The Absence of Research into Professional Obstacles for Transgender Singers

lucas
Lucas Silveira, former frontman of The Cliks, was one of the first transgender singers to be signed to a major record label. (Image courtesy of youtube.com)

Although academic sources like Duckles et al. define the term musicology quite clearly and subsequently explain its various arenas, prior to beginning my graduate studies I was only exposed to the concept of musicology as field work – traveling to a foreign region, immersing yourself in the local music culture, and observing (while often also learning how to play) the music and instruments of the local people. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to find in my first year of graduate study that musicology is more than just field work. This new knowledge opened me up to so many more interesting research possibilities, but the musicological subfield I have been most interested in involves gender and sexual studies. Duckles et al. describes the bulk of research that has been conducted on the intersection of musicology and gender/sexual studies, but what captured my attention was the lack of research about transgender musicians.

As a vocalist, I have been interested in pedagogy tailored for singers undergoing gender reassignment for quite some time, as well as compiling accessible information regarding how to teach transgender students to sing healthily through their transition. However, a potentially more musicological perspective of transgender vocalists could address the unique career obstacles they might face in the industry – obstacles that I as a future instructor may need to prepare them for. After all, the classical singing and opera worlds have long histories steeped in traditional western ideas and norms about gender (among other social mores). Is the classical singing world trans-friendly enough? Are there any unspoken-but-implied negative biases against trans singers? How would an aspiring singer who is transgender navigate these hindrances successfully?

Duckles et al.’s lack of reference to trans singers’ issues set me up to expect not to find much information about their reception in the professional singing world. A JSTOR search for the keyword “transgender” in music journals turned up only two sources relevant to my interests. The first is a narrative account by Jeananne Nichols of a transgender student about how music-making and songwriting helped him through his struggles in the public school system, which is followed up with Nichols’s commentary emphasizing the importance of “critical storytelling,” i.e., the exchange of experiences between individuals from different walks of life, often who face different socioeconomic circumstances, in an effort to promote greater understanding between marginalized and majority populations. To me, this narrative source serves as confirmation that the voices of marginalized people cannot be sterilized and quantified for research publication, stripping it of its humanity – rather, retaining the emotional nature of such accounts is necessary if the researcher hopes to achieve real change. The second article, authored by Jane Ramseyer Miller, is essentially a how-to for choral directors who want to make their ensemble and rehearsals more trans-friendly. While I am delighted that voice teachers are interested in helping transgender singers, we still need to inquire into the unique professional challenges that they may face and identify how to help them navigate said challenges. Otherwise, vocal training for transgender singers will continue to lack comprehensiveness.

— SUSAN SMITH

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duckles, Vincent, Jann Pasler, Glenn Stanley, Thomas Christensen, Barbara H. Haggh, Robert Balchin, Laurence Libin, Tilman Seebass, Janet K. Page, Lydia Goehr, Bojan Bujic, Eric F. Clarke, Susan McClary, Jean Gribenski, Carolyn Gianturco, Pamela M. Potter, David Fallows, Miloš Velimirović, Gary Tomlinson, Gerard Béhague, Masakata Kanazawa, and Peter Platt. “Musicology.” Grove Music Online. 17 Jan. 2018. http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000046710.

Miller, Jane Ramseyer. “Creating Choirs That Welcome Transgender Singers.” The Choral Journal 57, no. 4 (2016): 61-63. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/24883861.

Nichols, Jeananne. “Rie’s Story, Ryan’s Journey: Music in the Life of a Transgender Student.” Journal of Research in Music Education 61, no. 3 (2013): 262-79. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/41999705.

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