A local trans musician went through hell to get here.
“In order to get a degree in music, depending on your competence, you have to be in an ensemble. I was told that because I didn’t have my surgery yet, I couldn’t be in the women’s chorus. I left that meeting, went to a practice room, got my scores and I couldn’t even practice. I failed my jury that semester. It was just too much. I started looking at places that were nonsectarian with organ programs. I auditioned for Chicago College of Performing Arts, got in and went to Chicago. But I owed PLU money [so I couldn’t matriculate]. I secured a very small job with a conservative firm and they terminated me—I think it had come back in that my birth sex was male. Finally the money just got so little, I didn’t have any place to go, and it hit me: Desiree, you’re homeless. I contacted an agency that worked with GLBT people of color in Chicago. They found me a transitional housing program for young adults. I told someone this past weekend that I must really love being an organist if I’ve gone through this hell and high water to get here.”
And now that you’re in the profession, are things easier?
“The organ is primarily associated with Caucasian houses of worship, and is predominantly played by Caucasian men. Being unique in the field as African-American and open and out as a transwoman has its hurdles. It’s almost as though the pot calls the kettle black because most of those Caucasian men are gay and they’re closeted. I run into them sometimes when I’m having drinks at Knock or Bump and it’s a very insular community and they’re not very friendly. The younger generation, we have a much lighter sense of being. The fact that we can be proud and be out and say, ‘If this church doesn’t want to hire me, fuck you, I’ll find someone that will.’ There have been hurdles to jump through, but someone’s got to so other people won’t have them.”
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