Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev

Over the Rainbow with Dr. Mark Cramer

June 05, 2023 Kosta Yepifantsev Season 3 Episode 3
Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev
Over the Rainbow with Dr. Mark Cramer
Show Notes Transcript

Join Kosta and his guest: Dr. Mark Cramer, Clarinetist, Tennessee Tech School of Music Professor, Studio Recording Artist, and Principal Clarinetist of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.

🌈 This month and every month we recognize the LGBTQ+ community in the Upper Cumberland that makes us better when we’re together.

Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is recorded in Cookeville, TN.

Find out more about Dr. Mark Cramer:
https://www.markjcramer.com/

Find out more about Kosta Yepifantsev:
http://kostayepifantsev.com/

Mark Cramer:

Pride doesn't necessarily celebrate being gay or being a part of the LGBTQ plus community. But it celebrates the freedom and the right to exist without persecution and to just be free.

Morgan Franklin:

Welcome to Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev, a podcast on parenting business and living life intentionally. We're here every week to bring you thoughtful conversation, making your own path to success,challenging the status quo, and finding all the ways we're better together. Here's your host, Kosta Yepifantsev.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Hey, y'all, this is Kosta and today I'm here with my guest, Dr. Mark Kramer, clarinettist, Tennessee Tech school of music professor, studio recording artist and principal clarinetist of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. This month, and every month, we recognize the LGBTQ plus community in the upper Cumberland, that makes us better when we're together. So Mark, in celebration of Pride Month, I want to start this episode by asking you to share your personal story to the extent you're comfortable, of course, as someone in the LGBTQ plus community. Absolutely. Well, thanks for having me on today. For sure. I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is actually very similar to Cookeville, Tennessee, we call it the Bible Belt of the Midwest, West Michigan. So growing up in a kind of conservative area, I was very lucky to have very supportive parents, especially a really supportive mother, with my my dad, it was a little bit of a, we're not going to talk about it kind of thing. And as you know, he's always been the kind of guy you have to kind of ease him in a little bit. But my mom's known I was gay since I think it came out to her when I was like 13, or 14. So it's been a long the majority of my life, I've been out to her. And I was involved in the music program. And I think part of the reason I went into music for my career is because musicians tend to be a little bit more accepting. It was the place in high school, which I was bullied and teased, you know, the same old story a lot of us have in our the queer community. So it was a very safe space for me. And I felt very comfortable there. And I could be my complete, authentic self. And it was just a natural progression for me to pursue music as a career. So my career trajectory has changed a lot. When I was probably 15 years old, if you asked me what I wanted to be, when I grew up, I wanted to be a high school band director. And then when I went off to I went to a conservatory for my undergrad, it's called the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. That's when my world really expanded. And I thought about maybe I'll play in an orchestra, or maybe I'll play in a pit for like an opera company or, or musicals. And that's where I got involved in college teaching. And that's kind of where I've gone from there. To kind of circle back to the queer side of things, I guess you could say, Oberlin. A big part of the reason that I went there. Other than that, it's a great music program is is a very, very progressive institution. It was established in the early 1830s. And it was the first institution in the United States to accept women and Native Americans and African Americans. And this is a very progressive for its time. And it has a history of being very open minded. And growing up in a very small and conservative community. I really wanted to be able to explore who I was, and Oberlin is consistently ranked in one of, you know, the top five most liberal institutions in the United States. So that was a big reason why I went there. So I was there for four years, finished my degree. And it was wild. It was it was a great experience. And then I went off to University of Michigan and Ann Arbor, which is a lot like Oberlin, and a lot of ways just way bigger, right? We're Oberlin had about, I think it was 2500 students, and then you go to Michigan, which is like 40,000 or something. My world just kept getting bigger, right. And I took some time off after school and I serve tables and worked in a high school teaching clarinet lessons. And then I decided, you know, I want to be a college professor. And in order to do that, I got to have a doctorate. So I went to University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I finished my doctorate there and I kind of hung out in North Carolina for a few years before I came down to tech. Was North Carolina different than your experiences at University of Michigan or where you got your undergrad? Yeah, definitely. Oberlin and Ann Arbor. We're very, very progressive. And while Greensboro is a college town and kind of that bubble The ideology may have been different. Yeah, I think of the South. And there was a little bit more of that. And actually going down there for the degree, I started feeling things I hadn't felt since maybe my high school years as far as discrimination goes. So that was kind of eye opening, but still not probably to the extent of maybe what Cookeville is, yeah, because Greensboro and Winston Salem and high point or they call it the triad, and it is a lot of, you know, college, educated people and a lot of universities, a ton of universities in that area, and also a really large arts following and arts community. So with that comes a little bit more progressive. What I'm curious about is okay, so like 13 years old, you know, you come out to your mom, you mentioned that you got bullied in school, was your mom kind of like a safe place for you to go to and speak openly and freely. And I'm sure you've probably had a group of friends that you guys always talk. But the question that I have is, What was it about going to those progressive universities that kind of gave you the confidence to say, I can go to Greensboro, I can teach at Tennessee Tech, like, I'm not going to be burned at the stake, you know, because I just feel like, if I was somebody in the LGBTQ community, I mean, I can take some adversity, but I would steer clear of like the real adversity that we face in this community that we're going to talk about, I think there's a couple answers to that one, going into music. I always knew from an early age, especially when I decided I wanted to be either an orchestral player or a college teacher, is I knew I never would have the privilege of picking my locale. Okay, so when I got this job at Tennessee Tech, I think there were only three tenure track clarinet teaching positions at the college level in the entire United States. It's highly competitive, there's three jobs, and then maybe 100 people are applying for those jobs. So you're really lucky to get the one. So I kind of knew going into this field that I'm going to have to live anywhere, I might have to live on Mars if you know if I have to. So there was that I think the other side of you know, maybe having the confidence to live in a more conservative place is I might have been a little bit blind to the discrimination living in such bubbles for so long. And I kind of got comfortable and being able to be really free and expressive and show my true self and these really progressive areas. What year did you move to Tennessee?

