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Singer in transgender process

Hello, colleagues!
 
This topic could be placed in several categories, and I am surprised that I couldn't find this same scenario in post history. There are two issues:
 
What to wear?
I have a high school aged alto who is in the beginning process of transitioning from female to male. She has stated she feels more comfortable in a tux, but is open to what our organization feels is best, and would be willing to wear a dress.
 
 
Have you had experience with a situation like this before? Did you have him/her match his/her section, or how she/he identifies him/herself?
 
Where to sleep?
How do you make room assignments with transgender singers? With their current biological sex, or the gender with which they identify? 
 
Thank you for sharing your experiences!
 
Replies (24): Threaded | Chronological
on September 11, 2014 3:00am
Hi there,
 
That's quite an interesting situation.  I don't have experience of this in a choir context, but have known transgender people socially and based on that informal experience I would advise...  just please understand that my experience is just social and not professional.
 
I would say that your singer should come over and join the tenors - he identifies with male and that is where his peers are.  In early stages of transition his voice may not be a male one, but on tenor 1 he should be fine.  He should be allowed to dress as the tenors do and be a full part of the section. 
 
With room assignments, hopefully the boys will accept him and if they do then he can room with them.  It won't work if he's still treated as an alto wearing a dress.  It will work if he's a tenor wearing a tux.
 
If there's any kind of bullying flak going on then you may need to think about how to protect him.  Hopefully that's not the case.
 
Hope this helps, all the best!
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on September 11, 2014 3:07am
Hello -- yes, I've had this situation on multiple occasions.  In response to both of your questions, the answers are the ones that reflect your existing university policies. Hopefully those policies are sensitive enough to anticipate the views of the students involved.  If not, you have an ethical dilemma.  In no case, however, should you violate university policy.  If university policy needs to be changed, this is not the moment, though it might be the impetus.  In that case, you need to follow univeristy policy while ethically advocating for change within the structures of your cultural enviornment.
 
Specifically:
 
What to wear?  The student should wear whatever version of the uniform they wish, regardless of the voicing section.  In any event, place the singer in the most appropriate voice part section, but position within the section in a way that honors the singer's wishes (on the edge of the section, next to the other gender group, if desired).
 
Where to sleep?  This should be discussed with your Office of the Dean of Students (or similar), because your policy needs to be consistent with the university housing policy.  In general, however, the decision should be the student's, with full awareness of the other student(s) to be assigned to the room.  A single room is an option, but it must be the decision of the student so that it is not perceived as punishment. You will need to consider bathroom assignments in the same manner.  Again, your university will have a policy regarding this, and you should follow that policy here.  
 
If there is no legal policy, you will need to seek legal, documented support from the university while urging that a policy is developed.  
 
I hope this helps.
 
Take care,
Patrick Freer
past Chair, NAFME SRIG on Gender and Sexuality
Georgia State University
Applauded by an audience of 2
on September 11, 2014 3:10am
If your performance attire is gendered, the attire should match the gender, not the voice part. You wouldn't put a countertenor in a dress, right?  I don't have any trans students, but I've had female students who don't feel comfortable in dresses, and male students who do. I tell them to choose whichever attire suits them, and the group looks unified and lovely on stage, no matter who wears pants. (I'm moving my school away from gendered performance attire gradually. The whole world pushes the gender binary on us; there's no reason for my choral program to go out of its way to distinguish men from women, as though those are the only two possibilities!) Anyway, he should absolutely wear the clothes that he feels most comfortable in.  
 
Regarding room assignments, your school might have a policy about it, so check with the administration.  Probably the legal sex will be important.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on September 11, 2014 4:22am
When you say. "beginning the process", what does that entail? Has she begun to take male hormones, currently in therapy, scheduled a surgery? As far as room assignments, if the singer is still biologically female then I think rooming with other females would be appropriate, no matter how they look on the outside. Putting a biologically female singer in with one or more boys is just looking for trouble. Concert dress is up to you, the director. I'd be more concerned about riser placement. Is the singer still a soprano or alto? If yes then keep them in a dress, as you've stated they are fine with that option. If the singer is on hormones that have caused their voice to drop and are now singing tenor then a tux is definitely appropriate.
 
