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Mare Ralph, board Member at Girls Rock! Chicago

Mare Ralph, board Member at Girls Rock! Chicago

Mare Ralph, a resident of Chicago, has worked as a camp director since 2019 and a board member of Girls Rock! Chicago since 2021. They resided in Louisville from 2014 to 2018, where they started working with Rockshops, a weekend music camp that had debuted the year prior as a component of the event Louisville Outskirts, in 2015.

In order to better include transgender and gender-expansive youth, the camp expanded to a week in 2016 and took the name Girls Rock Louisville. Last year, it changed its name to Out Loud Louisville.

They have played in a number of Chicago bands, most notably Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, which they joined in 2006. Ralph is also a guitarist. The group’s momentum was stolen by a tour-van accident in 2009 that Ralph calls “life-changing,” but it also inspired Ralph to go back to school.

After completing a master’s degree in urban planning and policy and a bachelor’s degree in education, they now work as a housing policy organiser with the Chicago-based nonprofit organisation Housing Action Illinois.

Females Rock! Let’s Rock! (formerly Ladies Rock!) is a weekend-long adult camp held in Chicago, and this month marks its first physical return since the epidemic began. (The summer camp for children returned in person in 2022).) It takes place at First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, 6400 S. Kimbark, from Friday, February 17, to Monday, February 20, this weekend.  Applications for Let’s Rock! will be accepted .

I knew that Girls Rock! Chicago was there when I played in bands; I believe one of my bands performed for the campers during an afternoon concert the first year of camp [in 2006]. But as a guitarist, I am self-taught. I had imposter syndrome, which made me feel like I had nothing worthwhile to say. I was apprehensive to offer because I’m not a technical guitarist and have what I see as a lot of horrible playing habits.

Coming to understand the radical politics that are also a significant component of Girls Rock Camps and Queer Rock Camps is what really got me involved when I was in Louisville. And a big part of it is the notion of occupying space and the understanding that the music you make has worth, sometimes even when it doesn’t meet the strictest technical requirements.

Growing up as a queer person in a small town and being able to consider how music had helped me get through difficult times were two experiences that allowed me to not just be a part of this camp but also to be very helpful.

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Camp also gave me a place where I could start to understand that I identify as nonbinary. It was frequently campers that I observed being themselves in public and speaking frankly about their identities and who they are; this experience was quite encouraging and assisted me in realising that about myself.

My impression is that young people are still figuring out who they are and who they are not. Our camp wants to create a secure environment where people may accomplish that.

When a returning camper from the previous year shows up, they occasionally have a new name, different pronouns, and different notions about who they are. That young people still believe that this is a destination for them is incredibly rewarding.

On the side of the organisers and volunteers, the same is true. To put it bluntly, it’s not as if the patriarchy throws open its doors to someone who played in bands and identified as a woman, and then later identifies as transmasculine or nonbinary. I’ve been quite appreciative of trans lads that attend camp and still feel at home there.

This is something you’re really invested in, and I know that in your personal life you’re seeking to be seen and have your identity confirmed by the outside world, so I remember a friend asking me a few years ago. Is sporting a Girls Rock! Chicago shirt annoying?

I remember thinking, “You know what, I think the “rock” is almost as ill-fitting as “girls,” at the time. Because we encourage and allow our campers to play any type of music they like. Females Rock! Chicago has a single by a DJ.

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