Ellen Siberian Tiger Addresses Gender Identity in New Music Video "If a Tree Falls in the Forest..."
Updated: May 16, 2020
As a cis/straight/white woman, I have the privilege of having my gender identity validated and accepted. This is absurd. Gender identity should not be a privilege, it should just BE. Not only is my gender identity accepted, it’s inferred; assumed as a default way of existence. But I don’t think I fully realized my privilege until this interview with Ellen. I am so secure in how my identity is perceived, and supported by the general population in how I identify, that it is never even a thought in my mind. I rarely think about it because I don’t have to. This kind of peace of mind is a luxury of our social structures. I have the luxury of existing without care, but if you identify as queer, I’m betting your gender identity is something you think of often.
Ellen Siberian Tiger recently released their single, If a Tree Falls in the Forest… and an accompanying music video. The video is gritty. It shows Ellen trying to speak, but constantly being silenced by two out people wrapping their head in medical gauze in an attempt to silence them. I was able to talk to Ellen Tiberio-Shultz a bit more about song and the video; both focusing on the inequality of existence that the queer community experiences on a daily basis:
CVZ: Why did you write this song? Are you drawing from personal experience?
ELLEN:I wrote this song about my personal experience of understanding and defining my own identity. I would call myself bisexual and non-binary, which is I guess a more qualified way of saying that I’m somewhere in the middle of the binaries of gender and orientation that are most visible in the society I’m in. A lot people don’t really believe in bisexuality or in a spectrum of genders. While I know in my heart that my identity is real and valid, there is a pressure to prove it that I resent, and each day a part of my energy is spent essentially reminding myself that I am real.
CVZ: What is the most important thing you hope people take away from the song? What does your ideal society look like in terms of gender and gender identity? Like, if you could wake up tomorrow and live in your perfect world, what would it be like?
ELLEN: I want it to be easier for people to explore and express the feelings in themselves that are outside their assigned binaries, and I want people to make room for these gray-areas in their perceptions of others as well.
CVZ: What was the inspiration for the music video?
ELLEN: I made the video with Gracie Martin and Michelle Goodwin. Before we filmed anything we talked about art and music, our personal experiences of being raised female, and our experiences dating men. When I initially shared the song and video on the blog alt citizen, the write up talked about the song’s theme of believing in the unseen as a metaphor for believing the victims in cases of abuse. This was a little different than my intention, which is more focused on identity erasure than victim silencing. However I believe that these are two problems that come from the same source, aka structural patriarchy. The feeling of living within the confines of patriarchy and among those who uphold it is a difficult one to define. It feels different for all of us, although from conversations like the one Gracie, Michelle and I had, it’s clear that there are common themes. I won’t speak for them, but what stands out to me is the feeling of being silenced, or of being controlled in some way, or of not being truly seen. These are the themes I think a lot of people can connect to. I’m glad, even if their experience with patriarchy differs from mine, that others can hopefully relate and find something that feels validating or comforting from the song or video.
I could really go on about my personal feelings and intentions with the video, but to be concise: I wanted to share how sometimes being queer feels like the world is trying to cover you up. In the video I’m getting wrapped in medical gauze while I try to sing about exploring and questioning my queer identity. Also, it’s a little cheesy, but even as my mouth is covered in the video I keep singing.
CVZ: Is there anything else that you want people to know about the song or the video?
ELLEN:You can’t have a conversation about structures of power and patriarchy without talking about race. It would be inappropriate for me to try and explain or explore what racism feels like in my art; I’m white so I benefit from the structural racism that’s built into this country. It would be equally inappropriate, I think, for me to draw attention to patriarchy without explicitly stating that it’s part of the same structure as white supremacy. My goal to destroy one must be uncompromisingly linked to a goal to destroy the other.
Watch the music video below, tell us what you think. We need to start having conversations about these issues that are affecting our friends and our community. For a long time I felt shame and embarrassment because I felt ignorant on this subject. I still do. I was worried that I would accidentally offend someone because I didn’t use the correct vocabulary, or because I said something insensitive without realizing it. But we need to talk about this. Our intentions are what matter, and our actions can follow.For those of us for whom the straight-cis-white-heteronormative social structure has benefited and validated us, we must not allow our fear of looking ignorant, or fear of making mistakes, stop us from using our privilege to try to end oppression. We have to communicate, educate, and advocate. Realize we’ll get it wrong sometimes, and take responsibility for the impact of those mistakes when they happen, And if we haven’t yet, we need to join in on the conversation.
by Kristen Levine