“My great mission is to fiercely empower trans and gender-nonconforming people to love their voices,” says Lindsey Deaton, founder and artistic director of the newly formed Trans Chorus of Los Angeles.
Deaton, a transgender woman and classically trained musician, understands the realities of vocal dysphoria first-hand. “Every day my voice betrays me,” she explains. “If I could blink my eyes and be a soprano, I’d do it in a second. Give it to me. But that’s not my reality. I could work very hard to change my voice, but instead I’m spending time developing it, loving it and using it to change the ecology.”
Working to change the ecology of a nation is a lofty goal. In addition to the harsh reality that more transgender people were murdered in the United States in 2015 than in any year before, the trans community has become a political scapegoat in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.
It’s 2016 and suddenly we’re all talking about bathrooms.
“To find ourselves in the bull’s-eye of far-right legislators has been more than traumatizing,” Deaton explains. “We’re under complete assault. When I have a layover at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, what the hell am I going to do for a bathroom? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a real question. Do I out myself and put myself in real danger?”
Like any good choral director, Deaton starts with the basics. When members of her chorus come to rehearsal at 5 p.m. on Sunday nights, her primary goal is to make sure each singer feels safe and accepted. She makes sure they have a bathroom they can use and that everyone is treated with respect. “Let’s start with safe,” she says. “We can go from there.”
Next comes the music and the tricky question of who sings which part. In a traditional male/female gender binary chorus, there are four vocal registers: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. A transgender chorus has to evaluate these categories and determine how each individual fits within them or if they are something else entirely. Deaton works with transgender men who have struggled their whole lives to develop low voices and helps them embrace the high notes they can sing, too. She has helped one of her singers accept herself as a proud transgender woman of color who has a bass voice. “She recently told me she loves her bass voice. That’s a total win,” Deaton says.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles has been influential in helping the TCLA get up and running. Deaton and GMCLA artistic director Dr. Joe Nadeau first spoke about starting a transgender chorus in L.A. back in 2014. Once their dream became a reality, the GMCLA helped Deaton with logistics and administrative infrastructure. They brought food to rehearsals and helped the new singers as they found their voices. “They were our training wheels,” Deaton says.
Deaton sees a connection between the emergence of transgender choruses today and the origins of gay men’s choruses 40 or 50 years ago. “The ecology that this chorus is currently emerging from is very much like the emergence of the gay chorus culture back in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” she explains. “We’re not just getting together to sing four-part harmony of ‘I Am What I Am.’ We’re being fucking murdered. We’re singing for our lives. Literally.”
While Deaton and the TCLA have already performed at several events, this Saturday, May 7, marks their first concert. At 7:30 p.m. at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall, the group will be joined by the GMCLA and Vox Femina Los Angeles (an all-female choir) to present "True Colors: Celebrating Our Authentic Selves." The concert will mark the first time anywhere in history that a gay chorus, a women’s chorus and a trans chorus will perform together. “It’s a big deal,” Deaton says.
The music TCLA is singing on Saturday night is diverse, like the chorus itself. “It reflects every bit of the rainbow that is here in Los Angeles,” Deaton explains. The chorus will conclude the concert with Holly Near’s anthem “Singing for Our Lives.” The lyrics are simple and poignant: “We are a gentle, angry people, singing for our lives.”
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“For me as a trans woman,” Deaton says, “even to open my mouth in public is courageous. Singing takes even more courage.”
In addition to being inspiring, this music will be interesting. When it comes to choral music, soprano/alto/tenor/bass arrangements are old news. On Saturday you’ll get to hear what alto/alto/tenor/tenor/baritone/bass choral music sounds like. As in every other aspect of life, music is more rich when it is more diverse.
“That’s what we’re going to be celebrating on Saturday,” Deaton say. “Living our true colors, being our authentic selves. And getting to express it in song with joy.”
For tickets to TCLA’s first concert, go here.