In September of 2018, with 80 or so of my closest friends, I had the honor of traveling to China with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus — the first LGBTQ chorus to tour mainland China. It was an intense trip. 10 days. Four cities, four concerts. And in between concerts and rehearsals, about twice as much tourism as you might think would fit our schedule. It was exhilarating. Inspiring. Exhausting. And one of the finest experiences of my life.
One gift of this trip was the opportunity to form friendships with various chorus members I’d seen across the room at rehearsal for years. “Hi, how are you?” during a fifteen minute break at rehearsal doesn’t allow for close connection. Sitting together for four hours on a bus? Yup.
Among the people I connected with on this trip were several members of the Portland Lesbian Choir. They weren’t singing with us; they were along because they thought touring around mainland China with PGMC for ten days sounded like fun. I had never met these women before, and we had a great time getting to know each other.
This hanging out with the PLC had a familiar feel to it, reminiscent of concert tours from twenty-plus years ago. In 1986, I was a founding member of the Portland Lesbian Choir. I had come out as a lesbian twelve years before and was ensconced in the Portland lesbian community. I had no idea ‘transman’ was a more authentic identity for me. The Portland Lesbian Choir quickly became home to me, the only place I felt truly centered and at home in lesbian community. Singing has always been central to my spiritual self-care; the PLC gave me the space to take care of myself sufficiently to continue to live as a lesbian.
Until 1995. A partner came out to me as a transman, stripping away any possibility of my avoiding the self-knowledge, “Me too.” I fought as long and as hard as I could against the truth of me. I didn’t want it to be true, and wailed to the Universe, “Why does it have to be my VOICE???” I knew I was fighting a losing battle; authenticity finds a way.
I left the Choir in 1997. Choir members were upset about my transition, not because I was trans — they were upset because I was leaving. I left with a hole in my heart. Over time that hole healed, but I retained a bit of nostalgic grief over what I’d lost. Nothing ever replaced what that group had been to me.
In China, bonding with PLC members once again, I felt a bit of that grief in my heart heal.
A few weeks after my return from China, a friend of mine asked me to sing back-up vocals on a song she was going to record. Naomi was a lesbian singer-songwriter here in Portland during the 1970s, 80s and on into the 90s. Iconic. In certain circles around the world, her music is still iconic. Would I sing backup vocals? Did she have to ask? Of course!
At one early October rehearsal, we were standing in a circle in Naomi’s kitchen, singing to each other. Several younger PLC members. Several older lesbians. And me, the only person in the room with a testosterone-influenced voice. As we sang in unison, I in the alto octave with everyone else, I closed my eyes and felt the love — I was singing with the Portland Lesbian Choir again. And another bit of that nostalgic grief in my heart healed.
Toward the end of the rehearsal, one of the older lesbians referred to me as ‘she.’ I was more bemused than anything else. There is a milestone of transition that I passed long ago, an anniversary I wish I could toast every year but I have no idea when it actually is: the last time a stranger called me ‘she.’ How could I ever know when it was the last time? I can venture a guess, based on when I started introducing testosterone into my system. I’d say… mid-September-ish… of 1997. It’s been over 21 years.
I’d been out to coffee with this woman (I’ll call her Pam) the week before. At Stumptown Coffee, I was ‘Reid, he.’ What just happened in this singing circle to turn me into ‘Reid, she?’ I puzzled through this on the way home from rehearsal. It wasn’t long before I knew.
Pam and I are of a generation. Her lesbian community and mine intersected for years, this tight-knit circle. About half a degree of separation between any of us. She and I hadn’t been friends exactly, but we knew each other’s names. A good friend of mine had once been Pam’s partner.
Inside that lesbian community circle, in the heart of it, the ONLY pronoun is ‘she.’ Though Pam called me ‘she’ unconsciously in that singing circle, she did do so intentionally. Her intention was this:
I see you. I honor you. I trust you. I invite you back into the circle. You belong. In this space, in this singing circle, in this moment in time, you are an honorary lesbian.
In that moment, I felt my transition circle around back to my Portland Lesbian Choir roots, I felt my 19 year old self, proclaiming in 1974, “I’m a lesbian!” enfolded in the circle of my heart. My life became a seamless thread, no longer ‘pre transition’ and ‘post transition’ but simply me. All of me enfolded in the circle of my heart. I am an honorary lesbian transman married to a woman and singing baritone in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. All me, all the time, without contradiction of identity. How can there be a contradiction when all are me?
Welcome, my friend. Sing with us.
And in that moment, my heart was healed.