Mark Cramer:

2018.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Okay, all right. So but you were in Greensboro around 2016? Yes. Okay. So you could start to see some of the tension building because I will say during the years of the Obama administration, I feel like it was a lot more tolerant open, like, you know, you didn't feel worried or concerned or felt like your life was in danger. But post 2016 It just seems like the temperature really got turned up. Absolutely. And you were moving to the south?

Mark Cramer:

Yep. Yep. I was down there. I was in the thick of it. I think I moved down to Greensboro in 2012. So again, it wasn't like the shock to the system. I was already down there. And I was kind of slowly getting used to the discomfort. I guess it wasn't like an immediate reaction. I will say with 2016. In June of 2016, when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened, that was a big wake up call for me. I used to go to the skate nightclub in Greensboro called chemistry. And it's a really great place. It's also felt really safe there. It was the kind of establishment where you walk in, and you pay a cover, and this little atrium area, and you you know, meet the front attendant and you pay your money, and then they press a magnet, seal lock, and then you walk in so you feel a lot more safe there. Because if there were to be an intruder or something like that, there's kind of this couple steps they have to get through. But when pulse happened that really scared me. And I didn't go out in an establishment like that for about a year well out of the fear of that. And that's when I started seeing the bubbling at the surface of what was to come.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So it's Pride Month. Mark, what does pride mean to you?

Mark Cramer:

I think pride doesn't necessarily celebrate being gay or being a part of the LGBTQ plus community. But it celebrates the freedom and the right to exist without persecution and to just be free. Of course, I'm proud to be who I am and I guess part of who I am as being gay, but it's not necessarily something that I worked for or something that I earned. I was just born this way right to quote Lady Gaga I got, for me, what's most important is being able to just be my true, authentic self and not feel judged. Yeah. And I'll definitely say in my college days, I really felt that way. But nowadays, it's not feeling quite as safe. There are less safe spaces. Definitely to feel that way.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I mean, you're a music professor, you're a clarinetist. And you're gay. You know, you're not identified just by one thing. It's not like, you know, this is Mark, he's gay. No, this is Mark. He's a music professor that works at Tech. And it's interesting how you said that. So when you talk about pride, it's about just accepting people for who they are. Not necessarily what their sexual orientation is, but what they do and how they contribute to their communities, to their families, to society in general. I'm just curious, like, do you feel supported? Do you feel like you're sometimes persecuted in this community? Is it scary for you,

Mark Cramer:

as in Cookeville? Or it's just the? Um, yes, definitely. I think with everything that's happened this year, I'm the faculty advisor for the Tennessee Tech, lambda Gay Straight Alliance. Okay. And everything that happened this year with I'm sure you're aware of the TIC tock video that went viral? It was a drag show hosted at Tennessee? Yes, yes. And that went viral and lambdas events got canceled for a semester. And so I was at a crossroads of kind of like, I'm going up for tenure and promotion this year. Do I keep my mouth shut and be safe? Or do I do, in my opinion, the right thing and defend the students. And that's what I did. And in a very diplomatic way, in a very respectful way, was able to get my point across of, hey, it's important for these students to have this safe platform and be able to have every group gets to have these events on campus, like why can't their events happen? And we went through a process of how they review different campus events. And there have been changes to policy, but in a very fair way, in my opinion, and I think this is kind of getting off topic a little bit. But I think we can have these kinds of discussions with people of completely opposite side of the fence, right? As long as you're respectful of all viewpoints, I think a lot of people get really, really defensive, especially LGBTQ issues, and they kind of fly off the handle really quickly. And don't speak calmly or maybe don't have sympathy or empathy for the other side and what they're thinking. So I think if we all just stopped and reflected and listened. Before we reacted, I think we could have very poignant and just great conversations a lot more accomplished.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Well, you know, there's been professors at at Tennessee Tech that have spoken out, I guess, against certain injustices that were up for tenure that it was denied to them. And I think it takes a lot of courage, you know, because that's essentially your career. Like I was saying earlier, you know, that's what defines you. You're, you're you are a music professor first, you know, obviously, human being first, but you know, your career, right. Yeah. Were you scared that they may deny you tenure?

