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Standing on the edge of time (coming out, again)

  • Posted on March 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

Musicians are quite promiscuous. No, not like that: I mean that once you find a band or orchestra to play in, you find more than one, and most of us play in several. In my region I would be surprised to be invited to deputise (fill in for a shortage on a section) anywhere without meeting regular players that I’ve played with elsewhere. It’s actually rather nice never to be a stranger. But it does make this a very widely connected and disparate social circle, compared with other friend groups I have that are much more compact.

This connection can make life potentially very confusing if you’re contemplating coming out as transgender, and you know that it will take some time before everyone appreciates what it means, how to talk about it, and the curiosity and gossip die down. Meantime it can be very uncomfortable. Do you come out one band at a time? Or all at once and try to catch the debris as best you can? What if you’ve told one group but not another, with all that promiscuous cross-mixing? Is one band now expecting you to turn up as a woman, while another cannot, yet has players who know? Can you be one thing one week and another the next?

The edge of time

It is at points of transition like this where discomfort can be more acute. I have had wonderful support from a number of people – in fact everyone I’ve told and spoken to individually. But, I do have this sense that social circles like bands are rather more strictly gendered than others. Maybe my idea of brass bands in particular is rooted in my Yorkshire beginnings, where female players play up to the men and everyone wears the same braided jacket, and everyone drinks beer. Maybe I just know that it’s the power of male presence in what used to be smoky night club venues and late dance bands. Maybe I just have a feeling that the men are real men and the girls enter their world.

Nowhere else has the issue of changing rooms (‘men are on the left, girls on the right, and er, well, if you’re neither of those …’ *haw-haw*!) and gender jokes felt so painful. Maybe it’s just nights out, where girls like to be spotted and flirted with, and the blokes away from home for a night love doing it. Partners get fed up coming out to hear the same old music, if they come at all, and the cameraderie of music can seem like an opportunity …

So who and what you are as a musician matters quite a lot. You are afraid of becoming the oft-repeated joke, carried away across that immense interconnected network of musicians everywhere. There’s no messing about here – if you’re coming out, you have to be committed.

And that is the edge of time for me. The bloke who used to play the trumpet isn’t there anymore. But is she a real woman? Or just the odd one out? Leaving an old life behind can mean a new one just isn’t as easy to establish as you’d like. Of all places I have come out as transgender, this is the steepest precipice, the biggest audience, the greatest risk. Will I ever be welcome in the women’s changing room? Will gendered jokes be more circumspect? Or will I be neither one of the girls nor one of the blokes, just nothing, in the middle – the laugh that echoes in the corridor between closed changing room doors?

Standing on the edge

By the time you read this I may be well over the edge, but as I write, it is one of the most significant phases in realising my transgenderedness. It has been a preservative for my family of the old normality. (At least he’s still a man when he goes to band!) Not so long ago I was sitting in rehearsal, counting bars, trumpet on my knee, thinking how strange my own clothes seemed. Very much the wrong trousers. For ages I have fallen to pieces inside before concerts, because I had to wear the DJ and bowtie while all the women made themselves lovely in long black skirts or concert dresses, and looked beautiful. And last night I felt very close to the edge, as gender shouted itself at me for an hour leading up to being on stage.

So once again I am contemplating how best to present myself authentically, without becoming a distraction, just so I can play music as best I can among fellow musicians who respect me. I have no idea who will, and who will (or can) not. It’s an edge, and I might fall off. And when I step off this time, something will go forever: a relief to me, but an awkward enigma for many.

I worry about hot summer venues and the things I must wear to stop being mistaken for a man. I worry about Royal Marines sitting either side of me and not knowing what to say to me. I worry about gendered evenings when I simply don’t fit ‘the arrangements’.


I have nowhere else to go, and no-one else to be but myself, and this time again, I have no real choice at all. A couple of days ago, talking together with a counselor, my wife struggling with pronouns, I realised that the ‘he’ we were talking about used to be me.

Funny thing is, it doesn’t make my trumpet playing any better or worse …