I've not had to deal with this issue, just some thoughts on the matter.
 
Craig
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 11, 2014 8:20am
This is an evolving topic.  Consensus still has not been formed within LBGT communities.   Even the language is evolving.  
So you will find different answers depending on who you talk to.  You are right to treat it as a serious issue and to treat it with great respect.
It will look odd to have a singer in a tux in the alto section, but if the individual considers himself to be a male, then a tux, in my opinion, would be appropriate.   
 
The issue of dressing rooms is a tricky one.
There are many in the LBGT community who advocate doing one of two things (again, no consensus that I know of):
1) Have three dressing rooms.
2) Have one dressing room for all.
 
For high school students, I would not suggest using choice 2.
 
Nick
 
 
on September 11, 2014 9:41am
I had a singer who was FTM, but he was further along in the process when he joined my choir, so there was no question of his singing in the tenor section (even though his voice was still dropping) and wearing male performance attire.
 
If the student has said they would feel more comfortable in a tux, then I think absolutely they should wear a tux. (If they happen to stand at the end of the alto and tenor sections, no one would even notice! But even if not, there are plenty of cis women who still prefer to wear a tux; I've seen that happen in choirs frequently and really no one cares.)
 
The room assignments question is more tricky, and I definitely advocate figuring out your school's policy before making a decision. Maybe they should have their own room. But do make sure the student is comfortable with whatever the decision is. I'm glad you are being so supportive of your student in this!
Applauded by an audience of 4
on September 11, 2014 10:48am
Hi! Although I do not teach high school I have come across kids in middle school who think they are the opposite gender. My suggestion to them in my setting is that the girls wear gowns and the boys will wear the tuxedo attire. They have not had sex changes, they cannot use the girls bathroom or locker rooms so they will stay in their designated areas. I don't think that jeapordizing the safety and privacy of either gender should be compromised just for the sake of "being more comfortable"! Political? Probably, but this is one person's opinion!
on September 11, 2014 2:41pm
Hi Garrett,
The Trans* community is large and diverse, with many differing opinions. It is always best to consult your student to see which options would make him most comfortable. He may prefer to wear the tux to match his gender identity, or to wear the dress to blend in rather than drawing extra attention to himself. Either way, it should be his choice. Tuxes and dress are rather outdated performance-wear. I’ve known many cis-gendered female singers who object to wearing dresses for performance, preferring pants or even a tux. I’d encourage you to consider using genderless wardrobe choices, such as everyone wearing the same color (all black, white top and black bottoms, etc.) and allow them to choose if they’d prefer pants, skirts, or dresses.
 
The general consensus regarding bathrooms and changing rooms is that a transperson should change wherever he feels safest; it has nothing to do with a person’s assigned sex at birth or their current genitalia. In bathrooms with private stalls and choral changing room situations, genitalia are never exposed. If he feels unsafe, he may also choose to change in a private bathroom stall. Regardless of which room your student chooses to change in, that has absolutely no effect on the other students around him. No one’s safety or privacy will be jeopardized. In your state, Minnesota, it’s against the law to prevent a transperson from using the bathroom of their choice. This law, passed in 1993, has not once resulted in any problematic or predatory situations.
 
Some people object to transpeople using a bathroom, changing room, or rooming with other students whose genitalia or sex assigned at birth may not match there own. This is due to a lack of education about Trans* issues, as well as fear and hatemongering by ignorant people who see transpeople as sexual predators. This is similar to objections over lesbians and gays serving openly in the military, which have repeatedly been proven false. If there is concern from students or parents, it would be a good opportunity for education. As a reminder, transpeople are far more likely to be assaulted, raped, or murdered by cisgender people than for the opposite to happen.
 
With rooming, it is likely that your student has friends who know about his identity, and are comfortable with him. I would suggest talking to him about whom in the choir he’d be most comfortable rooming.
 
Please note that not all transpeople decide to take hormones or have sex reassignment/affirmation surgery. Gender is not defined by one’s genitalia. Please do not make decisions based on how far someone is in “the process,” as there is no universal process. It’s different for every transperson, especially those who identify outside of the gender binary.
 