Mark Cramer:

Absolutely. But these are conversations that I had, I actually put that right now, I said, before I would even make any statement. I said, Hey, I'm going up for tenure. Right? And I was reassured that this would have nothing to do with that. And that my work that I have done, has reflected in Oh, this is something that, you know, if you make it pass every committee, you know, you go the faculty votes on you, then the chair, the dean, the provost, the President, and the board of trustees are the people who sign off as long as you get through all those proper steps after they've reviewed everything that you've done, and it shouldn't be a problem.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So you're talking about, you know, the Tick Tock video that spurred controversy that spilled over into the Hicks brewery circumstances and some of the potential for violence that could have occurred there. And now we're coming up to the Pride festival in Cookeville. And I'll be honest with you, like Jessica, and I took our kids to pride last year, we were super excited to take them again this year. And I'm I'm concerned, you know, and we are very like open minded people. And like, you know, thinking there couldn't possibly be violence at this event. And literally, the temperature has gotten so high that I think it's just going to be myself and her that code to the festival and we're not going to bring our kids which is so sad. But some of our elected officials have told me that we need to prepare for some really serious anarchistic type of circumstances. I mean, how sad is that?

Mark Cramer:

Yeah. And I'll say I share the same sentiments. I was I was nervous last year when I went and I've been to pride festivals all over For the country, and there's always going to be those outlier people with the megaphone saying, you know, with all the wearing the things on their chest and everything like that, you know, that happens every year here in Cookeville, as well, but there seems to be this underlying, like, almost violent kind of sign of violent opinions. And, and that's what makes me really nervous.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Why are we at this point? In your opinion, why are we now having to contend with violence against the LGBTQ community? Not in like the Stonewall, like, that was obviously in the 80s or 70s, I believe, yes. 69. Okay. There has been a history of violence towards this community. But now it's like, it's just reached a whole new different point. What are people so scared of?

Mark Cramer:

You know, I, and I don't know if this is accurate, but it's, I guess it's my opinion, I think there's a lot of negative feelings towards our community. Because I think people on the other side, I guess I can straight people, not all straight people, of course, might think that being gay or a member of this community is a choice. And I think as society changes and culture changes, it's getting more safe in some ways for us to come out and live authentically. And now as we see more people living out in their truth. I think a lot of people who aren't a member of that community might think, Oh, well, when I was five years old, or whatever, there were no gay people. And now there's, you're seeing it everywhere. And you're seeing it on TV and things like that. And there are just as many gay people now as there were 50 years ago, and it's changed a lot, the culture and the climate has changed a lot. And so a lot more people can live authentically, and you're just seeing it now. And you

Kosta Yepifantsev:

would think if you're a compassionate person, if you're somebody that loves other people, kind of like what you got, you know, taught in Bible school to love everyone, right? That you would be willing and open and accepting for people to live there, like you said, live their truth, you know, and I find it so oxymoronic, where, you know, you've got these moral, ethical individuals, but they don't believe that it is necessary for people that may have a different sexual orientation to have the same rights and be able to live the same lives that they do. It's astounding. So as an established musician, recording artist, educator and performer, what attracted you to Tennessee Tech and the upper Cumberland? Well,

Mark Cramer:

