Soulmates!

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Dusty & Mykel as “just friends” – Feb/Mar 2006

Ten years ago today my friend Adrienne and I decided to go downtown in Vancouver for some Friday-night busking. Little did I know that night would change the course of my life. While we were playing music a friendly fellow stopped to listen to our music, gave us some money and I invited him to hang out. He told us that he also made music and lived in the same area of town as me. Adrienne and I had plans to go back to my place and watch an Ed Wood movie. At the tender age of 19 I lived in a party house where people came and went and stayed over often so it was natural to invite a new friend along to watch movies with us and stay for breakfast the next morning. That weekend was the Super Bowl and he had plans to watch it, but later that same day I received a text that said he was bored and asked if I wanted to hang out. I wasn’t doing much and I thought he was a pretty cool guy so I said yes. And if you haven’t guessed by now, that fella’s name was Mykel Exner!

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later in 2006

Mykel and I were inseparable friends from the day we met. By the late spring we were dating and by the summer of that same year we were living together. I had never felt as understood or comfortable around anyone as I did around Mykel. I loved everything about him – his music, his attitude, and just passing the time with him. I had never felt so endeared to anyone as I did to Mykel; something about him just drew me to him and made me want to make him happy.

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Dusty & Mykel 2007

Every week Mykel would read the Georgia Straight to see if anyone in the “I Saw You” column had mentioned him. He was a hopeless romantic, and that part of him called out to me. More than anything Mykel wanted someone to see him and it broke my heart a little that he seemed to be always waiting to be noticed, because I noticed him. When I decided to place an ad in the I Saw You’s, my original motivation was just to put a smile on my good friend’s face, nothing more. I was working as a fundraiser in Vancouver and often my crew would be sent to the corner of Davie and Granville. Mykel worked only a block away and we once bumped into each other while he was on his way for lunch. After that, whenever I’d work at Davie and Granville I’d wonder if I’d see him. On that Thursday, I worked at the corner and I was so excited all day long wondering if he’d seen my I Saw You ad and if it had made him feel happy. It’s funny, because it’s not like in the I Saw You I was professing any kind of deep romantic love – more just a love note as a friend from the heart. Finally at the very end of my shift, I saw Mykel come into the coffee shop where I was finishing up my day and my heart was almost bursting. It was in that moment that I realized that there was something more between us and that if it made me this happy and excited to make someone else happy, that there was something special going on.

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Dusty & Mykel Halloween 2008 – Dressed as Butlertron & Principal Scudworth from Clone High

When I fell in love with Mykel, I decided to trust my heart. I’ve always been the kind of person who has second-guessed myself, been easily persuaded or confused by others, or doubted myself or what I’m doing. I had never felt so clearly or strongly that being with Mykel was the right path for me. Since that time, we’ve had many challenges, both external and internal. A lot of people tell me that they admire our relationship because we’re so close. The truth is that in some aspects the “honeymoon phase” of our relationship has never ended because we’re just as in love as the day we met, but on the other hand we are both strong personalities with a dramatic flair – so fighting happens!

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Dusty & Mykel 2009

One of the things that drew us together was our mutual love of music and our ambition. It’s because of the strength of our relationship that we were able to turn Kill Matilda into the beast that it is today; because we loved our music and our band almost as much as we loved each other and we were to sacrifice and work as hard as we could to see our dreams through. Many bands fail because it’s a hard road and you lose people; people burn out or they have other priorities. One of the most challenging aspects is the partners of your bandmates; frankly, most of them only want to put up with indulging their partner’s rockstar dreams for so long. Once that dream means that your girlfriend or boyfriend is off gallivanting around on tour and quitting their job while you hold down the fort at home, I can see how that would put a serious strain on any relationship. In this aspect, Mykel and I have always considered ourselves very lucky because we were each just as crazy as the other for a life of excitement, adventure and passion.

