319 Creates Episode 3: Fred Kenyon

On episode 3 I talk with Fred Kenyon from Tinyhands. Also, the podcast is now up on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and SoundCloud so you can now subscribe!

319 Creates Episode 3: Fred Kenyon, Milwaukee musician

Podcast Transcription

Mike Weber: Welcome back to 319 Creates. I’m your host, Mike Weber. On this episode, I am speaking with Fred Kenyon of tinyhands about their music and the politics that influence it. We talk about being homeless, protesting, and issues in the LGBTQ+ community. I hope you enjoy.

 Fred Kenyon, welcome to 319 Creates.

Fred Kenyon: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. 

Mike Weber: So I know that you’ve recently been working on your project, tinyhands. You want to tell us a little bit about that and how that got started? 

Fred Kenyon: So tinyhands was originally just a name that I went by. I was working as a freelance horticultural manicurist, which is a very fancy way to say pot trimmer.

One of the farms I worked on, my hands were too small to fit in any of the gloves. And one of the other trimmers who had a night job in a warehouse, brought a giant box full of extra small gloves so that I could wear gloves while I was working. And the grower of the medicinal farm would say, “How are those gloves fitting, tinyhands? Did you make a pound yet, tinyhands?” So that kinda just stuck. At the time, if I wasn’t trimming, I was traveling and busking. Most people who live a lifestyle where they don’t have an address – they don’t go by their legal name. They don’t introduce themselves as their legal name. So I just started going by tinyhands.

But tinyhands became a duet when I came back to Iowa for a month or so. I was making recordings with my friend Jay and Jay wanted to add parts. They would said “Oh, I’m going to do this. I’m going to make this for the recording.” And I was just like, “Do you want to be in a band? Do you want to make this a thing?” So, that’s how it got started.

Mike Weber: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the music then? 

Fred Kenyon: A lot of our songs are kind of raunchy or dirty. Again, that dates back to when most of them were written, and when I first started really performing, which was when I was busking. I learned that I could make a lot of money if I sat on a street corner and sang about eating ass. There was one time where I was singing a song I wrote that is called “Eating Ass: A Love Song“. This man walked by with his family and they were all just kind of blushing. He rushes his wife and kids into the car. Then he gets in the car and he opens the door and comes out and hands me a 20, and he says thank you. So yeah, I guess people like to hear it. 

Mike Weber: So now I’m going to ask you, because you keep using the term busking, and I’m not exactly sure what that means. (Busking example video)

Fred Kenyon: Oh, you see it happen sometimes in Iowa City. I feel like the laws in Iowa City are more strict, so it depends on where you are. There’s some places where you’ll see a lot of buskers and some are just here and there. But that’s a street musician. 

Mike Weber: Oh, okay. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. And you play for tips. And if I wasn’t trimming, that’s how I ate. 

Mike Weber: That makes sense. And you were mentioning how for a while you were living kind of without an address. Were you still in one relative location or were you just kind of traveling around?

Fred Kenyon: I stayed on the West Coast. I didn’t really leave the West Coast when I didn’t have an address. Primarily in Oregon because that’s where a lot of the work was. I started out with a van and I lived in the van and I had a pet rat and he crawled in the motor of the van and did horrible things to it, and the van didn’t work anymore. Then I got another van, which… the motor seized after two weeks. After that I started living on foot with a backpack for awhile. 

Mike Weber: What was that experience like for you? What do you feel like your big takeaway from doing that was? 

Fred Kenyon: I realized that people who have never really been homeless don’t always understand what it’s like. And I feel like a lot of people have a lot of preconceived notions. Like you see someone that’s panhandling and think, “Oh, that’s just a beggar. He’s lazy, she’s lazy. They don’t want to work. They’re addicted to drugs. If I give them money, they’re just going to spend it on beer.” It’s like, first off, they might spend it on beer, but if you’re sleeping in a pile of gravel underneath the bridge, you might need a Steel Reserve to fall asleep.

So unless you have a sedative or a place for them to stay… shut up Karen. For me, living in a van was completely different than being on foot because in a van I still had a space that I could go, shut the door and lock it, and people couldn’t come in or bother me.