the job okay, I, you know, I was not fresh out of my doctorate, maybe three years, I was adjunct teaching at like four universities at once I was playing in basically every orchestra in North Carolina and Southern Virginia. And I was also at a small private studio outside of all those teaching jobs. And I also was a personal trainer and fitness instructor. So I was really hustling, working over 100 hour weeks and things like that on top of practicing and stuff, too. So when I landed this job, it was a welcome relief to that day to day hustle of just like trying to make ends meet basically, because adjuncts salaries are not nearly what a full professor kind of salary is. So that was the main thing, but I'm a strong believer in the universe unfolds as it should. And I think this location is actually works really well with my lifestyle as not necessarily my LGBTQ lifestyle, but my physical side of things. I like hiking, I'm really active and physically fit. So this is the place I mean, I'm not a crossfitter. But if you want to do CrossFit, I mean, this is the place this is the mecca. Yeah. And also living so close to Music City. I actually didn't realize Nashville was such a large recording hub for classical music. I just assumed it was country western music, because I mean, it's Nashville, country music, but we do a lot of movie soundtracks. You can hear me on Amazon Prime, Netflix, HBO, Max, tons of video games, amusement park rides, I heard myself in Disney World recently, which was really, really cool. And that's just something that I never thought would be a thing unless I lived in Los Angeles or San Francisco. So that was something that kind of happily fell into my lap just by coincidence, and I absolutely love it. And it's a thrill. It's scary. You don't get the music ahead of time. So your sight reading in the recordings and things like that, but it's amazing.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Can I ask you why you chose the clarinet of all the instruments that you could pick why decide to play the clarinet,

Mark Cramer:

it shows me my parents didn't want to necessarily invest in a new instrument when it wasn't something that they knew what I would want to do for long term and instruments are expensive. So we had a family My friend that had a clarinet just sitting in a closet, and they're like, here's a clarinet. And I could play it. And so that's where it started. And I think growing up, you know, I was not necessarily a clumsy kid or anything like that. But I didn't really have a group or anything. I didn't do team sports or anything like that. I did more solitary things like I did visual art, but not really team oriented things. And when I got involved in music, and I was good at it, I wanted to just keep doing it. So you practice the lie Pratt? Yeah, I practice a lot and it just came naturally to me. Do you play any other instruments? Yeah, I do dabble in some saxophone, and flute. In addition to clarinet, I teach woodwind methods at Tennessee Tech. So I teach rudimentary level flute, oboe, clarinet, sax, bassoon, so I can play them all. I don't think you'd want to necessarily pay to hear me on all of them. Especially the oboe is very difficult for me. But I can teach them all all my other music ed. It's a music ed requirements. So it's basically how to be a band director how to teach these instruments at a sixth, fifth sixth grade level.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I played in band all through middle school. So I started on the French horn, and learn how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb. And then I moved schools and they didn't have a French horn. So I went to tuba. I think I did trombone a little bit in between there. So and then I went to two, and I ended on two. But I remember the final exam, my eighth grade year on tuba was B flat, like you had to play like the B flat scale, which I'm sure to you is like no problem. But man, and I also like I didn't practice as much as I should have. I was always envious of the kids that had the wood instruments, like flute clarinet, because it was so easy to like, carry home with you. Yeah. When I took a tuba home, dude, you had to like, you had to let everybody know before you got on the school bus, like, Hey, I'm bringing my tuba. And it's, it's the size of this desk right here. You know, it's like another human being that you're carrying with you, essentially. So anybody that played tuba and got good at it, we should applaud them. Yeah.

Mark Cramer:

I think you went the right way with your trajectory of instruments to going from the smaller mouthpiece to the bigger mouthpiece, it's as a little bit easier than going the other way. I think, with these big instruments, I've got friends who play the cello. And when they travel with it, that's not something that you check under a plane because I've heard of just absolute disasters where the instrument gets shattered or whatever. And so you have to buy a second plane ticket, professional string quartet say, almost function as quintets with their travel expenses, because they always know that they have to buy a seat for the cello.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Wow. So we've talked about kind of the macro challenges that faces the LGBTQ plus community. But how do you balance the ongoing rhetoric of anti gay legislation and fear of the LGBTQ plus community in Tennessee with being an openly gay professional,

Mark Cramer:

I think I'm just a naturally fearless kind of person. I wouldn't say I'm outspoken. But I've always been brave. And speaking out, when something's not fair. I've always been a little bit more of a loud activist in that. And I also credit my undergraduate days, Oberlin is there was always a protest, like, every weekend, some kind of thing happened. And so, you know, I think that was kind of instilled in me at a kind of younger age. It is definitely scary. I'll say when marriage equality was passed, I was let me see, I was in my doctorate, and I was house sitting for a professor of mine, they're, they're a lesbian couple, and they were off, and I was watching the house for the summer. And a really beautiful thing happened, this bill passed, and I hear a knock on the door. And it was their neighbor with a bouquet of flowers, not knowing that they weren't there, congratulating them, Oh, you guys can get married kind of things. So you know, they were often Montana or something like that. So I, you know, send a picture of the bouquet and said, you know, you live in a really great place that your neighbors think of you this way. And I

Kosta Yepifantsev:

think that people don't understand that, you know, literally, it passed in 2015, which was only like eight years ago,

Mark Cramer:

longer than the Confederacy existed. And really,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

the legal concept of marriage has only been around in the LGBTQ community for eight years. And so like, you know, a lot of times when we were talking about this earlier, you meet a lot of people that are from that community that don't quite understand what marriage is because it wasn't even it wasn't even going to be a thought for them because it wasn't legal. Could you talk a little bit about what it was like finding love and getting married and what that means for you and your wife?

