I have become very comfortable in my little gay life since coming out six years ago. I’ve found a partner who is a kind and compassionate dude. My now teenage daughter has been supportive since the start, and is a champion for equal rights. And, I live in a socially liberal part of the country where homophobia is distinctly uncool.
But I’ve learned that a requisite part of the coming-out process involves the continuing acknowledgement that you’re gay. It’s important because, even in the most accepting of circumstances, being gay is still seen by some as being “Less Than.”
Yes, many straight people love love love gay people, but being gay still can mean being looked upon as a novelty or a sideshow attraction. When I walk down the street with my husband and daughter, I see people look at us with a particular expression — a smile and little head tilt — that says: Oh, look. How sweet. It’s almost like they’re straight.
Moments like that don’t make me angry, but last year it did motivate me to do something I never thought I’d do. Rather than just continue being comfortable in my existence as a Gay Man Walking, I decided to do something that would be a bit more … vocal.
I joined a gay men’s choir.
“You did what???” my daughter asked when I told her.
“There’s a new gay men’s choir starting in town, and I’m joining it,” I repeated. “I’ve sung in choirs before, you know that.”
“I know. But this is … different. What kind of songs do gay men’s choirs sing?”
I actually didn’t know. Show tunes? Diva tributes? I told her I’d find out at the first rehearsal and keep her posted.
“OK,” she said. “I mean, it’s totally awesome that you’re doing it. I’m just surprised.”
“Why surprised?” I asked.
“I don’t know. You’re sort of a … mild-mannered gay guy, aren’t you?”
I wasn’t quite sure where this conversation was going.
“I just don’t see you as being so … open about being gay.”
I was really surprised. This kid and I had been marching together in pride parades for several years. I hold my husband’s hand at restaurants. I wear tank tops in public, for God’s sake.
That conversation gave me some clarity about why I needed to join a gay men’s choir. Not because I hadn’t sung in a choir of any kind in several years, and missed it. Not because I have an addiction to jazz hands and choralography. Not because I harbored a secret desire to go all Mariah in front of a crowd.
I joined the gay men’s choir because I realized doing so made me uncomfortable.
It’s one thing to tell your friends you’re gay or even write blog posts about the gay experience. It’s a whole different notion to stand with 15 other gay men and sing songs. I mean, for most of us, singing is scary enough on its own without getting your sexual identity involved, especially when that identity isn’t always considered favorable by some.
But something about being called a “mild-mannered gay” by my daughter really got to me. So I jumped in and join the group. All jazz hands on deck.
Enter the gay men’s choir
I attended rehearsals, and got to know the other guys. All ages, all backgrounds, all nice guys who love music and sing beautifully. Yes, the repertoire has its share of show tunes and a couple songs involved some shimmer fingers and fancy stepping. But practicing the music together was fun, and joining other gay men in a common purpose was fulfilling, enabling me to find a sense of place among a community I hadn’t really gotten to know.
I had a great time during rehearsals, even though it was clear early on that the only person that felt a little uncomfortable with some of the, uh … “gayer” songs was me. It was about embracing a particular form of gayness, and just relaxing about it.
I reported back to my family and friends about how things were going. My daughter seemed amused by the whole thing and excited to see what the concert would be like.
“Is there dancing?” she asked.
“There will be a small bit of dancing, yes.”
“Will you get to sing a solo?”
“I have a very small, one-measure solo.”
“OH MY GOD.”
“Nothing. So after the concert, are you gonna stay with the choir?”
A good question. I actually hadn’t thought much beyond the upcoming show, or how I would feel after.
He did survive – hey, hey
The concert went great. It was well-attended by a lively and friendly audience in a nearby church. My husband and daughter were front and center, proud supporters. I stood with my choir and we performed our set of songs, the concert running just under an hour. The opening song was from the stage musical The Book of Mormon (“Hello!”). Then came a lush spiritual. Then a campy jazz song involving some slightly saucy lyrical changes befitting a group of men who dig other men. A couple more classic show tunes. A sweet duet from The Fully Monty about never feeling alone when you have someone to walk beside you, a message that resonates with anyone, gay or straight. And, of course, our rendition of “I Will Survive.” (Legally required of all gay men’s choirs.)
The whole thing was fun. And strengthening. There was music, there was laughter, and at the end, there was applause.
The audience was very supportive and offered a lot of congratulations during the post-concert milling around. But most importantly, my daughter loved it. She loved the songs, she loved the campiness, and she loved that her dad was up there singing, drawing from a different part of himself that she hadn’t seen before.
On the walk home later, she couldn’t stop laughing at some of the funnier moments, the balance of camp and sincerity. But in between the giggles, she stopped and said, “You know, I’m very proud of you, Dad.”
Clearly all I needed.
I still have moments when I’m Walking While Gay, and wonder if I’m purposefully trying to act or not act a certain way. You don’t just suddenly stop being self-conscious about yourself no matter what self-realizations strike, or how old you are when they hit. But if there’s one place where there will be absolutely no question about me, or my gayness, or the pride I feel in myself, it’s when I’m singing with my choir.