Whereas when you’re on foot and you’re living out of your backpack, you have no safe place to go, no privacy. At any point in time, anybody could come up to you and talk to you and you don’t have any downtime ever. That’s another thing, people view homeless people as being lazy because they’re sitting there and they’re drinking. You’re going to go home and shut the door and drink.

So, people see you very differently. And some people are very, very kind to you and they recognize that you’re just doing your best and they want to help you. Or if they can’t help you, they’re at least friendly to you because they see you as a person. But a lot of people aren’t, and they’re cruel and they’re mean. I have had the cops called on me just for existing and a lot of people experienced that, every day. Wrong place. Wrong time.

Mike Weber: I feel like a lot of people who treat homeless people that way… To them, they only identify someone as being homeless when the person is doing something that they would do behind a closed door. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah.

Mike Weber: And it’s really easy for us to think, “Well, if you’re sitting out here in public drinking and you’re homeless…” You’re making your own bed, as it were. And, I think that’s wrong. I think, as people, we tend to judge others for things that they ultimately have no control over. We don’t know why they’re homeless. Did they make wrong decisions? Maybe, but we don’t know. We shouldn’t make those determinations. And we should be kind and gentle to everyone around us. And I think it’s valuable to have the perspective that you have and to share that with other people – especially people who are the type that might make those kinds of assumptions, if that makes sense. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. I am not proud of getting in a Facebook argument with anyone over this, but there was somebody really shit talking homeless people in general, and I was just like, “Hey, you shouldn’t say that.”

And their response was, “Have you even met a real homeless person?” I was like, “Yeah, maybe several hundred.” That person kind of went off on me and said, “Well, you must have made a bunch of horrible life decisions. I’m sorry you suck at life.” And I’m just like, “You know, just because someone’s homeless or in a transitional period in their life, doesn’t mean they did something horrible to get there.”

Mike Weber: Well, I look at it from this standpoint. All of us, unless we come from a lot of privilege, we’re only a couple mistakes away from homelessness. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah.

Mike Weber: I look at it this way. I have a house. I have a job. What happens if I walk into work tomorrow and they’re like, “Yeah, we’re closing shop and we’re going out of business.” Then I don’t have a job. What happens if I can’t find a job that can pay my mortgage? Within a few months I can be on the street. I don’t think that it is our place to judge other people, and we should not be making these decisions for them. Ultimately, why do you care?

Anytime that I see a person that needs help or can be helped, the first thing to go through my head shouldn’t be “What did this person do wrong?” First thing that goes through my head is, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. And you know, if you see someone that’s panhandling or busking and you don’t have anything to give them, you’re not a bad person for that. I think people get really defensive, like, “Well, I can’t give them this.” Okay, don’t. Just be pleasant. Just respect them and move on. Most people who are traveling or houseless don’t feel like you owe them something. They’re just out there being like, “Hey, here I am. If you can help, great.”

Mike Weber: Well, I think a lot of these people that are rude, that do say those things, are the type of people that view it from the standpoint of, “Well, no one helped me.” And, as a person that’s worked in retail for 13, 14 years now… They’re the same type of people that when encountering a retail worker will treat them like the lowest form of life on earth. And it’s like, why? Why do you feel the need to judge other people’s lives? Because they don’t have what you have and it’s just disgusting. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah, that’s true. 

Mike Weber: I think a lot of that comes back to that preconceived notion that homeless people are lesser, that they have made some type of mistakes. All of those things that you pointed out, there’s the assumption that if you don’t have it, there’s a reason that you don’t. If you don’t have a good job, it’s because you’re not a hard worker. If you’re homeless, it’s because you’ve made mistakes. If you don’t have good references, it’s because you’re a bad person. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah.

Mike Weber: And, all of that comes back to what I keep saying. That as people, we have this tendency to judge people on face value. We will focus in on these one or two characteristics that we put so much value on, that really don’t matter in the large scheme of things.

I know so many good people, people that would give you the shirt off their back that have a credit score of 450. It’s like, who cares?

Fred Kenyon: I have a credit score of like 2.

Mike Weber: 2? Wow. That’s impressive. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah, it’s bad. 

