anything that I can explain with words, but whatever happens when I drum is incredibly powerful.

My new Pal Marv

I drove to NYC yesterday for yet another gig with Bryan. It seems like we’re doing a bunch of gigs at this point. It’s so awesome. This was our first Saturday night gig in Manhattan. Things are happening. As always, life as a musician is almost as valuable for the stories that you get to tell as it is for the music itself (I’m only slightly exaggerating). Come, let me regale you with my latest installment of “wow, the world is an interesting place.”

I often drive down and back solo, but on this trip I had the pleasure of having not only Bryan for company, but our wonderful and ubiquitous Holy Roadie Mike. I expected an entertaining ride, and I wasn’t disappointed. Mike is a sort of new friend, so I got to tell him many of my more colorful stories, some from my deep and distant past, some from a more modern vintage. Mike and Bryan held their own as well, and we just had an amazingly enjoyable ride down with lots of laughing.

We arrived in Manhattan a few hours before the gig, and, as usual, I scored a pretty decent parking spot on my first time around the block (Mike calls it my “Rockstar Parking”).

As we were by Tompkins Square Park I heard some jazz cats playing in the park. I walked over to them, hoping to hear something truly special. They were okay (it was a trumpet, sax, and drummer), but nothing special, so I resumed my trip to the club and quickly caught up with Bryan and Mike.

We got to the club and went downstairs, which is kind of the “green room.” I ended up taking a little nap. When I woke up, I was soon joined by a man I had never met before.

As he was walking over to me he asked why I was downstairs. I told him I was a performer. He sat down and started talking to me. He was pretty drunk. He asked how long I had been performing, ended up asking how old I was. I told him that was rude, but I can never say no to a question (why do I care if people know the truth?), so I answered him.

Then the real fun started.

He came right out and asked if I am a transsexual (so much for thinking I pass flawlessly always  ). Me being me, I said yes (if I had it to do over again, I think I would say no – it’s not in me to tell some one that something is “none of their business” – but I apparently will lie  ). Anyway, my conversation with “Marv” was very interesting. It went from him asking if I found him attractive (when I was non-committal he wanted to know if it was because he was fat or because he was black {“um, it’s because you’re totally fucked up” – thought only, not said}), to him asking if I minded if he did a bump (I honestly told him that I didn’t know what that was – I’m so innocent) to him asking if I had male genitalia (I honestly don’t really know how to answer that question anymore – and god bless me, I tried – look at me, trying to do outreach to a drunk moron trying to get laid – I crack myself up) to him asking if I’m promiscuous (“um, no”).

Bryan left me alone with Marv for a little while, but then Mike came back downstairs, which lead to another interesting chapter in Marv’s brain. He wanted to know if Mike was a cop. This triggered a great story from Mike about when he had been mistaken for a cop in the past.

Then Bryan and another of his friends came downstairs, and Marv was further distracted from me (though, he did say to Bryan: “Bryan, did you know that Penny is a transsexual?” to which Bryan answered, without missing a beat, “What!?” it was kinda funny). Eventually we had to head upstairs to get ready for our set, but I’ll have ~very~ interesting stories of Marv for quite a while. It was funny, because I had just told Mike on the drive down that being a transsexual makes you develop a thick skin for rude, impertinent, presumptuous question. So he got to see it first-hand.

I must say, Bryan and I have been playing some screaming shows lately. Last night was no exception. We tore the place down. I was so happy with just about every aspect of our performance. We were just really on. I love playing good shows. The crowd was awesome as well. It was just an awesome trip to the Sidewalk (as they almost all seem to be).

Right after our set Mike and I took the cymbals and guitar to my car. While we were on our walk I mentioned that I was a little annoyed that Marv read me. Mike, who knows a couple other trans women said that when he met me there was a question in his mind, which actually made me feel much better. I can live with people having questions (hell, I’m 6’2″ for Pete’s sake). I do think if someone I don’t really know in the future ever asks if I’m a transsexual again I’m going to react the way plus-sized women do when morons ask when “the baby is due.”  In some ways it just goes to show that NYC is very accepting, but that’s also ~really~ hard to pass there, because people are so used to seeing trannies that they have more of a sense of people that are more in the middle of the two polar genders.

When Mike and I got back to the club we all hung out for a while (my new buddy Marv left ~before~ our set – you know, if you’re going to be rude you can at least listen to some of my music), and then went out to dinner.

We ended up at the Odessa Diner (I wanted a diner). The waiter was another character (as Mike said, he “belongs in New York”). He came over to our table and started with “ladies first.” Of course, I wasn’t ready to order, so I had to have the guys go first. When I did order the waiter asked me if I was British (?!?! – does anyone I know think I sound remotely British?). I said, “No.” So he said that he liked my voice and that it was very “romantic.” What the hell was with me last night? I must have been wearing my “bizarre people magnet” or something. He was nice enough, but the food was mediocre.

After the food, and some hemming and hawing about whether we should head right back or not, we started our drive back to Boston. I was tired enough that I asked Bryan to drive for about half of the drive home.

And then I was home at 5:00 this morning.

Yo-Ho Yo-Ho, a musician’s life for me.  

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