Guest Blogger

Now a hypocrite?

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 01, 2008 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bears, gay men's chorus, LGBT community, panda bears, polar bears, sows, wolves

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Brian Watson was born in New York and traveled the globe before he met the love of his life in Tokyo in 1993. Together, Brian and Hiro braved the fickle insanity of US immigration for eight years, but finally decided to call British Columbia (that's in Canada) home in 2006. Brian blogs at Internationalia.

Brian-Watson.jpgWhen I moved back to the US in 1998 (yes, it's already been ten years!), I knew that I wanted to find a chorus to sing with. I had sung with some pretty prestigious groups in Japan, and had also conducted a small group as well, and wanted to keep singing.

As it was, a friend of mine from Japan was the accompanist for what was then the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus (it's now known as Sound Mosaic). After life in Japan, I thought the idea of an out chorus was good, and, after hearing them perform, I joined them.

I suppose I had heard of the Seattle Men's Chorus, but truth be told, I would never have guessed they were gay from the name alone. So I ignored them for a while.

Once I learned that they were putting forth a gay-positive message with a gay membership, I had conflicting thoughts. Jealous, because they had corporate sponsors, bigger audiences, etc., but also angry because they were using the closet to fool people. No frightening words like 'gay' in the title to scare off sponsors...

I felt they were hypocrites.

I had a great time with the SLGC. Met many wonderful people, a lot of whom remain friends to this day. Sang great music.

I stopped singing several years ago when the combination of jobs I do got more hectic, and then, after moving to Vancouver, and starting classes, I put singing further from my mind.

Then I met someone in a great small group, Phoenix, in Vancouver, and he encouraged me to audition. I did. Vocally, I wasn't a great fit for the group. My timbre is a bit brassy and operatic sometimes. But I did find out something interesting; the director, in auditioning me, got me up to an A above middle C.

That's high, boys and girls - especially for someone like me who started his post-puberty singing career as a bass. A is tenor territory (and is, usually, rough for many tenors). I was shocked. And thrilled, but shocked.

Then a good friend asked me to audition for the Vancouver Men's Chorus. and I didn't even think about the Seattle group until after the audition was successful and I was sitting with the tenor I section.

Was I now a hypocrite? Was this group in the closet?

You wouldn't think so if you saw a rehearsal, or posters for their concerts, or heard about their outreach work.

I also remembered that the SLGC had just gone through a re-branding exercise. Sound Mosaic, they were now. Since they are a mixed group, the terms 'lesbian' and 'gay' don't cover all the options involved and a more evocative name is better than trying to include all the alphabet options to cover everyone (lesbian, gay, straight, bi, transsexual, transgender, queer and questioning, if I have it right).

So how does that work when we are all men in the chorus? Are we all gay?

Technically, the group is open to anyone, regardless of how they want to label themselves.

Thinking more about it, the label thing is getting silly. I am not a label. If anything, my involvement in the bear community is teaching me how stupid people can get about labels. We have to create an ever-increasing set of labels to cover everyone who wants to associate with the bear community - bears, cubs, otters, wolves, polar bears, panda bears, trappers, hunters, goldilocks (Straight women who like bears!), and perhaps even sows (Women who identify as bears. Female bears are sows.).

Ultimately, someone said to me the other night, the only thing a label is good for is getting you in bed with someone. It's shorthand for what you want right now in terms of sex.

Of course, labels suit modern politics, which is about breaking the populace down into smaller groups that can be pitted, one against the other, to distract us from the issues that affect us all.

So I don't know how well the labels fit me anymore and how much I want a label...

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The labels have always been a problem for me in as much as they often make me feel excluded. Though I sing and am a music teacher I would never audition for a "gay" chorus even if they said that it was open to anyone. Simply put, I'm not gay and though I am very involved in the LGBT community and have been for many years having the term "gay" in the title without the other terms feels exclusive. It would project a false image of who I am. So over the years I have had to decline participation with many groups and in many activities simply because while I am queer my particular brand of queer is not gay.

Thanks, Rob, for commenting.

My view on labels has definitely changed over the years. I used to strident about calling myself and others like me 'gay'. Part of that is a result of growing up during the twin crises of AIDS and the Reagan administration. As an ex-Catholic, I very much understand that silence does indeed equal death, so when I saw a group that chose to skirt labels, I felt that they were a part of the enemy...

Which is just as silly as a president who says, you're either with us or against us.

I think there is value in the SMC's choice of a name. It gets them to audiences who would never dream of attending a gay chorus, but who then suddenly have the chance to learn more, as soon as they read the program and listen in.

And it also allows for a wider group of people to participate. I know several trans-men who sang with SMC, and they were valued members. Would they feel that way if it was simply the Seattle Gay Men's Chorus?

Which all begs the question: Who are we? Is there a label big enough to make us all feel welcome and safe?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 1, 2008 10:47 AM

Brian, thank you for your interesting history, story and world view. Labels that pit one against the other or us against ourselves. Certainly something to think about.

Joseph Singer | October 1, 2008 10:53 AM

The author talks of 'hypocracy' yet couldn't get over the name of the Seattle Men's Chorus. They are out as least as much as any gay chorus and even more so compared to others. It's likely the author never attended a Seattle Men's Chorus performance. To judge an organisation on name alone is very shallow.

I think you're missing the point, Mr Singer.

I accuse myself of hypocrisy precisely because I was so critical of the SMC.

And for the record, I attended several of your concerts.

But people do judge things by name alone, all the time. Would you rather walk into an unknown bar called Lusty Ladies or one called The Stud?

Believe me, I'm not trying to justify my judgment of the SMC. I'm simply saying that my view has evolved over time. I was hoping that would be obvious if you had read through the entire piece. Perhaps it wasn't.

A mens chorus is different than a gay mens chorus.
Every homophobic Christian church has a "mens chorus".
Labels give an identity to the group. In my mind, "Mens chorus" indicates stuffy religious praising the lard, where "Gay mens chorus" indicates fun and fabulous singing the songs of Cole Porter. Every major city has a Gay Mens Chorus and I think it is a good and proud organzation to have.

If we don't grow our views and allow them to change and adapt with time, we stagnate. I'm glad to see that isn't happening with you, Brian.

i agree that "men's chorus" is certainly all-inclusive yet not very catchy, while "gay men's chorus" is somewhat limiting. i have to also agree that calling a group a "mosaic" is not only catchy but all-encompassing and at the same time, indicative of having various interests represented.

i'm also pleased to read some criticism of the tags we put on ourselves. it's food for thought for me, and undoubtedly for many.