Mike Weber: But, to me, it’s just one of those things. Everybody has something to offer. If we want to sit here and pretend that we live in a society, in a community, we have to accept that everybody has a role to play in that. And everybody has something unique to bring to the table. When we are forcing people into a cycle where they are stuck, either being homeless or stuck renting in a bad part of the city…to a certain extent, when we put these limitations on people because we think they’re going to fail, we’re just setting them up to fail. 

So, let’s talk about your music again. You brought some instruments with you today.

Fred Kenyon: Yep. 

Mike Weber: Did you want to play a song for us? 

Fred Kenyon: Sure.

Mike Weber: Why don’t you tell us what you’re gonna play. 

Fred Kenyon: I’m gonna play a song called, “Should I Tell My Dog That He’s Adopted?” It’s a song I wrote about flag burning and a lot of people get really up in arms when the topic of flag burning comes up because they think, “Oh, you hate America.” Most people I’ve met who have participated in a protest such as flag burning, actually don’t hate America. They are burning the flag as a symbolism for rebirth or renewal, like a Phoenix rising from the flames.

And most people I’ve met – and I can’t speak for everyone – but most people I’ve met who protest actually love their country and they love that they’re here, but they want things to change. So the song itself isn’t talking about any particular thing to be protesting, but the overall message is if you are more upset about somebody protesting than you are about why they’re protesting, you got a problem.

Mike Weber: Well, let’s take a break and listen to that. And I have a feeling we’re going to have a conversation about that too.

You can listen to “Should I Tell My Dog That He’s Adopted?” on Bandcamp.

So it sounds like you have some opinions on flag burning.

Fred Kenyon: Maybe a little. 

Mike Weber: Well, I think the song is really good and I think that the message in it is something that’s actually really important to talk about and ties into a little bit of what we’ve already been talking about. I think you have a really good point that the people that get upset about flag burning aren’t really upset about flag burning. It’s just a vehicle for their visceral hatred for everything, not “American.” 

Fred Kenyon: Well, it’s not even flag burning. I’ve attended many protests in my life and even when it’s been completely like no fire involved, people have still been very combative and have shouted and threatened. In my song, I have a line that says, “Should I tell my dog to get a job?” Like they say to you when you go to a protest. People say, “Oh, get a job.” It’s like, I have a job. I protested outside the Trump rally in January of 2016. And that was just like the most commonly thing they said. “Get a job, get a job.” I work full-time. 

Mike Weber: Yeah, I remember during the election… I try very hard to have positive engagement, if that’s the word we want to use, with people of different opinions than myself. A lot of the conversations ended up happening with people that were supporting Hillary instead of Bernie. Those were typically more productive. But anytime that I encountered somebody, especially during the primary season, that was like, “Yeah, Trump.” And I thought, “Whoa, hang on a second.” I was a Bernie supporter. I’m really weird because there are a lot of things that I’m more center on, but I was still a Bernie guy. There are things that I’m very left-progressive/socialist on. But also a lot of things I think there’s ground in between the GOP and the Democrats on. I can understand supporting a candidate, like Mitt Romney or John McCain, or even George W., but Trump was just something else entirely.

The people that I’ve encountered that just… there was not a conversation to be had. It was instantly, “If you’re not supporting the God emperor, you hate America.” And there was this time when, if you are not a Trump supporter, they think you don’t have a job. You don’t like America. You think America should be ran by Muslims or something crazy like that. There wasn’t a gradient of their support. You guys come off as bat shit crazy.

Fred Kenyon: Well, even if for some reason you didn’t have a job, like we were speaking earlier about – people that were traveling or houseless. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an opinion that reflects what you want to see happen in this country. Having a job doesn’t make you a valuable human necessarily. 

