Dreams and Drumheads

Sophomore faces transphobia in fine arts program, receives support from members, directors, to continue participation next year in different section

Performing their show, “ORGANic,” sophomore Maribel Ojeda concentrates on her flag movements, something Dunham will be practicing for next year.

Emily Wolf, Reporter

Sitting on the bus on the way home, sophomore Oliver Dunham smiled. Today, he had signed the drumhead- a tradition for percussion students that reaches back early into the school’s history. It was a sign that he belonged, once and for all. Then, he got a text.

“Hey, you need to come back and sign it tomorrow, because someone scratched your name out of it.”
He felt his smile, and his good mood, drop. This wasn’t the first time Dunham had been ostracized in his extracurricular activities, but this instance cut deeper than most.

“We sign it for team bonding, and to remember each other,” Dunham said. “We write our section and the year we graduate. When I heard my name was scratched out, I felt really bad, because these are people I’m really close with, and I thought they were all really friendly and really nice.”

Dunham is a transgender male- assigned female at birth, with the given name Phoebe. Next year, Dunham hopes to move on from the drumhead incident, and join color guard instead. Most students are supportive, but Dunham hopes to avoid some students in percussion who see Dunham’s gender identity as a point of contention.

“I think me being trans had a part in them scratching out my name, because I signed as Oliver, not Phoebe, on the drumhead,” Dunham said. “My experience with band has been okay overall, but I’ve faced discrimination because of my identity from some percussion kids.”

This hasn’t been the only place Dunham has been antagonized for his gender identity. For Dunham’s family members, the transition was sudden and unwelcome.

“I’ve identified as male as seventh grade, when I officially came out,” Dunham said. “My family is aware of my gender, but not supportive at all.”

Luckily, Dunham was able to find support in other areas- through his friends in the school, who support his gender identity, and GSA, where he can feel comfortable and at ease in his own skin.

Pullquote Photo

I’m hoping to avoid any more conflict with percussion. Moving forward, I just hope for more understanding in the band community.”

— Sophomore Oliver Dunham

“My most supportive friend has been Jordan Thorn, who is in band as well, for color guard,” Dunham said. “I’m also involved in GSA, and I’ve been a member since freshman year.”

The drumhead instance was the continuation of Dunham’s struggles to fully integrate himself into the program. Some members see his attempts to assimilate himself fully as a male into the group as offensive or angering. For example, several weeks ago, those that disapprove of his gender identity were angered by a simple switch in uniform.

“During concert season, we have gendered uniforms,” Dunham said. “I asked to wear a tux, and I was allowed to by the band directors, but a lot of the band members weren’t into that, at all.”

After concert season things seemed to be calming down. It was only after he signed the drumhead that the prejudices became evident once again. Luckily, Dunham had the opportunity to sign the drumhead a second time thanks to the support of the directors.

“When I re-signed, I wrote Oliver again, “Dunham said. “There haven’t been any other instances since, because the teacher [Mr Green] locked the room. Mr. Green was supportive, he let me back into the room to sign it and then put the drumhead away.”

According to assistant band director Matt Greene, shortly after the incident the drumhead was thrown away to prevent unnecessary drama.

“We aim to offer opportunities that everyone can feel they’re successful at,” associate band director Daniel Flynn said. “[Bullying and discrimination] is something we take very seriously, and that’s something we deal with as often and as quickly as we can.”

Despite the drama of this year, Dunham has tried to see the bright side of things. Reminiscing about the season he had, Dunham can’t help but be grateful.

“The best part of band for me was marching season, because everyone is really close, and to get through the constant rehearsals and constant going around to games and competitions, you have to be super close like a family,” Dunham said.

Next year, Dunham hopes to take his love of band a step further, and join color guard. Current color guard members, like sophomore Maribel Ojeda, can’t wait to welcome him into the group.

“This is my second year in color guard, and I’d say the environment in color guard is very supportive,” Ojeda said. “I think color guard will be very supportive of Oliver when he transitions to color guard, everyone here loves him.”

Stories from color guard members, like Ojeda, give Dunham hope that he too will find the right group of friends. Though he still worries about acceptance, his fears have abated.

“I’m interested in joining color guard because it seems like a fun experience and everyone in color guard is very nice and friendly,” Dunham said. “I’m hoping to avoid any more conflict with percussion. Moving forward, I just hope for more understanding in the band community.”