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High notes

High notes


Songwriter Tomek Fior came to love his "feminine" voice, raising the question "When you really accept yourself, what will you sound like?"

"You sound like a girl!" taunted my sixth-grade classmates during music class. My voice was, and still is, higher-pitched than what's expected of boys, and in the small Midwestern town of Moline, Ill., that can mean only one thing--you're gay.

Junior high school was the worst, as the jeers morphed from "girl" to "faggot." I remember walking to lunch on the first day of seventh grade to chants of "Faggot! Faggot! Faggot!" I tried to pretend that it wasn't aimed at me, but I knew it was, and I hated myself for it. I would lie in bed at night wishing I could change so I could be accepted and belong. The first thing to go would be the one thing I hated more than anything: my voice.

When I was 13 my parents bought me my first piano. I loved it. I wrote music to release my frustrations without having to talk about them--or open my mouth at all. I would write music inspired by anyone from Tchaikovsky to Madonna, sometimes even with lyrics, though I pictured artists like Green Day or Celine Dion singing them--never myself. I performed in recitals (all instrumental, of course), delighted by the applause and the secrecy of the subject matter hidden in the notes.

By the time I got to college I was angry. Instead of studying music, I majored in women's studies and psychology and channeled my aggression into LGBT causes. I started an LGBT group and convinced the board of trustees at Black Hawk College to include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policy. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison I helped to institute programs to make the dorm environment safer for LGBT students. I still spent hours composing music and unsung lyrics, but it had become a hobby.

I realize now that fighting for everyone else's freedom distracted me from finding my own. I gave speeches on acceptance of LGBT people, yet I did not accept my own voice. I rejected the idea that gay people weren't equal, but deep inside I still believed my voice was "too gay."

It wasn't until after I graduated from college that I realized I wanted a career in music, so I moved to Los Angeles to become a professional songwriter. I was writing alternative ballads but having trouble finding singers who would put the right emotion to the lyrics. One day my manager called to ask for a song demo--and he wanted it by the next day. I had to choose between no vocals or my vocals. So I gave it a go.

Much to my shock, I received accolades for my voice. Could it be possible for people to admire my voice, the one that I had hated all these years? They said they connected with the emotion I brought to my own words. I started singing lessons to work on my pitch and increase my range and power; and the more I sang, the more I grew to appreciate the uniqueness of my voice. I began performing live in Hollywood and completed a full-length album.

Today, when I hear "You have a beautiful voice," it still surprises me a little. But being able to sing and love the sound of my own voice means that I have fully accepted myself as both gay and "effeminate." Now when people say "you sound like a girl," I smile. That's what I call range.

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Tomek Fior