Mike Weber: My wife and I talk about politics a lot and one thing that we have, the terminology that we use a lot is “I got mine. So fuck you.” And we know people who were working minimum wage jobs, not full time, people that a lot of the ideas of candidates like Bernie Sanders would have propped up. People who have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and are now working a “real job” making $12 an hour and they feel like they’ve accomplished something. And I don’t want to discount that. I think that anybody who makes any type of progress up the “social ladder” or whatever terminology you want to use. You had a shitty job, you have a better job now. You did something to get there and you should feel proud of that. That being said, it’s not like you’ve gotten far enough that the ideas of a Bernie Sanders… those policies would still prop you up. You are still in a position to benefit from the ideas of the progressive left. But beyond that… Have you completely forgot what it was like to not have a full time job and not be able to find a full time job and not be able to have a job that pays more than eight bucks an hour? I feel like you are a prime candidate of somebody who should be like, we need to have this kind of change in America. I remember what that was like, and that was terrible. When I met my wife, she was unemployed. She had just finished college and could not find a job. It wasn’t even that she couldn’t find a job in her field – she could not find any real work. Even minimum wage jobs were telling her they can give like 10 hours a week.

And it was just like, well, that helps, but that’s 10 hours a week that I can’t spend looking for a better job.

Fred Kenyon: Yeah and she’s getting paid seven buck an hour. $70 a week. Woo. Before taxes. 

Mike Weber: At the time I was making just over minimum wage and it was a full time job. But, we remember what that’s like. That was six years ago now. But that’s not a distant memory to me. That was one of the roughest periods of my life. If the world was a bit more progressive, I don’t think that would have been as difficult as it was. There’s no reason that we need to make that hard for people, and there’s no reason that should be hard for people. And there’s no reason that these Trump supporters should feel like, “Well, if you’re not supporting these ideas, you are probably one of the dregs of society that the God emperor tells us to hate.” And the connection between that – if you don’t support my ideas, you are not only oppositional to me, but you are my enemy and I will do everything in my power to cripple you. I think that’s the big thing. When they go to their rallies and they see people protesting the rallies, they are the personification of everything that they are told to hate. And I think that’s where that comes from. 

Fred Kenyon: Some of the shit that the supporters were saying to us while we were protesting… One of the chants – there was a group that was there protesting with us that was showing support for Muslim Americans – we were saying “We stand with our Muslim neighbors.” And one of the Trump supporters – he took a video of him and me going at it and it got on the internet. Someone found this video with me in it and sent it to me. But he kept saying, “Yeah, support the Muslims until they bomb the shit out of you.” Do you think that everyone who practices a religion is going to be violent to you? This is a very peaceful religion that you probably have not taken more than two seconds to even get acquainted with. 

Mike Weber: That just blows my mind. I am not religious at all. And I’m one of those people that overall thinks religion in the world hurts it more than it helps it.

But when we talk about the protests… these people are saying things like, “You hate America because you didn’t support Donald Trump or you hate America because you’re out here protesting.” When I stop and I think about it – to me, protesting is probably the most American thing that a human being can do.

There’s nothing more American than utilizing your voice of dissent. That is literally what our country was founded on. Our country was founded out of dissent when we did not have a representative voice over in the UK. We were being taxed and the entire founding of this country was out of us not having a voice. When a citizen utilizes these rights – or not even necessarily a citizen because the Bill of Rights does not say these rights are exclusive to citizens of the country – it says these are inalienable rights to every person and for these chest pounding Americans to say that us utilizing that very basic right makes us un-American is incredibly hypocritical.

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. Well, this country was also founded on colonization and stealing land from people who already lived here. But after that already happened. Well, we declared independence. Yeah. 

Mike Weber: And that’s the other thing. A lot of Trump’s message was anti-immigration. Again, that’s one of those things that I kind of cocked my head at. It’s like, how aware are you of the history of this country? 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. This isn’t even our land.

Mike Weber: I’m going to toss one out here because this is one that really annoys me – the people that argue it’s okay to take pride in your race unless you’re white. Let’s unpack this for a second. Number one: white is not a race. It is a skin color. Number two: you are more than likely a mutt at this point. If your ancestors have been in America for more than a couple generations, you’ve been distilled down to nothingness. You don’t have a race to be proud of. And we are a country that was founded by people coming in, literally murdering people, and stealing their land. What are you proud of? What are you trying to pound your chest about? There’s nothing there. You are a citizen of America. Congratulations. You were born here. It’s fine. 

