16 January 2009

Recovering My Voice

Today I had my first voice lesson. Tom, my coach, is a voice and drama professor at the college. I almost pity him: He's a sweet man, and I don't think I'll be one of his easier or better students. He asked whether I ever had any voice training or did any singing. No voice training, I said, and I sang--if you could call it that--briefly in a church choir. (OK. What other secrets from my dim, dark past will I reveal?) And I've done nothing whatsoever to explore my vocal range, for I never thought I had one.

Now, I know I don't have the greatest range, and my highs are not very high. (I'm talking about my vocal palette, not my psychological state!) I never particularly thought of myself as a "tough guy," which is exactly the reason why I tried to seem like one. And that may be the reason why I never used the vocal resourses I had above my chest rather than the ones in my solar plexus, which I had always used.

I know that there were lots of ways in which I was "fronting." All of that sports training, particularly the weight lifting and extreme cycling, were part of my attempt to feel and seem manly, or at least to deflect any suspicion about my sexuality or gender identity.

Even my intellectual pursuits, such as they were, reflected my dubious and futile efforts at seeming to be at least somewhat macho. I would read enough, and just deeply enough, to be able to express and rationalize my disdain for other writers and their works, some of which I hadn't read. Real men read Hemingway, not Fitzgerald or--gasp!--Henry James. Even when I wrote poetry, I eschewed a certain part of my sensibility, which of course I've rediscovered only during the past few years. And that is one reason why I reluctantly pursued a Master's Degree and am still resisting the idea of a PhD: Real men didn't become literature professors or literary theorists or critics. Real women didn't, either, but somehow I could suffer Helen Vendler, who has absolutely no taste in poetry but who can write a pretty good sentence, but not Harold Bloom.

You might say it was my own kind of sexism. Except that, with a couple of exceptions, I hated men, ostensibly because a few treated me horribly, but really because I had to live as one. Or so I thought.

And so now here I am, just beginning the process of liberating my female voice. At least Tom doesn't want me to talk in a falsetto or to "make" a voice. He wants me to find the feminine aspects of the voice I already have.

It's funny, really, because some people have said that my poetic, and even my prosaic, voice are "feminine," at least in some ways. In the early days of my transition, I showed my poetry to a woman whom I met while volunteering at the LGBT Community Center in The Village. "So this is where Justine was all those years!," she marvelled. Yes, I was there, even though I signed those poems, and everything else up to that point in my life, as Nick or Nicholas.

So someone else had my voice, and I 'd been using someone else's voice. Or, at least, I'd been using one tha wasn't my own. And now I'm starting to reclaim another part of myself. You see, that's what everything about this so-called transition really is: recovery. Yes, recovery: After I had been sober for a number of years, I finally realized that is what "recovery" really means. It's not simply a matter of giving somehing up or changing it; rather, it's about taking back your essential self, or at least some part of it.

And so I'm starting to work on getting my voice back. I'm glad I have Tom coaching me. After all, recovery is never easy.

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