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Exner Wedding 2010

Things have recently changed for us and it’s been challenging over the last few weeks to adapt to a different pace. We pushed ourselves too hard for too long and really burned the candle at both ends. There was a certain point earlier this month where I realized that my role as a wife putting her husband’s mental health first was more important than being a band leader pushing her bandmate to keep his head up (and vice versa, because I was also really mentally worn out). Mykel and I realized that prioritizing what the band needed had taken our lives so hostage that our relationship was starting to be nothing more than that of caretakers of a big, big project. Frankly, it was too big for the two of us to manage and without more outside assistance we were being crushed under the weight of it all.

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Dusty & Mykel 2011

What we’ve decided to do now is change the pace down so that we don’t end up a) going crazy b) breaking up or c) generally hating our lives because of our band. It’s challenging because making music and playing in a band has been so central to the fabric of our relationship that it’s strange and new to explore what it means to be together without the frenetic pace of always having to deal with some piece of band drama or band homework. Our plan for the future is to continue to release new material and new content for our amazing fans who have supported us, but to focus more on the aspects of making music that cost us a little less financially and mentally. As much as we knew it was important to prioritize each other and our relationship, we also don’t want to “break up” with music because we are just so stressed out by what it’s done to us. Changing the pace of Kill Matilda will allow us to be the best musicians we can be; musicians who love each other, who love to make music together and who are happy making the best music that we can.

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Dusty & Mykel 2012

I feel so grateful and fortunate to have Mykel in my life now more than ever as we go through this strange transition of de-emphasizing touring at a breakneck pace. For the last ten years I have felt that Mykel understood me in a way that no one else could and as our lives began to take a very unique path, fewer and fewer of my friends could empathize or understand me, but since Mykel was always right there beside me I knew he knew what I was going through. Now that we’ve been “off” for the past few weeks and trying to adjust to this different pace, we’ve had to rely on each other and help each other work through a lot of emotions.

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Dusty & Mykel 2013

It’s fitting for our style that this change comes right around the ten-year anniversary of the day we’ve met, because in a way we’ve come full-circle, both geographically and lifestyle wise. We now have a chance to explore our lives in a way we haven’t done in the past ten years and to face new challenges and balance out our imbalances. Words can’t describe how lucky I feel to have been in the exact right place at the exact right time to have met my soulmate!

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Dusty & Mykel 2014 in New York City

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Dusty & Mykel 2015

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I Only Got Here Because Of My Tits

I’ve been meaning to write a blog about women, sexuality and the music industry for awhile. I got a little sidetracked but there’s nothing like a bit of vitriol in the belly to get one motivated to do one’s blog housekeeping.

Let me tell you something about me; I’m a sexual person, like pretty much every other person on the planet. Not in a weird way like I’m stealing your dirty laundry, but in a way where I think sex, flirting, and sexuality is fun on many levels. Here’s the other thing: I’m a musician, and a music industry professional, a person who has worked with bands for a few years now coordinate tour after tour. And I’m a woman. And that puts me in a very precarious position. You see, there are sometimes that I’d like to express myself on social media in a flirty or sexy way. But I don’t, and I can’t. My musical integrity hinges completely on how I represent myself as a woman, and the amount that I am taken seriously as a professional and musician is in direct proportion to what percentage of my body is either covered/uncovered by clothing. It doesn’t matter how much I rehearse; it doesn’t matter how many songs I’ve written; it doesn’t matter how many shows I play – people out there will always discount and discredit me not because they don’t like my style of music or think my musicianship is poor, but specifically, these people will count me out because in their mind clearly, I have used my sexuality to get ahead. My modesty can and will trump my years of professional experience as a booking agent in the music industry, my investment and my skill as a musician earned through countless hours of practice.

This leads me back to some facebook/twitter drama last week.

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Mykel and I had a little fun with an internet random who first admonished me after seeing this photo I posted on my personal Instagram which feeds to my personal facebook timeline.

 

Due to my choice to spend money on my first tattoo in 2 years rather than musical instruments this random person who knows nothing about me went out of their way to judge my music and value. I have more than enough instruments, thank you very MUCH… I happen to have some very pricey and rare ones!