Mark Cramer:

Absolutely. Like you said, I didn't think that marriage was even a possibility. So I always knew that I would find the love of my life eventually. We never know when that when that's going to be of course usually when you're not looking for it. So not know Voting or thinking that it would ever be a possibility. I just thought this is the way it is. And then when it passed, it really kind of started to change things. And I grew up in a very traditional Catholic household, my parents, they got married young, they're still married today. And it was very much that like Mom and Dad and son and daughter kind of traditional, yeah, that kind of upbringing. So the possibilities changed as the bill passed. And so I'm successful Tinder, congrat, relationship, marriage, whatever we're living in that day where you're, you know, and I think, with these apps as our world gets, it gets bigger social media and just all technology, you can meet people all over the world. And then also, I think a lot of these gay establishments that are closing recently are gay club and Cookeville. Just closed. Which one temptation temptation close. Yeah, really? Yeah. Just closed, like recently. Yeah, like in the last month? Oh, my gosh, yeah. Okay. But as as those establishments change, or leave, like close, I think there aren't as many queer spaces to meet up. Whereas, you know, back in 80s 90s, early 2000s, when the club scene was really part of gay culture, that's where you met other people.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

But could you be as open during that time? Could you have a club in the 80s and 90s, that was focused on the LGBTQ community and marketed itself to that community attracted people to hang out with, you know, people of that community? Because if you look back, and in my opinion, in the 80s, and 90s, there were clubs, but you didn't advertise that they were a club for gay people or a club for people that may be lesbian. Do you think maybe that's what's warranted this type of overarching response? Because when you say that temptations closed, now there isn't any establishment in our area that serves the LGBTQ community. Yeah. And,

Mark Cramer:

you know, luckily, I think there are other places in town that have become a lot are more progressive and kind of taken us in a little bit. It's weird,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

though, because it seems like you're going backwards. Oh, you know what I mean, like, we're now back to like finding safe havens.

Mark Cramer:

Right. And also with Hicks, closing that was kind of like the gay 2.0 place to hang out. So yeah, less options, yes, to hang but circling back to 80s and 90s. And depending on where you were, geographically, places like San Francisco and LA, it's going to be a lot more progressive and forward thinking. So there'll be very actively advertised gay clubs. But yeah, you're right with a lot of the establishments were more of kind of the underground. Maybe you think about the bath houses and things like that. They were more hidden. We don't talk about it. It's not seen or heard kind of thing. And then yeah, I think as the culture changed, and things started becoming a lot more open and progressive, people kind of started coming out. And there were more establishments. You see more people on TV, I think a lot of my optimism as a young person, knowing I was gay, came from Will and Grace. Yes. So well, Truman was like, definitely, like, I wanted to be him. When I grew up. In some ways I am. I mean, this is not New York City. But you know, as there were more gay characters, main characters and TV and movies, that really started to change. For me.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I've talked about that before. And I have spoken to a handful of people who are from the trans community. And I'll be honest, like the LGB. T community is small. The Trans community is even smaller, like, probably handful, right in our area. When I talked to them, something that I always point out is that in the 90s, and the early 2000s, Will and Grace really like kind of revolutionized people being able to get comfortable with gay men, and in some capacity, even women? The Trans community still hasn't got there, though, because it's still like a paradox, essentially, because it hasn't been popularized, to the extent that willing Grace popularized and kind of created this discomfort for the great American populace to say, Oh, well, maybe there isn't anything different about individuals who may be gay or lesbian. Do you think that there will be a natural progression where over time because we see more representation in media, that we will just naturally become more comfortable with people from the LGBTQ community? Yeah, absolutely.

Mark Cramer:

Okay. Good, but you're completely right. And I think there is a A major transphobia in our society, and there isn't a lot of representation. I mean, we see a little bit with like people like Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner. But yeah, it's it's just not as seen. And again, I think this comes back to a lack of understanding and people thinking that being trans being gay being whatever is a choice, I don't know is so cruel. Yeah, I don't know where people come from with that, because it's, you know, when growing up Catholic, and I'm not I'm not anymore recovering Catholic, but I would pray to not be gay. So you know, even from that young age, it was so not a choice. It's not something that I would choose to be it's, it's made my life harder. Why would I want that for myself or for anyone else? And I don't know if it's just this lack of understanding of people from the other side thinking that these people just want to be different? Because it's certainly not that not the case. It's only made our lives more difficult.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Do you ever fear for your safety, because you are somebody that speaks out and wants people to treat everybody fairly? And there's this just massive recoil right now happening, especially in Tennessee against LGBTQ community? Like, do you ever go home and double check your locks? And, you know,

