While the acronym LGBTQ+ is used broadly for the queer community, the letters can be confusing. Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual and Queer refers to a person's sexual orientation. But Transgender refers to a person's gender which is a completely separate element of identity. Like all other people, transgender people can be gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between. The Q (queer, questioning) can refer to either or both gender or sexual orientation.
Broadly speaking, transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender expression and/or gender identity differs from conventional expectations based on their assigned gender at birth. Non-binary people are those who identify as a gender that is neither man nor woman or who are not men or women exclusively. Non-binary can refer to specific gender identity or it can function as an umbrella term which can include (though not always) people who are genderqueer, agender, bigender, neutrois, and others.
Cis-gender is used to describe individuals who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
For trans and non-binary people, the sound of the voice (range, color) can be a source of dysphoria and frustration; these individuals are often "misgendered" by others based on the sound of their voice. It is important that trans and non-binary individuals have a space to explore their voice in a choir and community that is safe.
In addition, gender can be an especially complex topic within LEGATO choirs given that the structure of our choirs has historically rested on the gender binary with women's choirs, men's choirs, and mixed choir (implicitly invoking the gay/straight binary).
There is a generational divide in how we think about gender. In order to bridge this gap, those of us who were raised with a more limited view of gender can take this as an opportunity to explore gender with new eyes, to read and ask questions to better understand gender’s complexity. As with any learning experience, you’ll learn more about the world around you and about yourself in the process.
Gender diversity has existed throughout history and all over the world. As one of the most fundamental aspects of a person’s identity, gender deeply influences every part of one’s life. Where this crucial aspect of self is narrowly defined and rigidly enforced, individuals who exist outside of its norms face innumerable challenges. Even those who vary only slightly from norms can become targets of disapproval, discrimination, and even violence.
This does not have to be the case. Through thoughtful consideration of the uniqueness and validity of every person’s experience of self, we can develop greater acceptance for all. Not only will this create greater inclusion for individuals who challenge the norms of gender, but it will also create space for all individuals to more fully explore and express who they are.
This can be a starting point for exploring equity, access and belonging in your choir.
Here are a few tips:
For some trans women, singing in your choir may be the only place where they are truly free to express their identity as a woman. They may have spent the majority of their life dressed in "male-drag" in order to fit in. Forcing a trans woman to return to wearing traditionally masculine attire is dismissive of their identity and can be hurtful. Further, you have no way of knowing the true identity of everyone in a choir. Seeing transwomen dismissed in this way conveys the message that this choir isn't a safe space to explore their trans identity.
While this choir identifies as a "women's choir" they do not have a clear understanding of who is welcome. Are singers selected by gender, voice quality, range? It is important to explore this conversation so that auditioning singers know the choir expectations.
Think of the trans voice as an entirely new instrument, remember that during male puberty, vocal cords lengthen and thicken and the voice box grows. For trans men, it's not the same. It's going to be a different timbre, a different color, some of the bottom notes that a bass might get are not as likely to appear, and for trans women, why are some able to explore what we call falsetto in the male voice to develop a more female sound and some are not? And then collectively what is that timbre of a trans chorus?"
Trans and non-binary individuals may be present in your choir even if they are not visible or out. Additionally, many choirs include women singing tenor or might have singers of varying genders in all voice parts. Don't assume. Use language that shows belonging for all.
It is important that any director carefully balance this kind of request. Perhaps there are certain songs where the alto range fits the range of the singer even if it is not vocally healthy for her to sing as an alto on a regular basis. Your choir might clarify that section assignments are determined by vocal range rather than gender. Making sure that language for each section is completely free from gender can help.
Some trans people don't change their names if they were given a gender-neutral name at birth, but many do change to better match the gender they know themselves to be. Telling someone they don't look like the name they have chosen is an insult to their identity.
Gender and sexual orientation are personal and private topics. Coming out is the responsibility of the individual and no one else. Even if you know a person is out and open about being trans, it is still their identity to disclose to others in their own time and manner.