I reinvest every penny I earn back into my music career and haven’t had much in the way of disposable income lately. Soooo… I can’t treat myself once? Am I not allowed to post pictures on my personal facebook timeline to share my life events with my friends (of who this fellow  is supposedly one)? He pulled the old “you don’t know who you’re talking to, little girl” (little girl?! I’m almost 30! the diminutization of women is one of the most common forms of sexist oppression that exists… when people call us “baby”, or “honey,” or “little girl”, it’s a way to let us know that we are not the equal of the person who wields that terms and clearly establishes them as the dominant/wiser/elder/more respected party in the conversation). Finally we got all the way to me being told that my band sucks and people only like me because I show my tits off.

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aaaand.. this is why I DON’T show my tits off! Man… would I love to show my tits off. They are great tits. I am not ashamed of my body. I’m not exactly skinny, sure, I have some imperfections, but I love my body. It’s strong and healthy. I carry all my own gear, I lift weights, I ride a bike. And dammit, I’m sexy! But I know that once I cross that line, there’s no coming back. I’m not even anywhere close to the line and still the accusations of my sexuality being the only thing going for me come rolling in – this is not an isolated incident, but it is the perfect exemplification of my conundrum. In other words, this is what I’m fuckin’ talking about. My integrity as a musician, and the integrity of all female musicians, can be called into question at any time, trumped by sexuality. Insult us, tell us we suck, tell us our music is no good – but don’t dismiss our bodies of work, our mastery of our instruments, our power of composition, our artistry, simply because we are women who have tits. It is the epitome of insults, an implication that I don’t work as hard as anyone else and that I “get by” on my looks. Let me tell you something – looks only get you so far, and living on your looks is probably anything but easy (I imagine it takes a lot of work to look good enough that it can pay your way anywhere). But I digress.

If you’re a male-gendered or male-identified person who takes women in the music industry seriously completely apart from their sexuality, this article is not about you. And good on you. I just want to put that out there because by no means am I painting y’all with the same brush. Don’t feel defensive, but realize that what I say is true, and my experience is real. Sadly there are still a large percentage of menfolk out there who will simply not take female musicians seriously no matter what we do. No matter how good or how largely accepted we are, it will always boil down to – do we flaunt our sexuality?

This is where my dilemma comes in. I must tell you that I have, to this point, furtively guarded my sexuality like the good china you only bring out when company comes over, because I am aware of the system that I exist in. But I’m angry. Why SHOULD these two things be connected? We can accept that a person can be a talented artist as well as a father, or mother, or politician, or activist, or welder… whatever. You get it. People’s identities occupy multiple spaces at once. Your experiences as a father, mother, or sex trade worker might influence your material, but WHERE IS IT WRITTEN that a person can’t be an excellent performer, singer, guitarist – and a sexual being?

Women’s sexuality in music is problematic because for a long time, we know that it was used as a marketing tool above and beyond the calibre or quality of the product. Yes, it is true. Sex sells. Big breasted beautiful women sell. In the past, I would argue that these women’s sexualities were packaged and sold in spite of their talents and autonomy, often against their will, because there was no other choice for them and because someone with more power said they had to – check out Charlotte Church’s experiences here. But we are living in 2014 and this is an age where I think we are all a little smarter and we can engage with these kinds of issues in a more critical way. Whether a woman’s sexuality is in the hands of the record label or the marketing firm, and it’s being used without her participation to sell records, or whether a woman disowns her sexual self because society at large will discredit her artistry if she embraces it, is the same side of the coin. The power over her sexuality, the control and the decision making lies in the hands of others, not in her hands. Let’s take for example Nicki Minaj and the whole “anaconda” scandal – this amazing article breaks down why you should think twice about judging Nicki’s sexual displays. What about Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the hypersexual rap machine from South Africa, once voted one of the “Top 10 Ugliest Celebrities“. She’s certainly not playing the tired old trope of big breasted blonde Pamela-Anderson type – yet she owns her sexuality, wears it proudly and is one hell of a rapper, regardless of being sexual or nonsexual.

