Today I was asked how I feel about singing tenor. The question was sincere and was based on how my singing voice is different from my speaking voice. The question was NOT disrespectful in any way, shape or form. It did, however, bring back to the fore why I continue to sing.
To provide a bit of background, I have been singing in choirs since I was in grade 3. I have sung in church choirs as well as in a choir in which membership was by audition only. When I was nine I joined a church choir. Singing became for me a way to express myself, and in the context of church it helped me establish my spirituality and connection to the divine. Pre-puberty I sang in the soprano range and am told that I had a good voice as a child. When my voice changed and settled in I ended up with a reasonably wide vocal range. My range is currently from about F2 through A4 comfortably and I can hit higher or lower depending on how well I’ve warmed up, state of my voice and other factors. This means that I can sing either Tenor or Bass. A good range for a man, but not all that common for a woman.
What does this have to do with identity? The short answer is that voice is one of the primary ways in which we identify someone’s gender. When I transitioned I put a lot of effort into making my voice sound ‘more female’ and I have been fairly successful. Thus there is a disconnect between my usual singing voice and my speaking voice. I have heard of some people who transition and do not like their singing voice and thus don’t sing.
I enjoy singing and will not give it up completely even if I am no longer in a choir at some point. It’s part of my identity just as much as being a woman, being a sister, a daughter or any other aspect of my personality. It is integral to me. It is also important to how I pray. Singing in both the Eucharist services as well as singing the daily office allows me to be in a much more prayerful and receptive state while taking part in these liturgies.
Will my singing voice when compared with my appearance and speaking voice give people pause? Quite likely, especially if I decide to sing the bass harmony on something because I know it and enjoy singing it. Hopefully people who do experience this disconnect will reflect on it and come to realize that we all have different voices, they all sound different, and they are all part of who we are.
My voice does not dictate my gender or who I am, but it is part of who I am. It’s part of what makes me the person I am.