Art and Technology Studies Assistant Professor Allie n Steve Mullen works to find the harmony in communicating with others. When they are not composing or scoring films or teaching digital sound at SAIC, they converse about diversity and inclusivity on their podcast Gumbo Contrarians. In a recent culture segment with the Chicago's public television station, WTTW, Mullen drove 180 miles from Chicago to Decatur, Illinois, the city where they grew up, to introduce Allie to their evangelical Christian cousin Terry Mason. Mullen identifies as a "trans-feminine, gender-mobile father," sometimes presenting as Steve and sometimes presenting as Allie.
Mullen's music seems to be an extension of the conversation in the video. "I wish that the rest of the world understood things musically because musicians are not afraid of dissonance. And so, I'm not afraid of disagreement. I'm not afraid of opposing points of view. I'm not afraid of walking into churches or towns or territories where I'm different," Mullen asserts. Regarding conversations about gender, Mullen understands gender fluidity to be connected to music. They explain, "If we're talking about music, the distance between any two notes: that's infinity. There's an infinite amount of expressive range between any two notes, and I feel the same way about gender."
Mullen's roots stem from a fairly conservative upbringing. So when Mason posed the idea of arranging to meet back home in Decatur, Mullen knew it would be a challenge. Mullen adds, "What I'm trying to do is just push the conversation. Push the conversation into areas where we can meet each other as individuals and see the beauty that each has to offer."
For the WTTW segment, Mullen introduced Allie to Mason. Through a series of difficult conversations concerning identity and religious upbringing, the two were ultimately able to see past gender identity and see each other as people. In the video, Mason says, "We don't see each other as people, but as issues, and that's so wrong. I don't have the answer; but I know I just want to be part of the solution and somehow or other talk this thing out and just be able to just get along and understand each other."