It’s problematic when we forget that a person can be sexual and can be good at something. Wait, did I say person? Let me rephrase that – that a WOMAN can be sexual and be good at something. You know who was really openly sexual and slept around and even got naked and waved their genitalia around in public? Charles Bukowski. Pretty sure no one accused him of getting by on his sexuality. What if Miley Cyrus waved her genitalia around in public – might she lose some respect as an artist? (oh wait). How about Jim Morrison, Pablo Picasso? Did anyone ever accuse Jack Nicholson, who openly alleged that he slept with more than 2,000 women, of NOT being a good actor and of having slept his way to the top? Gene Simmons, Charlie Sheen.. I could do this all day. You get my point. Women don’t get to brag about how many people they’ve banged because other people will already be talking about how many people they’ve banged in a negative connotation. Maybe women want to reclaim their right to exist as sexual beings AS WELL AS being respected as experts in other professional fields. I know I do. I’m envious of those awesome suicide girls fillin’ up my instagram but far be it from me to be able to engage in any kind of empowered, consensual, provocative photography – I won’t even wear a skirt without tights underneath at our shows. Frankly I’m a bit of a pariah when it comes to this stuff and this is exactly why.

In conclusion; I would like to think that as a society we are enlightened and sex-positive enough to move foward realizing that identity is not black and white, nor is it a one-sided thing. We are musicians, businesspeople, punk rockers, mothers, fathers, kinksters, femme fatales, nerds, composers, athletes, activists, academics and deviants ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Expand your mind, please and thanks. If and when you see me showing off a bit of skin just appreciate it but don’t devalue my art because of it.

 

An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson

An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson from Dusty Exner of Kill Matilda

**UPDATE: hey all – if you want to read Kajan’s awesome response and the comments from there, and you can’t see them, click on the title of this blog, and it will bring it up on a separate page. The comments are below. Thanks again to my amazing husband for encouraging me to come forward with this – its been a healing experience both for myself and for Kajan I believe (as he’s expressed to me). **

Hey Kajan,

I thought of you the other day while biking to work, and something weird happened. I remembered what it was like growing up the child of two same-sex parents in a small northern town. I remembered how your voice was the loudest, the harshest, the most hateful. I started feeling upset. By the time I got to work, I was in tears and having a full-on panic attack. I had to leave for an hour and just walk until I could clear my head.

It’s been about 10 years since we last saw each other and I know that people grow and change over time. I certainly have. From what I’ve see online, you’re someone who has followed their passion and now you are a UFC fighter, succeeding at something I have no doubt you’ve worked tirelessly for. You are training to fight in Vancouver on June 14th at UFC 174 – pretty amazing. It also looks like you’ve become a person who cares about “the little guy” and an outspoken advocate for oppressed peoples. I can’t help but wonder how you can post tweets like the one below about the LGBTQ community and forget the way that you directed homophobic hate toward me in our shared past.

does this include yourself as well?

does this include yourself as well?

I moved to your town of Burns Lake BC when I was about seven years old with my mom, her “best friend” and her best friend’s daughter. I immediately became the most hated and picked on kid in school. Kids were always saying something mean to me, something about my mom, a word I didn’t understand. Lesbian.  I didn’t know what it meant but I knew it was bad, derogatory. So before I even knew what the word lesbian meant, I was already defending my mother, and myself against these attacks. “No she isn’t!” I would cry, “no I’m not!” I remember the day I asked my mom if what all the kids were saying was true – if her and her best friend really were lesbians. When she told me yes, I cried and cried. I hated her. How could she be this awful things that kids beat me up and teased me about?

Our relationship suffered for many years after that. I couldn’t tolerate her showing any affection to her partner. I told her she wasn’t to touch, hug or kiss her partner around me. If I even heard the sound from the next room of them kissing I would feel sick to my stomach, I would get angry at her. The few friends I did have (and not many people chose to associate with me), I was embarrassed to bring around. I would warn her that my friends were coming over and I would beg her not to be in the same room with her partner in case anybody saw, or noticed. Our relationship was affected for many years. I resented my mother so much for being in a relationship that forced me to suffer through endless years of taunting and bullying, including being beaten up and physically abused several times.

I’ll never forget the first time you talked to me in the hallway. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know how you knew me. You’d walk down the hall with a few friends and make sexual comments at me as you walked by and all your friends would laugh. I didn’t know how you knew my name or how to react, but it made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and I soon began to dread being alone in the hallway when you and your friends came by – I knew that I would be the butt of your sexual jokes. Soon after that you started making fun of me because my mom was a “dyke” and you started calling me homophobic slurs too. You called me a “dyke”. You called “lez”.  You said shit like “eugh, that’s fucking disgusting!”. And you laughed.