Fred Kenyon: I want to show you something since we’re talking about pride. It’s kind of taking a step away from race and toward another issue since it is Pride Month here, or it’s Pride Month at the time that we’re recording this. So there’s this t-shirt I found a picture of online. It has a picture of a rooster and then a plus sign, and then a cat, and then an equal sign, and then a baby. And it says straight pride. And I’m not exactly sure that’s how babies are made. Like you put the rooster and the cat together?

Mike Weber: Well, I’m pretty sure they’re going for another word for both of those animals. 

Fred Kenyon: I know. It’s just… straight pride. Woo. 

Mike Weber: Yeah. I think that a lot of – I’m just going to just start referring to people as normies – a lot of normal people feel left out when people have something that they can take pride in. Well if you’re proud of being gay, then I’m proud of being straight. 

Fred Kenyon: Good for you. Great. 

Mike Weber: Again, when you have something that is the norm. I don’t think… 

Fred Kenyon: Well, straight people haven’t been persecuted and executed.

Mike Weber: Nope.

Fred Kenyon: Sent to mental institutions. Forced to go through therapy, been jumped, beat up, you know, like straight people don’t… You can walk down the street holding hands with your partner and not be worried about somebody yelling at you or throwing something at you because you’re straight. I think that any given person can be proud of themselves. Like you mentioned, you’re proud of your photography. Someone could be proud of their relationship. If it’s a heterosexual relationship, they could love their partner and be proud of that. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But to, especially at a time where queer people – the LGBT community is having Pride Month and saying we’re proud of ourselves and we’re here and this is who we are. And then someone would be like, “Well, I got straight pride.” You want a cookie or what?

Mike Weber: Both of the things that we’re talking about right now about white pride and straight pride. I think a lot of people who do say these things are conscious of it. It is an effort to take the air out of the room. It is an effort to put a little bit less emphasis on the things that actually merit the pride. When we’re talking about Pride Month, when people are pounding their chest and saying, “I’m proud to be a heterosexual. I’m proud that I’m straight.” All that’s doing is trying to take a little bit of the emphasis away from the community. I think that’s incredibly selfish. I mean, that’s the easiest way that I can put it. I look at it from the standpoint of these people deserve their Pride Month. They deserve to have their moment to be out there, clearly visible. And it is our responsibility as good citizens to give them their space.

They have been prosecuted, they have been murdered. And many other things. And we’re finally starting to get to a point as a society where they can walk down the street holding hands with their partner and not have the cops called on them.

Fred Kenyon: And there are still people in this country that are rooting and working against that.

They want to overturn same sex marriage. Trans people face an awful lot of discourse in this country. I wrote a song about it and the line ended up being the title of our album that just came out. It’s called “I never knew that taking a shit could be so sexual” and it is directly referring to this debate over whether or not people should use the bathroom that they feel comfortable in. It’s all of a sudden an issue of sexuality and safety. It’s a toilet.

Mike Weber: When that conversation hit the mainstream, was that about three years ago? I think it was 2015 when, I can’t remember what state it was, passed the first bathroom bill. That started a national conversation about it.

I remember sitting there and being incredibly confused by the whole idea. Maybe this was coming from me being a more liberal progressive person. First off, a lot of these people you would not know are transitioning unless they told you. By the time a lot of these people start using the bathroom that they identify with, they are already passing. And you wouldn’t even know. That aside, people have been gay for decades.

Fred Kenyon: Centuries. Thousands of years. It’s always been a thing. 

Mike Weber: Well centuries, yeah. More than likely if you’re a dude, you probably took a piss next to a guy that was gay. If you’re a girl, you probably were sitting in a stall next to somebody that was a lesbian.

Their sexual orientation does not make them a predator.

Fred Kenyon: I kind of want to jump in here. Sexual orientation and gender identity are kind of two completely different things. 

Mike Weber: Well, yes. My point with this is the whole national conversation about the reasons behind the bathroom bill. Their argument, not my argument, was that if we allow trans people into bathrooms, they’re going to assault somebody. They’re going to assault a kid. It was all about trans women. We’re going to have a trans woman, who they perceive as still being a man, in a bathroom with little girls and they’re going to rape them. 

And that’s not the way this works. My point relating it to sexual orientation – if putting two people into a bathroom who are compatible sexually is going to result in assault, we would have had that problem with gay people.

