More about being a singer
March 17, 2011 § 18 Comments
I just wanted to do an update in what I suspect will become a series of sorts. Talking about the difficulties of being trans and being a singer.
I don’t know what it is at the moment but I feel like I’m being torn apart. By the transsexual nature of my bodily awareness, and the glory of being a musician. Maybe it’s worse at the moment because so many of my friends are in the early stages of taking T. I suspect it has more to do with allowing myself, finally, to grieve the path I can’t take – that of transitioning fully, and finally having the right kind of body. The body that would allow me to express my non-binary gender to the fullest – because, despite what some idiots believe, it’s totally possible to be both transsexual and genderqueer/androgynous. Because I would rock the whole facial hair/lipstick look.
Also, perhaps, the question. People who love classical music know better than to ask. But I’ve had a lot of this, recently: “surely you could take T and just have a lower voice?”
It’s not that it can’t happen. Trans guys can keep a singing voice, though, depending on age and level of vocal expertise before hormones, there seems to be an astonishing level of risk. Too many men lose their ability to vocalise altogether. I haven’t heard of a single incident of a classical singer going through this process, and I have yet to read of a trans guy keeping a vocal range and quality after T that would leave him capable of singing in the classical style as a professional.
I wish people who ask that question would think: “If it were that simple, wouldn’t they have done it already?” Because it’s not that simple. I started vocal training at 13, and serious serious serious vocal training at 24. I can’t smoke, drink too much (or at all before gigs – sometimes for weeks in advance), eat the wrong foods, sleep too little, talk too loudly. Every part of your body becomes a beautiful and lovingly cared for machine – changing the way you exercise, hold yourself, move yourself through the world. You end up knowing far more than you ever wanted to know about mucus. Hormonal fluctuation, at the smallest level, has a tremendous impact. And with a three octave range that takes up 3 hours a day in rehearsal and practice (more at peak times) – you can’t afford the tiniest change to throw you off balance. A cold is a catastrophe. To take the time out to have your voice break, knowing that it would never have the same range, beauty or security? Unthinkable. And then, if it had survived to a level where it could still be at a viable professional level? I wouldn’t have the right range to sing the right music anymore. Because this is the deal with early music: a mezzo is where you want to be to play the hero, the poet, the king, the god. Drop down to tenor and your repertoire dries up.
Imagine the best sex of your life. The best you’ve ever had – where you and your partner have reached a level of understanding so beyond language that language itself seems like a broken, misshapen, abortive mistake. Where your senses are stretched out so far, and for so long that you’re in agony, and it’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever felt. Where you step outside of time, and outside of your body, and everything is sure, and beautiful, and you can’t help but cry. That is what singing feels like. Consistently. All of the jouissance, none of the heartbreak. When that happens, my dysphoria disappears.
And then, when the music stops, it rushes back.
I don’t even know what I’m trying to achieve, by writing this. Except, maybe, it will serve as an example to those who think that being trans is the foremost concern in trans people’s lives. Who think we don’t make hard choices. That we don’t serve different and opposing masters. And to share with anyone else who may have made a similar trade-off.
Please don’t ask me again why I can’t take T.