If your school or organization has a rooming policy that would make your student feel unsafe or uncomfortable, please let them know so they have time to educate the board and petition for its change before a touring situation arises.
 
Thank you for inquiring about this situation. You might also want to reach out to the Trans Youth Support Network in Minneapolis for additional information. As Trans* advocacy rises, and an increasing number of people come out as Trans*, we will all likely be wrestling with these issues soon.
Applauded by an audience of 12
on September 12, 2014 8:27am
I'm not understanding how a person who has not begun to physically change their body can be considered "trans" beyond 'transvestite', which would make riser placement a moot point. My daughter has a friend who has grown up "Emily" but for some reason wishes to be called "Eric" now. This person has not changed their style of dress let alone their body so I refuse to refer to this person in a masculine term. I also know her parents well and have spoken to the student's mother about this and the mother still calls the child by her given name. Please explain how just a change in verbiage can make a person "trans".
on September 12, 2014 9:32am
Craig,
 
A transvestite or cross dresser is a person who wears the clothing of another gender, but still identifies as his birth gender. This is often tied to sexual fetishism, but isn’t always, in the case of drag queens and drag kings.
 
A transgender or transsexual person is a person whose gender identity does not match the body they were born into. For instance, your daughter’s friend Eric was born with a female body, but identifies as a male person. His body and clothing do not determine his gender, and his parents may still be coming to terms with accepting Eric as a man (thus why they continue to refer to him as a girl).
 
The “change in verbage” isn’t what “makes” Eric a transman. Eric is a transman, it's his identity, and he's asking for the same respect that we offer other people. I would encourage you to use Eric’s chosen name and male pronouns in an effort to honor his inherent worth and dignity as a human being. The Trans* community encompasses a wide range of Trans* experiences. Eric may or may not decide to take hormones or have sex reassignment surgery. Eric may or may not decide to wear the clothing that our culture has decided are for men. Regardless of these decisions, Eric identifies as a man, and should be treated accordingly.
 
It’s easy to say that sleeping arrangements should be organized by sex, but how do you determine that? Have you personally observed and confirmed the sex of each of your students? Hopefully not. You’ve observed their gender expression, and made assumptions about their sex.
 
I’d encourage you to seek out further education about transpeople and the Trans* community. 
Applauded by an audience of 16
on April 21, 2015 6:15pm
Craig,
 
I think Thom answers your question pretty well. Beyond that, I'd question (if I were you) your reasons for wanting to refuse this person's desire to be called "Eric". What harm do you feel like it's causing you to refer to them with a masculine term? Where's the resistance coming from? What makes the combination of sounds "EM-UH-LEE" feminine and "ERR-IK" masculine?
Hopefully you'll find that whether "Emily" is called "Eric" doesn't make too much of a difference in your own life. But it makes quite a bit of difference to the individual in question. And if it makes them feel great, and doesn't affect you much one way or another, then what, indeed, is the harm in it?
on September 11, 2014 3:34pm
Craig's point begins to address an important distinction, that being the difference between "gender" and "sex."  Isn't there a big difference between transgender and transexual?  Unless I'm mistaken, the former refers to an individual who identifies themselves with the opposite sex in terms of dress, behavior, social mores, etc.  The later, refers to an actual biological/anatomical change made.  It seems like that would at least answer the sleeping arrangements since those are determined by sex, not gender.
on September 12, 2014 2:47am
Hello again, Garrett -- I now see that your situation involves high school students rather than those at the university level.  I apologize for missing that detail earlier, but the same advice that I offered earlier applies equally to both situations.  It may be that your school district does not yet have the requisite policies in place. If not, this situation may lead to the creation of those policies.  No matter . . . you must reflect the policies of your employer at all times, and then work within the structures to enact change if you feel ethics call for different responses.
 