Fred Kenyon: Yeah.

Mike Weber: That’s the point I was trying to make.

Fred Kenyon: Yes. No, that’s a good point. I just wanted to throw that out there. There’s another word you used – and I’m not coming at you, like you said something horrible. I think a lot of people use this word and don’t realize the problematic-ness of it. But you said “passing”. Again, I’m not coming at you, I don’t think you were trying to be hurtful in any way. I personally feel like passing can be a very problematic way to put it, because there’s a lot of people that are trans and don’t have access to the medical treatment, or for various different reasons, don’t present with that gender. And so they’re not passing. I think that’s kind of playing into – there’s a cis look, and then there’s a trans look. And there’s someone who is a trans woman presenting as a woman, but you still look at that person and can tell they’re trans.

To say they’re not passing could be perceived as invalidating their transness. We could get into people that are non-binary, or gender queer in the middle. What does passing even mean for them if they’re in between genders?

Mike Weber: I completely agree with that and it was just the best word that I thought to use.

Fred Kenyon: Oh, no. I understand. And I only bring it up for the sake of discussion about what that word means. 

Mike Weber: I think that actually gives us another interesting talking point. Again, as a society, we try and put people into boxes. I perceive society as slowly evolving. I think we really need to get to a point where we don’t have to think about it. You mentioned a couple of different terms. Are all of these necessary or can we get to a point where we don’t have to think about it? One of the things that I’ve thought about recently is that we’ll talk about gender identity and, how does that play into why, if you identify as a woman, do you have to look like a stereotypical woman?

Fred Kenyon: Mhmm.

Mike Weber: It’s not just that you can identify as a woman, but you have to be this typical feminine woman. Why can’t you identify as a masculine woman? And, I think overall we need to kind of realign what we define – really we need to get rid of our preconceived notions of gender and gender identity.

I want people to feel empowered to just…

Fred Kenyon: Be themselves. 

Mike Weber: Be themselves and not have to worry about it. 

Fred Kenyon: So I’ve kind of heard both ends of the argument from various friends and acquaintances that are members of the trans community. I’ve heard a lot of people say genders are relevant or gender doesn’t exist. Then I’ve also heard people say, well, no, gender does exist. And, by saying that it is irrelevant, it doesn’t exist, is invalidating to me as a trans person. So it’s kind of hard, for me at least, to really put my finger on it. But I think, what you’re saying about we should get to the point where people are comfortable just being themselves.

You said earlier, and we were talking about something completely different, but you said “Why do you care?” And that’s kind of my attitude when I’m faced with people that are transphobic. I’m gender queer, I use they/them pronouns. I definitely get a lot of friction that way. Today you see me wearing makeup, I have a necklace on. And some people would argue and have argued with me in the past, “Well, you’re dressing like a woman.” So I like do my makeup once in a blue moon? Literally anybody can wear makeup. But your notion of “Why do you care?” I’ve had to explain this to a lot of people. They didn’t see themselves as transphobic. They didn’t see themselves as anything phobic. They didn’t understand what they were saying was wrong. My little rule of thumb that I like to share with people is “It is none of your business what’s in someone else’s pants.”

Mike Weber: I think that is 110% on point. I struggle to understand why people care. Why is it so important to know? I’ve known people who will stare at somebody and be like, “I wonder.” And it’s like, why? 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah.

Mike Weber: Why? Why does it matter? How does it affect you?

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. Someone’s argued, “Well, how am I supposed to call her she when she has an Adam’s Apple?” Why do you care that she has an Adam’s Apple? She says she’s a woman. Just call her she. Respect her. 

Mike Weber: Not to make the conversation seem more basic than it is because it’s not basic – it’s incredibly nuanced. That is almost like walking up to me and me introducing myself like, “Hi, I’m Mike.” And you’re like, “Nah, I think you’re more of a Chris.”

Fred Kenyon: You look like a Chris. You don’t.

Mike Weber: A lot of people would disagree with you. I get called Chris a lot. I don’t know why.

Fred Kenyon: I get called Francesca because my name is Frederica so they go Francesca, Felicia.

