Music is a somewhat inaccessible industry to get into- instruments and lessons are expensive, and there are plenty of barriers for minority groups. This is why it is important to recognize people who are actively defying those barriers, and changing the status quo as to who is allowed to perform music. This month, for LGBTQ+ pride month, we would like to acknowledge transgender musicians who have made their way into the industry and are making it better.
Holden Madagame is an internationally ranked opera singer who struggled to recover from the effects of testosterone on his voice after he started medically transitioning in 2015. HRT caused his voice to change from mezzo-soprano to tenor, which put his career in jeopardy. Since then, he has been speaking out on queer issues in music. “When I share my experiences, it gives other trans people a place to exist,” he writes on his blog. In fact, it is on this blog that he spreads awareness of unthought of issues that come from trying to be transgender and pursue a career in classical music. “Singing is something that makes me so happy, and is a part of my identity even while I’m not actively singing. It’s a powerful force in my life, and there is no doubt that I would regret not trying,” he explains. You can read more of his content at holdenmadagame.com.
Not all transgender muscians live in the present; in fact, there were many prior to the general acceptance of queer identities, such as Billy Tipton. Tipton was a jazz pianist, saxophonist, and bandleader. He had to keep his identity secret for fear of being an outcast, and it was not discovered that he was assigned female at birth until after his death. Tipton led multiple bands across the country, including the Western Swingbillies, the George Meyer band, and eventually, the Billy Tipton Trio. Although he never got to experience what it was like to live in a society where he did not have to hide his identity, Billy Tipton is evidence that gender and queerness are not barriers to success in music.
Unfortunately, the barriers that existed in Tipton’s world are still found today. Pianist Sara Davis Buechner writes about the difficulties she faced when she tried to reignite her career after coming out as transgender. “Conductors who once routinely engaged me stopped returning calls, prestigious teaching offers were withdrawn, and concert opportunities vanished,” she writes on her website. She explains how the loss of so many opportunities she previously had nearly left her jobless and homeless. Fortunately, she has since found multiple jobs teaching at the collegiate level. Buechner says that now, she has a “keen awareness and appreciation that society has moved in remarkably positive ways toward understanding and the acceptance of transgender people — though we still have a long road ahead.” You can read more about her at her website, http://saradavisbuechner.com/about/.
Buechner is right- there is still a long road ahead. Musicians are still adverse to transgender people, and the fear that keeps them from hiring trans people often hinders their performance potential. But with musicians like those listed above, there is hope that the industry is moving towards a more open and accepting place.