Take care,
Patrick Freer
past Chair, NAFME SRIG on Gender and Sexuality
Georgia State University
on September 12, 2014 6:48am
I don't know that I have anything brilliant to add, but whatever you and this student decide to do make sure it's handled in a matter of fact way. It sounds like you are being very sensitive to the child's needs, which is awesome, but with anythingf difficult with teenagers...the bigger deal anyone makes out of it, the bigger issue it becomes for everyone. I have a female student that wears a tux because she's way more comfortable in menswear. She wore a dress last year without any complaint, but when she was registering for the mixed choir last spring I let her know that if she wanted to wear a tux that it would be ok with me. She was ecstatic. She sings  alto, right next to the tenors and it hasn't been a big deal or an issue for any if my 70 kids in that choir. 
 
Practical advice: You may want to order a women's cut tuxedo jacket so things fit well for your student. I was able to find them online on uniform company websites for the same price we pay for men's tux jackets. For my particular student it was the best option because of the fit of the shoulders. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 12, 2014 12:45pm
What to wear:
 
1. Allow the singer to sing in a tuxedo/tails. In San Francisco, there is a notable professional choral mezzo who has gender identity issues but did not take hormones (until recently) but had reassignment surgery. The accomodation reached by the professional American Bach Choir, Philharmonia Baroque Chorale, and SF Symphony Chorus was he would wear tails. In the SF Opera chorus he would be costumed as female but wear tails for the SF Opera's concert performances. If your student would like to make contact with this individual, message me privately, and I can make the connection. If your concern is one tuxedo sticking out due to standing arrangements, my experience is professional choruses tend to be more relaxed than high schools, it is no more distracting or unaccomodating than a singer in a wheelchair, and there is more visual diversity due to the age diversity.
 
2. Assign the student rooming according to gender identity but ensure the availability of a private shower and sit down toilet stall. The second option is to designate all restrooms as gender neutral, as is done in many college dorms and military facilities. If your school policy won't allow you to assign the student to his preferred room, a private room is preferable to the wrong one.
 
Personally, I wouldn't try rooming sections together by voice type, as too much interaction can cause conflict, social time should be social time, and it discourages the development of good male altos by reinforcing an absolute correlation of voice type to gender.
 
Yours truly,
TJ Busse
Controller and Grants Manager, San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on September 13, 2014 8:55pm
Hi, all!
 
Thank you for your replies. Here is the tricky part... we are an independent, 501(c)(3) community choir. There is no school policy to back us up. Any policy we have we've drafted our selves. I'm a firm believer that people rule policies and not vice versa, but I'd rather get this right the first time. The singer in question and his mom have been very open and supportive, so I'm not worried about rights, etc. I want to make sure this is done with the appropriate amount of clarity and transparency without drawing undue attention to it.
 
Thank you for the input given so far! If you have any insights based on knowing that this is an independent organization, feel free to add it to this wonderful list.
 
Garrett
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 15, 2014 3:52am
I was about to say "start calling your singer he rather than she", but I see you've now started doing that, which is great.
 
There's no reason you couldn't have him wear a tux and be effectively a male alto - I assume he has short hair by now and looks at least somewhat androgynous. Most people in the audience won't blink at a male alto these days.
 
The rooming situation is a bit trickier. I would say simply find someone who's happy to be roomed with him, whether male or female (I get the impression from what you write that it's small rooms rather than one big room). After all, what do you do with gay male singers? (or even worse, the dreaded bisexuals who could theoretically get romantically entangled with anyone!) Find people who are happy in the same room as each other but not likely to do anything stupid together - maybe have people fill in a questionnaire that only you get to see of "who would you be happy to share a room with?"
on September 14, 2014 8:13am
Thank you Choralnet for this discussion. I learned a lot from your responses and this discussion has made me reconsider some of the things I do in my own choral classroom. I was thoroughly impressed by the professional and caring tone of this conversation--something that is often missing from discussion boards. Garrett, keep us updated on how this situation progresses for you.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on February 14, 2015 5:49pm
Much to the chagrin of more conservative communities, it is my wholehearted belief that we must respect the gender identity of all. If your student is more comfortable in a tux, make it so. As others have said, rooming arrangements should be guided likewise. Chances are the singer will help you with this. 