Mike Weber: I don’t understand why we feel the need to impart our wisdom onto other people. If you walk up to me and say, “I identify this way and these are the pronouns that I would like you to use.” My response is, “Okay.” I apologize to people when I mess up. Because this is new to a lot of people. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to interact, especially with gender queer people that are in the middle or gray area, whatever terminology is best. I know a couple other people that prefer they/them and I’ve slipped up and I apologize. 

Fred Kenyon: Well, that’s one thing. You accidentally said the wrong thing. That happens and that doesn’t make you a bad person as long as you’re still acknowledging them in their identity. Saying sorry. I think that’s another thing. I had someone who repeatedly calls me girl, and I say, I’m not a girl. Don’t call me that. And then they get angry and they say, “Well, if you can say whatever you want, then I can say whatever I want.”

What do you mean, I say whatever I want? “You correct me whenever you want!” I don’t think that’s exactly the same thing.

Mike Weber: The one that I struggle with – and I know that this is a conversation that comes up a lot and I know you’re not gonna attack me for it, but I know you’re going to have an opinion on it – is terms like “guys” or “dudes”. How’s the best way to word it?

Fred Kenyon: Hey guys. Hey dudes. Hey man. Hey dude. I think that it kind of just varies person to person. There are some people that when they’re called dude and when they’re called guy, even if it’s meant completely in a unisex manner, it still makes them feel dysphoric and makes them feel uncomfortable.

So if that person says to you, “Hey, don’t call me dude. I really don’t like it.” Then just be respectful, remember not to call – or try to remember – not to call them dude. There’s other people that are totally fine with it. I mentioned earlier, my bandmate Jay, who was in my wedding when I got married a couple of years ago. Jay’s official title was Dude of Honor, and that was a title that they chose. So it definitely varies from person to person.

Mike Weber: Respect people. If someone tells you that they really don’t like it when you use that word. I have friends that don’t like it when I swear and I do my best not swear around them. It’s not that hard to just be conscious. Overall it is just being aware of what makes people comfortable. I try very hard to make sure that the people that I associate with are comfortable around me. I don’t want to be that person who people don’t want to be around because I make them feel uncomfortable. It’s not our place to judge or question what someone else says makes them feel comfortable.

If someone says, “Call me this or don’t call me that or don’t use this word around me…” Don’t overanalyze it.

Fred Kenyon: Put forth an effort. 

Mike Weber: Yeah, that’s just called being a good human. 

Fred Kenyon: Another thing that I see a lot as someone who uses they/them pronouns is people arguing that it’s not grammatically correct.

First off – it is. If somebody left their cell phone at the grocery store and you took it to the front desk, you would say, “I wonder if they’re still here” because you don’t know who owns that cell phone. “I wonder if they are in the store.” If somebody runs down the street and it wasn’t apparent to you whether or not it was a man or a woman, you would say, “I wonder where they’re going.” “Why are they running?” It actually is grammatically correct to use they/them pronouns for people that don’t have a distinguished gender. I had a conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago about this. I said, “Even if it wasn’t, who cares about grammar?” And she goes, “I care about grammar.” And I said, “Okay, but do you care more about grammar than you care about the people in your life and respecting their pronouns?” And she said, “No, it’s okay.” There you go. Problem solved.

Mike Weber: I feel like this applies to a lot of things, but when we don’t like or disagree with a topic we always go to the easiest, lowest common denominator excuse. You know, it’s not grammatically correct. That’s such a silly one. We see this a lot in other topics, like talking about immigration. “Well, they’re not legal.” Okay. Who cares? If we spent as much time and energy as we do on correcting people and analyzing and dissecting what they want in their life or their opinions, and put that energy into just being compassionate towards them, I think a lot of our problems would go away. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. Probably. 

Mike Weber: This is one of those things that I legitimately do not understand. It is such a basic one to me – the thought of just being nice. Just be kind and don’t overanalyze what people are asking. I don’t understand why this is so hard and I don’t understand why people make it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. I don’t know. That’s my thoughts on that. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. I had an interaction with someone over the internet. And this was somebody who I had known briefly in high school and he found me over the internet and friended me. He was talking to me over Facebook Messenger, just about my music and stuff. The conversation started out very, very friendly and amicable. But he noticed that I use they/them pronouns and asked me about it and what it means? I explained it to them to the best of my ability. We talked about my identity and how I felt on the inside versus what the world expected of me and that I was more comfortable with these pronouns. His response was, “Well, you look like a woman to me and I’m not gay. So I would know.” Basically saying since he’s attracted to me, I have to be a woman because he’s not gay.

