An Artist's Expression of Gratitude
Written by guest blogger Bryan DeSilva.
“It is National Coming Out Week (I'm a day late for the official "day"), and I feel the need to say some things. I know. When do I not?...
First, I think that it's important that I "come out" as someone who identifies as queer. While I don't necessarily believe in gender or sexuality as something that is fixed, I have for as long as I can remember found myself sexually and amorously attracted to male-identifying people.
While I do not identify personally as trans, I also find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of referring to myself as "a man." I prefer to think of myself as a person who embodies many traits along the spectrum between the constructed concepts of "masculine" and "feminine."
Growing up, not only did I find myself wanting to be with boys, but I also found myself conceptualizing myself as a girl. When I played, I played as a girl, and when I pictured myself from outside myself, I wasn't imagining the boy I saw when I looked in the mirror. Because as a child, I only knew this binary view of human existence, I was never sure where I fit in. Only very recently have I begun to reconcile that the person I see in photographs and upon reflective surfaces doesn't have to be at odds with the strong, vulnerable, gentle, graceful, edgy, bearded, soft, hard, silky, tailored, flowing human I feel myself to be.
I say this all not to be validated or to seem interesting and complex, but rather because I feel as though true strength is in vulnerability and transparency.
I also say this, because while I cannot fully identify with or share anyone else's unique experience, I want it to be known that I aim to make the space I occupy a safe one for anyone who might feel alone in their experience.”
~Posted on Facebook, October 12, 2015
The above was a posting I made to my personal Facebook page, which serendipitously led to the article you are reading right now. While my rather lengthy social media “overshare” probably gives you more than enough information on me with which to form an opinion, I was asked to share a bit more – even perhaps musing on the timely subject of gratitude.
The “thing” for which I am most grateful – I’m starting with something inanimate or conceptual here, although I’d say it’s a living, breathing entity – is music. As a child and teenager, music gave me an outlet with which to embrace the “otherness” that at times made me feel like such an outsider. I felt free to embrace the mystical as I twirled along with Stevie Nicks. I plumbed the depths and darkness of sexuality and pain with Tori, and I ruminated on the absurdity of love with Joni. In high school, I had a music teacher who encouraged my interests and abilities and gave me the gift and safety of the microphone and the stage, where I could lay myself bare and play and sing my soul and somehow receive applause.
I’ve chosen to make my life in music, specifically opera, classical chamber music, and musical theatre. I sing as a countertenor, which is a biologically “male” singer who sings in the alto, soprano, or mezzo soprano range utilizing the falsetto register. While I could go on at length about the troublesome relationship between gender and opera, I’ll suffice it to say that the lens through which I choose to view opera and music as a whole is one in which gender is fluid and in some cases nonexistent.
When I chose to pursue the training of my voice as a countertenor, I may not have fully recognized how much of the allure toward such a voice part had to do with its ability to flirt with and bend ideas of gender. After all, most people raised in our culture hear an extremely high voice and are reminded of the “feminine,” despite the fact that in the 18th and 19th centuries singers of all genders with soprano and contralto voices portrayed characters who were heroic knights and princes, masculine-of-center woman warriors, and impetuous young boys as well as noblewomen, maids, and sexually awakened women. The truth is, in the opera world I’ve felt more like I was in some sort of absurd drag when I’ve had to “butch it up” to play Julius Caesar than in the instances when I’ve portrayed more traditionally female roles. Outside of opera, I’ve been drawn to Bach and Handel’s usage of countertenor voices to relay scripture, in some ways speaking through the voices of angels and even Mary herself.
While music has been both a refuge and an outlet for me, I would be remiss if I did not express gratitude to the people who have loved me at all my imperfect stages of life. My parents watched me make dolls out of weeds, run through the yard with blankets simulating long, luxurious hair and witches’ cloaks. They stood by me when my queerness became a liability to the conservative church at which my father was the pastor, refusing to remain in a place which would demonize and shun me.
My voice students – Musical Theatre majors at the university where I teach – not only make me want to be a better person and an ally with whom they can all feel safe to bring their entire selves, but they also challenge and inspire me. Every day, in an effort to better know themselves and hone their craft, they break themselves open and lay their hearts on the rehearsal room floor and the stage. With their example I feel as though I have no other option than to be my most authentic self.
Friends who are queer, straight, cis, and trans have shown me even at my most frightened that it is possible (no matter how painful and at times, dangerous) to grab our lives by the reins and live our many truths. All the loves of my life have each been what I needed at that time in my life, walking with me for a time and reminding me that I don’t need to be alone. The person I now call my partner, who is weird enough to “get me” and even still chooses to spend their life with me, and loves me for the person I am able to be now while still challenging me to continue growing into the person I can and will be.