Mark Cramer:

absolutely, my husband, Andrew and I have suffered some discrimination in town. We're not like a very, like a PDA kind of a couple. We're just, you know, more hands off kind of music could say, but when we go walking, sometimes people yell things out their car doors, car windows, or we've been spat on before, I've had things thrown at us. Sometimes funny looks when we are eating at a restaurant. And I guess I had become numb to it a little bit living in the South for 10 years. Andrew was coming from Midtown Atlanta. And so going from there to small town Cookeville. He kind of like opened my eyes to Oh, I didn't realize people were looking at us, but I guess they I just I didn't pay attention.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

You know, and I think people just don't recognize or don't realize how pervasive this anger and this violence, and this just all of this animosity that people are facing. And it's not just LGBTQ men or women, it's the African American population, I was just talking to a friend of mine who's considering moving to Atlanta, because he's like, I don't feel like I'm represented here. I don't feel like there is going to be a pathway for me to feel represented. And it's the frustrations, the exact same frustrations that you're that you're describing. He also feels, do you ever just, you know, put your head down on your pillow and think, gosh, maybe I should maybe I should move to Atlanta, maybe I should move somewhere else? Or do you say no, I'm gonna stand my ground, I'm going to fight I'm going to lobby for change.

Mark Cramer:

Both Okay, one, I don't have, you know, the privilege with my job to just move anywhere, unfortunately. But I have a really good friend in the arts community here. And she's also very active as an advocate, ally. And she says, We don't want people like you to move away because when people like you move that place is just not going to get any better. Correct. And so, I am more of the latter of I'm going to stand my ground and and be an advocate and, you know, show him that we're here to try to make it a little bit more make it safer for the next generation. Circling back to safety. The drag band bill that had passed, which was supposed to start on April 1 then got blocked until May 14, so may 13. I put on a drag clarinet recital. Oh, nice. And thank you. It's first time I've ever been in drag. It's dang uncomfortable. Especially while playing the clarinet playing the clarinet with lipstick on it's not very easy. But this kind of happened kind of out of coincidence, this professional drag queen up in Providence, Rhode Island and also professional clarinetist reached out to me not really knowing what was happening in Tennessee or on campus or anything, and was like, Hey, I'm trying this new thing I want. I'm reaching out to openly queer College faculty, and I want to do University visits and you know, see where it goes. So I was actually the first school that he visited. His name is vents, but his stage name is clarinet. Nice. And yeah, it's kind of funny. And anyways, we put on this duo recital and he played some solo pieces, and then also he did some lip synching and playing clarinet with like Pat Benatar and Celine Dion and George Michael Careless Whisper know you know, a lot of that and safety was definitely put into consideration we had People, you know, kind of guarding all the doors, we made sure that university police and Cookeville city police were aware and patrolling the area, you know, just kind of keeping a watchful eye out of fear of something like that happened at Hicks who could happen with us. And luckily, it was accepted with open arms. And my dean was there and my chair was there, and a bunch of the faculty and tons of students and a lot of people that probably never would have set foot and Brian Fine Arts came to this event. And hopefully, we've built a wider audience a bigger audience. Because of this, I hope to do more things like this in the future, but we were definitely a little bit nervous and that the show is almost canceled, out of fear canceled by the university. No, we almost canceled ourselves just out of fear of, you know, someone showing up with a gun. So it's a scary thing. And

Kosta Yepifantsev:

like I was saying about pride. You know, it's just, it's, it's terrible. And I do want to ask you something towards the end of the episode. But I'm curious, I want to talk about the next generation. You touched on it briefly. But do you have any advice for our listeners who are struggling with their own sexuality, either publicly or privately?

Mark Cramer:

Yeah, I think sometimes there's a pressure for people who are just discovering their sexuality to come out. And I don't think that there needs to be a rush on it, you need to do it when you're comfortable. And I also think it's really important to lean on either your family or your chosen family. I think the chosen family is a very big part of gay culture that a lot, a lot of people they come out with their families reject them. I've had some in my own family that rejected me. And my chosen family has really been the people outside of my mom and dad and my grandma and grandpa are also very progressive, but my chosen family are the people that have always been with me.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Have you and your dad, have you guys made amends?