Okay, first off, way to make this about you. But, I actually wrote a song, a direct response to that. All you see about me is my anatomical features… The song is called “Tits and Ass” 

Mike Weber: Oh man. That kind of goes back to what I was just saying. Pretty much everything we’ve talked about for this entire episode stems from people just not feeling comfortable going out of their comfort zone. And I think that people who are straight are very comfortable and have never questioned, ever. Ever. I think that they have a really hard time being confronted with somebody that falls outside of that. In that situation, somebody that they perceived as being one gender they were attracted to, identifies with another gender. Which means that if I’m attracted to you… Then I’m actually gay? Having to process through all that… People don’t want to do it. They don’t want to accept that there’s more nuance to this. I think that some people feel threatened by that because somehow it threatens their straightness. I don’t know. That’s another one that’s hard for me to wrap my head around.

Fred Kenyon: That’s a big issue that I’ve seen happen a lot – where somebody, say a cisgendered woman, identifies as heterosexual. Then she dates a trans woman. She says, “Well, I’m still straight because she’s trans.” Now you’re completely disregarding your partner’s gender – of all people.

You should be supportive and loving and see them for who they really are. And I think that does happen a lot because a lot of people are so insecure with their own sexuality and their own gender that they will go out of their way to invalidate others to make themselves feel normal.

I don’t know what they’re trying to achieve, but…

Mike Weber: I think it just comes down to – it’s a can of worms to them. Emotionally, if they go down that path of stepping out of the box that is perceived as being normal. I’m rolling my eyes as I say that, just to clarify. That poses a lot of unanswered questions to them.

If they can find a reason to walk back into the box, they will. Like that guy saying that you’re female because “I know I’m not gay” and implied attraction there. That walks him back into the standard binary box. Or dating a trans person and saying, “Well, I see them as female and I’m still attracted to them.” That again walks them back into their binary box. It’s just looking for an excuse to not have to deal with it. I think that some people are aware how difficult it is to not fit in that box. And for them to be confronted with something that makes them realize that they might not fit into that box, it’s opening a can of worms that’s going to make their life harder. They just want to find an excuse that their life doesn’t have to be any harder than it is. But I think it’s incredibly  disrespectful. All we have to do is respect the other people’s opinions and you know, maybe the world would be a better place if everyone just accepted that this conversation about gender, sexual orientation, and what we find attractive is not as basic as we’ve made it out to be.

And it’s only going to get worse from here – or better.

Fred Kenyon: I would say better, but –

Mike Weber: I think with every year that goes by, as more and more people are empowered, the conversation gets more nuanced. 

Fred Kenyon: Yeah. Which would be worse for some people, right? The opposing people, they would view that as worse.

Mike Weber: We’ll just say it’s probably going to get more complicated before it gets less complicated. But I think the people that feel threatened that way, the sooner they can accept that gender and sexual identity and attraction is not binary – and see it as more of a gradient – the easier their life is going to be moving forward.

And ultimately, again, it doesn’t affect you. Just be respectful of the people around you.

We are running out of time and I think you have one last song for us that’s related to the conversation we were just having. Could you tell us about the song and we’ll go from there?

Fred Kenyon: This is a song called “Tits and Ass“, and it’s about being mis-gendered and over-sexualized for all the wrong reasons.

Mike Weber: Alright, we’ll hear that in a second, but before we do that, I would like to thank you for being on, and it was a really good conversation. 

Fred Kenyon: Thank you for having me.

(Fred plays “Tits and Ass”)

Mike Weber: You can find tiny hands on Facebook and Bandcamp. They just started a tour and you can catch them on July 9th at Petal Palace in Des Moines and on July 11th at Public Space One in Iowa City. Next time I talk with Reid Anderson, from Faces Turned Ashen, about his music and the Cedar Rapids music scene. I hope you can join us.