This month I sang in a concert with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco for the first time in three years. I was pleased to be selected to lead off our performance with a short solo on “I Sing Out” by Mark Hayes. The title of this concert was “Here I Am: Living Authentically”, and short, original pieces on that theme were read in between the songs. I was not a part of the chorus when these readings were solicited, but if I had been, I would have submitted this:
How many folks can say they’ve sung in three different sections of the same chorus? I have that rare honor and privilege thanks to a supportive environment that helped me ease me into male puberty in middle age. Confused? Let me back up and explain.
I entered the chorus as an alto in 2012, at the age of 42. Having grown up in a musical family, I’d sung and played instruments for my entire life, but most recently had performed mostly rock music. And I realized that although I was living as a woman, almost every song I’d chosen to sing was written for a man, and I felt most comfortable in musical groups consisting mostly of men—gay and bi men, preferably.
Now, I was in a chorus with plenty of gay and bisexual people, but almost everyone in my section was a woman. These were women of all kinds, to be sure, from femme to butch to everything in between and none of the above. And yet, I felt out of place.
Our director, Billy, was great about addressing the chorus with gender-neutral terms, even changing gendered lyrics in our songs as appropriate. But sitting in the alto section, I still felt the growing sense that “I am not one of you”. I wasn’t sure that I was a man, exactly, just that I was not a woman.
These feelings didn’t start with the chorus, but crystallized there. When they grew too loud and large to ignore, I decided to do something about it. On August 23, 2013, I announced to the world my new name and non-binary gender identity.
I e-mailed Billy that I was planning to start on testosterone therapy in January, and would likely not be able to stay in the chorus as my voice would drop. He replied that I should stay and switch to the tenor section. This was wonderful news; not only could I keep singing, but I would now get the melody line occasionally!
I sang happily as a tenor for several months, before dropping out for awhile. I am now back, three years later, singing as a baritone in our bass section. I miss singing as a tenor, but what’s important is that I have taken steps to live a more authentic life. I am grateful to the chorus for giving me the space for this realization.