Mark Cramer:

Yeah, in my my dad, he lives in, you know, the same five mile radius of where he was born. And now he's in his 60s. And he is an example of people can change. And I think a lot of it is exposure. My dad grew up in a very small area in the country and its small community, and he didn't see a lot, and probably never, ever thought he'd have a gay son. And as he got more comfortable with me and saw that, hey, I'm this productive, successful member of society. It changed his mind a lot. And, you know, the people I brought home were pretty good. Yeah. So

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I mean, but think about it like this, even if you weren't, let's just say that you weren't, you know, a music professor or a doctor, let's just say that you worked at JC Penney, but you were happy, you loved the life that you're living. I think that that is paramount. In my opinion. Like, I have four kids, I don't really care if any of them are gay, or a lesbian, or you know our boy and want to be a girl or a girl and want to be a boy, I don't care if they're pansexual, I don't care about any of that. The only thing that I care about is that they're happy. I don't care if they're rich, I don't care if they're poor, I hope that they at least have you know, some money to feed themselves. I just want them to be happy, hands down, and people that are struggling with their sexuality. And like you know that deep down, they probably are gay, but they just won't admit it. And you know, you're talking about don't rush coming out. You ever just like put your head down on your pillow and think I hope he's going to be okay. I hope that he'll eventually get the courage to be himself or she'll get the courage to be herself.

Mark Cramer:

Absolutely. That's a hard thing for me to relate to. Because I've always been so out. There's a type of I guess you could call it privilege and they gay male community that they call street passing. And it's kind of this like, Pinnacle, like gay men are more attracted to more straight passing acting men and I am not one of those. No matter what I've how I've tried and when I was a lot younger and more insecure about my mannerisms. And the way I spoke the way I walked and talked, I used to kind of coach myself and be very, it was exhausting, just completely exhausting to always be monitoring how I'm moving my hands or what I say or how I roll my eyes or if I've got a little wiggle in my walk. And that is very much a thing. It's almost like this internalized homophobia or homophobia within the gay community. Okay. I've never been a pulled to the straight passing, I guess. So it's one of those things that just accepted, you know, probably around 20 years old, I was like, You know what, this is who I am, this is gonna take me or leave me here, be comfortable with it or not. And, you know, that's just gonna be how it is. But I think there is like this level of like attraction, I guess, in the gay community of people that are, are more straight passing and

Kosta Yepifantsev:

because like the temperatures a little lower, like, because yeah, because they know that, you know, being together, they may mistaken them for just being two guys that are friends, instead of two guys that are married or dating is that

Mark Cramer:

there's a safety behind it too, or something, something you can turn off. And that's not something that I mean, there is just no denying, looking back at it now. At my my job interview at Tech, I was quite nervous coming to Cookeville and thinking, Oh, these people are going to be judging me because they're from the south and not really realizing that no one in my department is from Tennessee. Everyone's from you know, and our their products have great music programs. So it's they're very progressive people.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Do you feel accepted at Tennessee Tech? Absolutely. Yeah, I've

Mark Cramer:

got an amazing chair and Dean, and really great colleagues as well. And we got a really great thing going on at Tech where all of us are friends, which is sometimes in in music, you've got a lot of ego, and really big personalities that are likely to clash. And while there are some times some heated faculty discussions and our meetings, we all get along and respect to each other and, and our friends and hang out outside of school. Nice. And that's a really unique thing that a lot of my colleagues at other institutions don't have. So I feel very fortunate.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Let's talk about your background in music, specifically musical therapy, because this is something I've never heard of until we met. So what is it? How does it work? And how can we use it for our own healing and happiness?

Mark Cramer:

Music itself is healing. And it increases hope and optimism and when applied to things like my background is in therapeutic music. I worked for Wake Forest Baptist University Hospital and ecology unit. I was a just a musician that came in twice, once or twice a week and I would play for cancer patients. So they'd be either receiving radiation or chemotherapy. The hospital was beautiful was this big atrium, kind of like those big airport hotels where you see all the staircases looking on a pool. That's kind of how this atrium was I've got my plan that out and played a lot of sometimes somber or reflective music a lot of times really happy music, I tried to keep it upbeat, because you know that there's a lot of sadness that comes with cancer treatment, but I would be playing and all of these patients could hear me because I was playing out in this atrium. And sometimes if they were in good health, they would get wheeled down in a wheelchair. It was a really small thing. But I remember one day I came in, and I was playing for about 30 minutes. And this really nice lady came up in her wheelchair and said, I look forward to you coming every week because you've helped me get through treatment. I've seen there's this amazing documentary about music and memory called alive inside. And I watched it in my doctorate and it was about advanced Alzheimer's patients at a stage in the disease where it was so so advanced that they weren't speaking and had no fine motor skills and things like that. And they would play music from their past. I remember this one example of someone. And after a few minutes of listening, certain things neurological pathways were firing his brain worked for a short moment in time he could converse, engage in conversation and, and even started regaining some of his muscle control and things like that. It's a really amazing thing. I think there's so much about the brain that we don't know.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

To wrap up, I want to talk about a different kind of pride. You have so many accomplishments, accolades and successes to find pride in at the end of the day, what brings you the most pride.

