Opinion

Why I Started A London Trans Choir

Why I Started A London Trans Choir
Illustrated singing heads in trans colours
"I felt like having a safe place to sing could help others on their own path." Artwork: Amy Stace

I started London Trans Choir in 2017 simply because I wanted it to exist.

I'd had such a long journey with my own voice, and I felt like having a safe place to sing could help others on their own path. Standard choirs and music practices are really heavily (and often needlessly) gendered, which is off putting if you don't fit that mould. Folks who are in the process of changing their voices (whether through training or hormones/surgery) also tend to need a gentler warmup and more breaks for the sake of their vocal health. I'd never conducted a choir before (though I'd led orchestras and ensembles), but I knew that I could make a much better space for my community than currently existed. A place, where, as one member, Theo, put it: "I don't feel anxious about my gender or my voice, where I can relax a part of my mind that I didn't even realise was tense, and express myself without worry."

Like a lot of trans folks, I went through a long period of disliking the sound of my own voice. It didn't suit me when it was high, and it was hard to properly hear or control something that didn't feel fully connected to me. Having my voice drop lower was very nice on some fronts, but it took years of experimentation, research, and practise to get it to a point of being flexible and in control. Many of us struggle to find flexible spaces to sing in while we’re going through this, or to find knowledgeable vocal practitioners to work with. It's just as difficult while trying out a higher register, as it can take time to settle in and find clarity and accuracy.

A headshot of a smiling Stephen
"The thing I love most about the trans choir is that everybody can feel safe to try things out with their voice, and that we all know we're on the same path to acceptance." Stephen Davidson started the choir in 2017.

"Terrified of singing"

Many trans folks simply stop singing when they transition, because they feel like they can't find a voice that suits them, or that they can't control their voice well enough, or just because they're worried about sticking out. People have told me that before joining the trans choir they were terrified of anyone ever hearing them sing. There are choirs in the UK who would be fine with a female baritone, male soprano, non-binary alto etc, but it's always awkward to feel like you're the odd one out. Lots of standard Solo/Alto/Teno/Bass choir music is also very gendered, with top parts referred to as 'ladies', bottom parts as 'gentlemen' and lyrics that can be very… traditional. One member told me: "I used to sing a bit before I transitioned but accepted that I would probably not sing much after. The choir has changed that and nobody cares which part of my weird range I sing in, whether it's a bassy line or a top part."

A cartoon choir
"Nobody cares which part of my weird range I sing in, whether it's a bassy line or a top part." Image:iStock/tezzstock

The thing I love most about the trans choir is that everybody can feel safe to try things out with their voice, and that we all know we're on the same path to acceptance. The choir is non-auditioned, so anybody can join. We have music with nice clear melody parts from catchy songs — a mix of pop, musicals, and more traditional repertoire — and harmony parts that range from very simple to real thinkers. Whether folks are coming once in awhile for a wholesome sing-along with their community, or coming to every rehearsal to geek out about music and get really good at it, everyone under the trans umbrella is welcome.

You'd be very surprised how well folks can do once they feel safe.

"Ready to knock it out of the park"

Musical notes on a stave coloured in the trans palette
"Rest assured that we are never the weak point on a lineup". Artwork: Amy Stace

Whenever we've performed I’ve been really delighted that it's gone well. The group has lots of great singers in it, and I'm careful to only book us for shows that we're ready to knock out of the park. It's fine if folks want to book us for outreach reasons, but rest assured that we are never the weak point on a lineup; we can SING. Public concerts are an opportunity to showcase trans joy and talent, and we relish them when they come along. We're careful about photos and videos, because of identity and safety concerns of some folks in the group, so catch us in person when you can — or come along to an open rehearsal if this sounds like the place for you! Eden from the choir told me: "I was initially nervous about joining, but the atmosphere is great and I immediately felt welcome. Now I always look forward to singing with a bunch of friendly faces on a Sunday morning — it's a burst of energy for the week."

Or, as another member put it, "It's like the cup of tea you didn't realise you needed — unexpectedly grounding, soothing and invigorating all at once."

Check out the London Trans Choir website for more details.

Last Updated 19 December 2022