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Q&A: CN Lester

Lisa Ward


Queer Youth Founder CN Lester is also a classical and alternative musician as well as an LGBTI and transgender rights activist and writer. MTTM fired a few questions their direction to find out more. MTTM: Tell me about your music, how would you describe it?

CN LESTER: I’m told it counts as sadcore, which I kind of like. Melody and lyric driven – and it always seems like there’s a frightening number of doctoral students in the audience. MTTM: You’ve got a background in classical music but release alternative music. Do you find the two cross over and intersect and how do you find your classical background shapes your approach to songwriting?

CN LESTER: I’m not a fan of dichotomies in any aspect of life – to steal a quote from Gertrude Stein, music is music is music. There are certainly differences of style, of performance practice, but I don’t think that there needs to be a gulf between genres – I definitely think I’ve benefited from doing both. I’m hard pressed to think of how my classical background shapes my alternative songwriting – I think it’s more accurate to say that I wouldn’t know how it doesn’t?

MTTM: You’ve been involved in activism for a long time, do you find your music and activism interrelate or do you find different things from each activity?

CN LESTER: They do feel very different – music is my love, and the centre of my life. As for activism, I think Alice Walker summed it up best: “Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.” Though, that said, I think they both share the necessity of being subsumed into something greater than the self. That and radical empathy.

MTTM: Despite it being 2014 the term genderqueer isn’t on everyone’s radar with most people tending toward binary pronouns. Do you find this frustrating?

CN LESTER: Incredibly. I would describe myself as transsexual, transgender and genderqueer – when someone misgenders me as a woman it can feel as though I’ve failed on all fronts: that my body has failed me (yet again) by misrepresenting me, that I’ve failed to subvert that limitation, and that I’ve failed to win the respect and understanding of the person addressing me. That’s a pretty negative answer, I know – but that’s my gut reaction to being misgendered. I wish more people knew how much it hurt.

MTTM: You write for lots of feminist sites (The F Word, The Feminist Times etc) yet some feminists struggle to accept that people who don’t define themselves in binary terms can be effected by feminist issues, do you have a response to this viewpoint?

CN LESTER: That people need to open their eyes to the diversity of experience – and stop trying to cram the whole of a messy, complicated, ever-expanding humanity into two discrete boxes. It genuinely blows my mind that there are feminists happy to accept a patriarchal system of sexual classification that had more to do with cultural misogyny and fear of difference than it did with “scientific impartiality” – and not just accept it, but deny lived experiences of oppression because of it. How we classify sex and gender changes with every generation, every culture, and we have a chance to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard accurately – accepting that doesn’t mean erasing awareness of violence and discrimination committed along gendered and sexed axes. The pernicious myth touted by some feminists – that trans feminists are self-indulgent supporters of patriarchy – is not a neutral position, or a simple differing of opinion. It erases our history in the feminist movement, it erases the work we do now, it puts people at genuine risk and it shouldn’t be seen as acceptable.

MTTM: Music in particular seems fraught with debates about feminism and sexuality, with some artists refusing to label themselves as feminist, and others being very vocal about their position. Do you feel more musicians should be outspoken about feminism, or should it be left to personal judgement?

CN LESTER: This is my frustration talking – but, genuinely, I would swap every article I’ve ever read arguing whether Beyonce or Lady Gaga or whoever if actually a feminist or not for just one mainstream piece blowing the lid on the sexism in the industry itself. It’s just not the widespread idea that women can’t compose, can’t play certain instruments, can’t work in music tech, can’t be ‘real’ musicians – it’s the sexual harassment and assault glossed over and normalised in live performance, in academia, in education. For all that it’s often marketed as a liberal field, there are some very real problems of bigotry and harm in the music world. It might not have the click bait value of a piece on Miley Cyrus, but it matters.

For more information about CN Lester, visit www.cnlester.com

You can also catch CN Lester at the following events:

June 28th, 2014 РLondon Pride: Transpose Rage&Pride Edition, Hackney Picture House 7pm
July 26th, 2014 – Norwich Pride, all day