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.
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
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.