Mark Cramer:

I think with my teaching, it doesn't necessarily have to do anything with the music side of my job, but we serve a lot of students from rural population and being able to be a part of a student's journey. Maybe they're from a small town, not a lot of resources and to see them come in as a college freshman as this this person with not a lot of life experience and then to be able to guide them through four years of a degree and see them this fully fledged, fully actualized person, and to know that our one on one interactions and clarinet lessons, I got to be a part of that. Now, I'm not completely responsible for that. But knowing that I'm a part of that journey is something that makes it really easy for me to go into work. Because, you know, sometimes work isn't always going to be easy, and you're not always going to like it. But knowing that I'm a part of something bigger is something that I think I'm the most proud of.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Amazing. All right, before we wrap up, I want to ask you something, hypothetically, you know, we've got this draft bill, in the state legislature, we've got just an all out assault on trans rights. We've got a complete, in my opinion, commitment to reversing the gains and the progress that we've made in the 2000s. And to 1000s, and 10s. What happens if we do nothing? What happens if we don't fight back? What happens to you? If those things come true?

Mark Cramer:

The first answer is if we don't speak up and stand up, it's just going to spread to other communities. They're coming after us and the LGBTQ plus community. But what's next?

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Immigrants, African Americans, people of color,

Mark Cramer:

scary. So we we really have to be active and speak out. I think a lot of the reason why there's this huge push, in a sense going backwards, you know, maybe some more conservative people kind of kicking and screaming, thinking they're kind of losing control, right? Because I truly think there are more of us on this side of, of acceptance and the side of the political spectrum than that side. But the Republicans are very organized. So gotta give them that

Kosta Yepifantsev:

they don't break rank, the Republicans, right. And I was watching NBC News. And they were actually talking a little bit about this, you know, when you're progressive, I mean, you're constantly thinking about how things can change. It's like, you're not thinking about how to keep things the way that they are. It's not like how can we change things. And so that free thought that comes with that is obviously going to create many different ideologies. And that's why there are these fracturing things that are happening within the Democratic Party. Are you optimistic, though? Do you think that the tide will be reversed? Because in 2024, when the Republicans lose the majority vote again, because it's an inevitability? Statistically, they just don't have enough people in the United States? Right? Do you think it's going to ratchet up this rhetoric even more? Or do you think that finally, it'll be like, Okay, we have to change our ways, because the country has changed.

Mark Cramer:

I am very optimistic, I think, also, not really related to LGBTQ issues. But I think with gun rights, and what happened in Nashville, yeah, I have seen a huge change in people. And I am optimistic. I think maybe it'll get a little worse for a while, but then it will get better. I think we just we need to hold tight and act out and act up. And

Kosta Yepifantsev:

well, I'll tell you, you know, the the work that's happened in Nashville to spur governor Lee to call a special session. And, you know, if you haven't been at the state capitol or been kind of inside the minutia of Cordell Hall and the state legislature, for him to do that is huge. Absolutely. And I mean, when I say huge, I mean, as big as you could possibly imagine, huge, because the legislation that's been crafted over the course of the last four years, especially has been completely opposite of a special session that could potentially have red flag laws. So it worked. And that's why the activists that are out there in Nashville demanding for something to be done. I mean, they're not saying, you know, take away the Second Amendment. They're not saying take away guns, as you're saying, I just want one thing, just to signal that we're moving in a direction that we could possibly see some type of gun reform, not maybe in the next five years, not in the next 10 years, maybe in the next 50 years. But just one thing to start the conversation like it's okay to talk about the opposite side of the issue, not just the right side of the issue. Right, right. We always like to end the show on a high note. Who is someone that makes you better when you're together?

Mark Cramer:

Oh, that's easy. That's that's Andrew. Andrew Marco, my husband. I is like one I've never met before. He's like no other. He challenges me and makes me so happy. And he's frustrating too, but probably because those are things that I need to work on for myself and And he's just a bright light and it really makes life worth living for sure.

Morgan Franklin:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev. If you've enjoyed listening and you want to hear more, make sure you subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.Leave us a review or better yet,share this episode with a friend. Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a Kosta Yepifantsev Production. Today's episode was written and produced by Morgan Franklin post production mixing and editing by Mike Franklin. Want to know more about Kosta visit us at kostayepifantsev.com We're better together. We'd like to remind our listeners that the views and opinions expressed during this episode are those of the individual speakers and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official policy or position of this show its producers or any related entities or advertisers. While our discussions may touch on various topics of interest,please note that the content is intended to inspire thought provoking dialogue and should not be used for a substitute for professional advice.Specifically, nothing heard on this podcast should be construed as financial, legal, medical or any other kind of professional advice. We encourage our listeners to consult with a professional in these areas for guidance tailored to their specific circumstances.