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Double standards: Exposing the sector’s sexism problem

Having transitioned in the live music industry, tour manager Laura Nagtegaal shares her unique perspective of the industry’s flagrant sexism

13 Jul 2021

Once upon a time, there was a girl who felt terribly guilty about not being grateful for her male body, so she censored herself and subconsciously found herself the manliest job around; working in the live music industry. That woman is me.

Back in 1995, I rolled into live music, and by 2002 I went full-time. Most tours I did were as guitar tech, tour manager, or a combination of the two.

By the time I was nine or ten, I first “knew” that the doctor delivering me had made a mistake (assuming that what’s between my legs defines me), and soon after I began repressing myself and my feelings; replacing them with lethargy and robot-like behaviour.

It was only in 2016 that I could accept myself for who I am, and from then on, all sorts of “self” feelings grew stronger (esteem, worth, confidence, care) and all of that culminating in self-love. As of Valentine’s Day 2017, I closed the book on my previous persona, and by the time Easter 2019 rolled around, I was done with the medical side of transitioning.

Both on and behind the stage, my transition went smoothly at first; all my regular bands accepted Laura with open arms. The two warmest responses came from my colleague and fiancée: “Today you’re my boyfriend, tomorrow my wife,” and from a few friends: “No, you didn’t become a woman, you were always one!”

I have proven and valuable skills, I just happen to be a woman – a transgender woman

When all those bands swapped the stage for the studio simultaneously and I had to find new ones, I noticed how – as a transgender woman – sexism, trans/homophobia, and toxic masculinity seemed to seriously jeopardise my career. I went from being hired before I’d even finish saying “yes” to suddenly being asked for a resume and not getting hired.

I got subjected to the same kind of sexism women are subjected to… my skills, experience, and opinion were decimated. I did not build a more than 25-year career with smoke and mirrors. I have proven and valuable skills, I just happen to be a woman – a transgender woman.

I should hope that on the reverse end of that, with the same bigoted and archaic way of thinking, trans men end up on the good side of things. Cisgender men and women swapping signatures in the office experience exactly that: male to female – downgrade; female to male – upgrade. And no, transgender people don’t cost the employer more money, health care, availability, time, and loyalty.

While our names and what is or isn’t in our underwear may have changed, our skills did not. If anything, you’ll be dealing with a mentally stronger and more self-empowered and actualised person; therefore you’ll be dealing with a more desirable person to have on your crew.

It is surprising how conservative and reluctant our supposedly progressive industry still is with regards to anyone who is not a white cishet male. What I, as a trans person, experience, is way broader than just my being trans: I am “no longer” a white cishet male.

I got subjected to the same kind of sexism women are subjected to

Still, knowing that I had the courage to look in the mirror, all pretence stripped, and accept myself for who I am, absolutely obliterates the negative sides. And as a bonus, I actually like looking in the mirror nowadays.

And today, I have boundaries, respect them, and communicate them. Take it or leave it. In the times before, I’d bend over backwards.

Things are definitely getting better in the live music industry, but we still have a long way to go. Twenty years ago, if a woman was on tour, she’d most likely be doing merchandise or wardrobe. More and more tours I am on, women are in leadership and fader-pushing positions – and tours are better because of it.

The silver lining to Covid-19 pressing pause on us is that we can, and do, (re)write the rules of engagement. We had better follow our own advice, though. We need to hire for skill, professionalism and kindness, rather than for convenience and status quo (ie white cishet males).

And we, the marginalised, need to want to be visible. “Visibility will, inevitably, lead to awareness. Through awareness, the path to acceptance can be found, and followed.”

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