Mercifully, my family moved to Prince George just before grade 9. I spent a blissful year in a new crowd of kids who didn’t know my secret, but who also didn’t seem to care. By the end of grade 9 I had gone public with the fact that I had 2 moms, and people were actually pretty cool about it. I don’t know exactly when you transferred to my high school in Prince George but seeing you in the hall brought a feeling of dread. My past had followed me. But maybe you were a different person – we both left Burns Lake behind. I remember trying to say hi to you a couple of times – I was naive, I thought maybe you didn’t like me because you just didn’t know me, that I could win you over by being really friendly and cool.

The first time you called me a fucking dyke at our new high school in Prince George, I felt hopeless. I’ll never escape my past, I thought – even in a new city, the taunts and the hate had followed me.

I remember the time I screamed in your face. I finally had had enough – My mom had broken up with her partner, my grandmother had moved in with us and immediately had a stroke, and shortly after that my mom had a nervous breakdown. She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had to quit her job. We moved in to the trailer park, we lived off my mom’s small disability subsidy. We were the poorest of the poor white trash. I lived alone with my now-single parent. She cried a lot, and laid in bed. She wouldn’t answer the phone and when her friends came to the door she made us hide and turn off all the lights. I worked a part time job to help buy groceries. You made your homophobic remarks on the wrong day and I grabbed you by the shirt and shook you as hard as I could. I windmilled my arms and legs as my friend pulled me off you.  I laid in the sick room for an hour after our encounter, shaking and crying. I just kept saying to the counsellor who tried to talk to me that I didn’t understand why you hated me so much.

Where did those feelings of hatred come from? Why were you so threatened by someone you never met? Have you ever even met my mother? Because she’s a pretty lovely, beautiful person. Why were you so homophobic?

The social anxiety is something that’s never gone away.  Even writing this letter makes me feel afraid. While I’m glad to know that you’ve found discipline through your study of martial arts and your career in the UFC, just knowing that you are out there and that you can kick the crap out of anyone at any time for any reason makes me start to sweat and makes my heart pound.

When I realized in my teens that I didn’t identify as 100% straight, I hated myself, I felt disgust. I felt like I had betrayed myself after all the times that people had said I was a ‘fucking disgusting lez’. I engaged in high-risk behaviours with men because I felt like I had something to prove. I hated my mom for being “a dyke”. There was a wedge driven in our relationship and I feel shame when I think back to the contempt I treated her with, just for being with the person she loved. I couldn’t even begin to develop a relationship with the woman my mother loved – I could never see her as anything but a target for my angst. she was the woman who turned my mom into that hateful term – into a fucking dyke lez.

Sure, other bad things have happened in my life since then and I’ve dealt with them. Yet here I am, all these years later, still victimized by your attitude back then. I think it’s because I was a child and I didn’t know how to defend myself. As I became a teenager I tried to put on a tough face and say things like “fuck you!” to show that your words didn’t hurt me, but my little self-defenses felt so fucking pathetic.

I have a good life now that I have worked hard for. I have a wonderful husband, a strong First Nations man who coincidentally was also raised by two women. I live the life I want to live as a touring musician playing in my band, Kill Matilda. A few years ago, I wrote a song about the missing and murdered aboriginal women, which is an important issue you’ve talked, tweeted and hashtagged about too.  You’re a man who has experienced racism and small-town prejudice as a person of colour, and you’ve taken those hurts and become a successful fighter. I’m a woman who has experienced small-town homophobia and sexism and I’ve turned those experiences into anthems for strong women.

But when I see you post these tweets like you are so much on the side of LGBTQ people, it absolutely infuriates me and makes me shake to think that you could so brazenly take that stance without ever considering apologizing for all the hurt you caused me. My rage, my shame, and my memories make me feel crazy, even all these years later.

I just wanted you to know that I still think of you, and that as surely as you leave some real welts on your opponents in the ring, you’ve left a mark on me.