THEY: Interview with Muthi Reed

Posted on April 07, 2016

ill Weaver and Wes Taylor have developed and are sharing a new line of apparel for Emergence Media called “THEY”. “THEY” is a strategy for signalling one’s self-identification with the gender nonconforming pronouns “they” and “them” in an affirming and aesthetically bold way. As part of the launch of this new apparel, ill discussed the “they/them” pronouns with other inspiring individuals who use “they/them” pronouns.

Read on for ill’s summary of their conversation with Muthi Reed. Read more thoughts from ill Weaver on the THEY campaign here.

About Muthi Reed

Muthi Reed is a multidisciplinary Black Prismatic artist from Philadelphia. They were born in Detroit, Michigan in 1977 and raised in Philadelphia during the 1980s and ‘90s where they grew up with industrial ruin, hip hop culture, and crack-cocaine as the local phenomena. They spent their summers growing up with kinfolk in Lowndes County, Alabama. Their work is a genealogy of migrations zig zagging across and between borders, incorporating the ancestral and the otherworldly as creative principles.

Muthi generates remixes of open source material, which are shaped by ever broadening notions of individual and collective Black culture — economics, work, power, technology, rhythm, and harmony. Their process is deeply rooted in the navigations of workers, queers, and freedom fighters who came before them. Muthi works under the name Krewe Coumbite which is an amalgamation of their life as a documentary media maker, sound recordist, oral history researcher, with investigations into Black and Brown working class cultural values and wisdoms.

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ill discusses THEY with Muthi

“My nieces and nephews ask ‘are you a boy or a girl?’ I say ‘I am everything.’”

Muthi’s nieces and nephews refer to them as “Moyo”, a Swahili word meaning my heart and soul. This is another way to reclaim language and carve out new spaces for their whole identity.

As a youth in “the life” Muthi was made to feel like they had to be a certain way.

“I was not a girly girl. Searching for self definition, I went through a period of being aggressive with the masculinity. Right now I am loving all parts of myself.

They began recognizing that femininity and masculinity can be “a performance that stretches in different ways.” Now they embrace walking through the world with those contradictions, even when others are uncomfortable with breaking those binary rules.

“I remember an older butch said to me last year ‘you can't wear those kind of earrings with that kind of hat, it confuses people’ and that made me excited. In the past I would have muted myself to fit into the gender spectrum of a certain place. At this point in my life, I like playing with the different elements that make me recognize all that I am.”

Muthi is a prolific artist, and is currently in residency in Jackson, MS working on a multimedia installation work titled Haints & Healing: the Hollerin Space. While in Jackson, they have been engaging deeply with community members and organizations.

Recently Muthi met with group of youth outside of Jackson. “The youth asked what pronouns I prefer and I loved that they asked me because that means they see something in me. They are 12-21 years old and they're already looking outside the box.”

We spoke about the origins of “They/Them” pronouns and how we each came into learning about them. “I wish I knew the history. I would readily identify with it if I been introduced to it in that way [through LGBTQ youth of color]. When I first heard of these pronouns, it was in white spaces.”

They spoke about how they still sometimes struggle with these pronoun terms because of their initial association between “They/Them” and whiteness.

“There’s all these contradictions. I'm Black and I love being Black, and sometimes that means wanting to be located in blackness by any means even if it's not in my best interest. But I prefer They/Them to other terms like ‘she’ or ‘he’. Sometimes ‘he’ feels less inaccurate than ‘she’, but I feel it still invisibilizes parts of myself. I wonder if ‘he’ feels better because I’m still influenced by the patriarchy. At the end of the day, I actually prefer my name to any pronouns.

“How do I hold all these contradictions? The place where i've had the most impact was in cis males, particularly when we were young, with the cousins in my family. For the young males they got to see in me another representation of masculinity. Not just from a typified masculine perspective but from a masculine bodied person doing some different shit whether it be wearing crystal dangling earrings or whatever else.”

As much as Muthi struggles with “They/Them” pronouns, they also resonate deeply.

“I like the plurality. All things in conflict. Not one thing. Harmony. Rhythm. They. I see the term as not just my gender, but also as a composite of all the things that make me me. I was raised in a lot of dualities: male/female dualities, Moms went to church, Pop didn’t, I was raised in both urban and suburban environments, traveled frequently between the north and south. I spent school years up north and summers down south. Trans-regionally speaking more than one language. Culturally known and unknown.”

Muthi also illuminates the intersections between their political identity as a Black person, and the politicization of the pronoun “They”.

“As Black people there are a lot of unknowns of who we are. The identity of ‘They’ gives me comfort in being addressed in this political way because blackness is a political reality. It's a political reality inscribed in my body which me/we weren’t supposed to have a choice about. I love being Black AND it is an incomplete term to describe me/we. There are a lot of unknowns...not just the unknowns about the violence of whiteness and miscegenation...but also the native and indigenous ways that were stripped. Because I'm a political body and I'm more than a political body. ‘They’ gives me room to breathe and not just be constricted by one thing or the other.”