Placement within the choir can be challenging, but really, it is no different than when a young man's voice has not yet changed and he stands on the perimeter of the altos/sopranos, but still near the men, or when a woman's voice lowers (naturally or artificially) and you have them stand on the edge of the tenors or basses. 
 
 
on April 22, 2015 5:33am
Hi Everyone - So much has been covered here - I'm just adding my 2 cents based on my current experience.  I teach high school and for the first time (that I'm aware of) dealing with this situation - a young woman, Racheal, who lives as Ray.  It has definitely been a learning experience for all of us, albeit a very positive one. He is a very positive young man and very open about his situation which has been great for all of us.  I will admit it has taken me awhile to naturally refer to Ray with all male pronouns only because he looks like a young woman and all his legal documents refer to him as "Racheal".  Ray sings in the tenor section and dresses in the men's attire and it's a complete non-issue.
 
As for travel, bathrooms, etc. - we have been educated by the school district that until the student is 18, his legal documents cannot be changed and when it comes to anything that is legally gender separate, including restrooms and staying overnight, we are to treat Ray as a female.  Obviously, those that care about him do everything we can to make him comfortable without singling him out - he subtly goes to a private bathroom to change and use the restroom.  For travel, he has to stay with women.  It's not the ideal scenario and probably adds some level of discomfort for him but I'm pretty open with him about how I want to make him comfortable and what my limitations are.  I communicate with the parents as well.  I believe that as long as he knows I have his best interest at heart all is good.
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 23, 2015 12:42pm
Hi Garrett,
 
I faced this same issue last spring, right before my Youth Chorale (treble ensemble) left for their two week summer tour. During our pre-tour "sharing circle" one of my 16 year old girls told the choir that she was identifying as male. She respectfully asked to wear the male concert attire instead of the formal black dress, and asked us to change her name to Jack. Everyone responded very well to the change and supported her wholeheartedly. While we often have boys in this ensemble, we did not last year, so Jack was the only boy. Our tour hosts had been told we were a female ensemble and were confused to see the name Jack on the rooming lists - (we did NOT change rooming assignments - which was fine with all involved). When explanations were given, every single host family embraced Jack and made him feel comfortable. Jack used a separate room to change, although had one not been available nobody would have had a problem with him in the female changing space. It was a smooth transition.
 
Update to this scenario is that by January Jack had determined that he finds no more security/emotional satisfaction identifying as male than he did as female. Either pronoun is now acceptable, and either name is as well. We as an organization (multi-ensemble, auditioned community choir) are committed to providing this chorister and family with full emotional support, and I have been most impressed with how his/her peers have responded with total (and very matter of fact) acceptance. It really has been a non-issue. Gender conflicted and transgender kids have so many issues to deal with, it is important that they find safety and acceptance, especially in groups like ours. I have no idea what concert attire Bella/Jack will wear in our concert next month, or on our June tour, but none of us care! 
 
Take the pulse of your ensemble. Your reaction sets the tone, and hopefully your singers will follow your lead. I wish you success!
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 24, 2015 11:54am
I don't know if you were in attendance at the ACDA National Convention, but there was an interest session that dealt with these very issues. You might want to check the national site to see if they posted the slideshow or related materials.
Heather KinKennon
 
on June 7, 2015 6:14pm
Garrett, 
 
As this post is now several months old, I hope a few things have begaun to change:
 
* your alto is being embraced by the chorus, if this has not alreday been the case
* yout performance attire has evolved: 
     an idea: all black with an accent color (accent colors) - of the student's choosing (perhaps your school colors?)
                   - you avoid having to worry about what someone else wears (but set guidelines: no mini skirts, must have sleeves, etc)
                   - often, "uniforms" (from catalogues, e.g.) are expensive. this can bring the individual budget WAY down, especially, if the school s not paying for the uniforms.
                   - individual expression is created within the realm of color scheme unification
                   - the student in question sing whichever part is most healthy for their voice at the given moment - i.e. perhaps, currently, the voivce is still decidedly alto, but after some hormone treatment, the voice has shifted to more of a tenor range
As the director of an SATB, LGBT, chorus, these questions have been hashed several times in my own experience.The beautiful thing about music is its inherent inclusivity.
 
Gerald Gurss
One Voice Chorus (Charlotte, NC)
The LGBT and staright allied chorus of Charlotte
on June 8, 2015 10:54am
1. Tux
2. His friends
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