Humans of TCGMC: Glenn Bates

Glenn, thank you for honoring me by being my first Humans of TCGMC interview back! I’ve heard you have a lot keeping you busy these days – you’re the Vice President now! Tell me a bit more about your role and how you ended up there.

Thank you! I stay busy. It keeps me out of trouble, for the most part! I started off as a section admin. Apparently, there’s a section-admin-to-Vice-President pipeline that I was unaware of. I believe I stepped into “power” in August 2021. I pretty much make sure that our section admins are supported for attendance, along with general administrative tasks like dues, handing out music, that sort of thing. It’s essentially the section admin role on steroids. I get to sit on the board governance committee, which is there mostly to make sure that the things the chorus needs are being addressed by the board.

The chorus itself is a volunteer organization, so everything happens within the membership. So if no one steps up, how is the organization going to continue? No one was stepping up at the time, but that gave me the push of “Well, we need someone to step into this role, and I know I can do it. I think the chorus has a really cool place in history, fighting for social justice and being at the forefront of choral movements. This place has also been a safe place for me, and I would like to be able to pass it along to other people. When I joined the chorus, I identified as a gay man, and now I’m a non-binary, queer thing – queer person! I probably wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t met all these other cool, queer people who were on their own journeys.

Can I ask – what has your experience in the chorus been so far as a non-binary person? Have you been able to receive the support you need?

I think I’ve been well received, and I think the transition of changing my pronouns has been well-received. I think people are considerate and are curious more than they are confused, which is hopeful. Even for older folks who are like, “Oh, I’m not super familiar with non-binary, what does that mean to you?” That’s a great place to start.

And what does it mean for you?

For me, it’s recognizing that I wasn’t fitting the space that was cut out for men, but also knowing that I wasn’t fitting the space that was cut out for women. I’m sort of both and neither at any given moment, and sometimes all moments. “Yes And”, I suppose? Finding words that can express how I’m trying to move through life is difficult, in general. It’s an evolving process. 

Everyone’s experience is different. People who are non-binary are sometimes expected to speak for the community, when all they can speak to is their own experience. 

I think for a lot of minorities, they feel like they’re seen as like a mouthpiece for the larger group.That’s not true, and we should stop doing that to people! It’s a lot of pressure. It’s individual to everybody. That makes it more interesting to learn about, though. It’s more intimate.

Do you feel like you’re asked to be a mouthpiece not only as a non-binary person, but more specifically as a black, non-binary person? 

I don’t think I’m requested to be a mouthpiece, which is fortunate. I don’t have that pressure to be like, “This is what it means.” I don’t think I’d be the person who would be chosen to be the mouthpiece! There’s someone who would say it much more eloquently than I. I am Black, but perhaps I may be looked at as not being “black enough.” I have black parents. I am black myself so I’m black enough.

When I show up as myself, people are caught off-guard by how I show up or by the things I know vs. do not know. They say, “Oh, that’s not very black of you,” and it’s like, “Actually, it is quite black of me, because I’m just black. I think they expect black folks to have grown up with a harder time, maybe lower income or you didn’t have a parent or something like that. Granted, I didn’t have a dad for a long time, but I had my mom, and she’s fuckin’ lit! Her name’s Katie.

Hi Katie! Thanks for reading!

Glenn, you interact with plenty of people in the community who are outside of the queer community. How do those individuals typically respond to your identity? Do they have issues using your pronouns, for example?

It’s something I’m still getting used to. Correcting people on my pronouns is uncomfortable. I’m misgendered all the time. When you’re a minority, you’re taught not to take up space – to bend, to be malleable. I’m really good at that, but I don’t necessarily want to be malleable. I want to be able to take up space. Figuring out how to correct people in the moment is something I’m still working on. 

I admire your courage, and thank you for helping to open hearts and minds. Unfortunately, some of those hearts and minds come from within our own community. You’d hope that, for example, a cisgendered white gay man would have some empathy towards other marginalized groups, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

That’s part of the reason I became Vice-President. I think it’s important to have people of color as your leadership. The Vice-President is black, your President is Latinx. For an organization that is predominantly white, you have someone who is not white and someone who is not white and not a man leading you forward, I think that’s a very cool message to send to new members, especially the younger members who are figuring out their stuff and the few people of color.

And you don’t even necessarily see the impact you’re having. The number of people who will feel encouraged to explore and grow by seeing someone with similar experiences is incredible. You’re a hero.

I think I’m a hero in my own way. I’m a hero in small ways, and you can be one, too.

Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.

Check out the archive of previous interviews!

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