The passing of George Michael hit me hard, at least when it sank in.
Most everybody hates their voice when it’s recorded and they hear it played back. Despite spending a decade in radio, then doing voice over work for nearly three, I’m no exception, but it wasn’t always that way.
I used to sing opera. I had, by all accounts, a beautiful baritone voice that could sing bass and tenor parts, alike. I sang at weddings, funerals, and with the occasional glass of wine could be persuaded to sing a Latin or Italian aria in someone’s living room, which thrilled them and me both.
My radio career was successful, too. With the passing of George Michael, memories of an old flame came rushing back with such force, I couldn’t stop crying in the newsroom last night. This old flame, Stacy, was so in love with George Michael, I used to thrill her with dedications of his songs while on the radio. “This song goes out to ‘Stacy Mashburn’ of Iberia ( I used to record you on the radio as I went to bed) I still have all those tapes in a box. I’ll have to get them out and we’ll listen to them together sometime,” she texted today.
I’ve recently hated on my voice for a reason that may or may not surprise you, depending on how well you know me or how much you’ve hung out with me lately. That deep baritone creates a dichotomy that most people can’t wrap their heads around. It sounds unnatural coming out of an otherwise female face, and it causes me to have to come out as transgender to people, on a nearly daily basis.
I’m not alone. Many transgender women are bothered by the same thing. Their voices don’t match their feminine exterior. Many pursue “vocal feminization” from voice coaches, and some have corrective surgery to raise the pitch of their voice. Admittedly, I’m considering surgery, as well. It’s not a done deal, but I am considering it. No doubt this will cause some of my ex-girlfriends disappointment. Many of them laid their heads on my chest while I read, talked or sang them to sleep. It’s an intimate experience, and if you haven’t tried it, you should.
But I digress. My voice, especially when I get misgendered by someone on the phone, creates a frustration for me that can sometimes ruin my entire day. Indeed, with going through this sort of transition, many things have power I wish I didn’t hand over so readily. A well-meaning piece of advice from one person, or a slip of the tongue from another, can send me into an emotional tailspin.
If you’re a transgender female, you can relate. If you’re a transgender male, you may not be able to relate as well, at least if you’ve been on testosterone for long. The male hormone is incredibly strong. It’s what causes a young boy’s voice to change. If you were a soprano as a child like my cousin was, it’s painful when your choir director tells you you’ll no longer be able to be a part of the boy’s choir you love so much. Unfortunately, female hormones do not have the opposite affect. No dose of estrogen or progesterone will raise my voice. Without some sort of action or medical intervention, I’m stuck with the deep, resonate voice I used to take pride in, and which many others celebrated.
When word of George Michael’s passing came in a phone call from a coworker last night, I was initially fine. This
coworker needed help conforming his death. At that second, it was just another item of news we needed to confirm, then put into context with reaction from the musicians and stars who knew him, posting to social media. When it became apparent we were ready to report and confirm his death, my mind rushed back to that radio booth from which I sent dedications of love to Stacy. I sent her this text, “His last Christmas 😢,” a reference to the Christmas song he wrote, produced, and released while he was still part of the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1984.
Stacy’s response was filed with emotion, and remembering it s I write this, has brought tears to my eyes once more. He meant so much to us. He was a huge part of our history.
Recently, I followed Maddie Kelly on Twitter. She’s a brilliant young Aussie, and in her profile she’s linked to a TedX talk she gave called “Kintsukuroi: finding beauty in a broken world.” In her TedX, she talked about the Japanese art, also sometimes called “Kintsugi.” It’s a wonderful tradition where the Japanese take broken pottery and use lacquer filed with gold to glue broken pottery back together. The philosophy is meant to treat the repair of broken pieces as a history of the object, rather than to hide it.
I don’t yet know if I’ll try to alter my voice to match my exterior or mind, but I’m applying Kintsukuroi to the part of my life that is broken, with the passing of a pop icon who forever glued Stacy and me together.