My brother often jokes about the variety of descriptors used to categorize me. He and his friends always get a big kick out of calling me, “The blind lesbian opera singer.” Add Jewish to that, and I've been able to check off many of the boxes on forms. I’ve enjoyed living in my dark featured body with a prominent nose, eyes with little to no usable vision, and slight feminine build with the uniquely wired queer brain which puts me in the arguable 10% of the population. That package definitely is me, it’s who I am. However, I’ve been told these past many years that as a singer trying to market herself with consistent messaging, I am not allowed to be all of those things all at once. That package is like an outfit that just doesn’t match. The easiest thing to market was my blindness and the fact that I had overcome a certain amount of challenges in order to find success in my career as a classical singer." Not gonna lie, my blindness is a big part of who I am. I was ignored in school, not invited to parties the rest of my classmates were invited to, and on rare occasions, I was outright bullied to the point where I was afraid to go to school. So I definitely developed a thick skin, compassion, and I do have a story to tell which brings hope to those around me going through similar stuff, blind or not blind. However, there is a big “but.” The more I told my story, and the more audiences I seemed to reach, the more I kept getting booked as, “the blind singer." In fact, I often got the feeling that my voice was secondary to my story. I started to feel pangs of guilt. Was I doing a disservice to the years of training I had gone through to be the best singer I could be? Were the other components of me really too disparate and unrelated for people to wrap their heads around? Was I sort of misrepresenting myself because I wasn’t tapping into the rest of my artistic voice? It’s amazing how the twists and turns in your life have a way of helping you find the missing link, and to answering those nagging questions.
Last December, we were in the throws of the #metoo movement. Article after article in every news publication reported countless heartbreaking stories of how women, anywhere from the dish washer at a restaurant, to the successful actress and screenwriter, was being brutally mistreated by the men in higher level positions. Every day, after breakfast,Jenny and I would be drinking our coffee, and reading about female celebrities, executives, politicians, you name it we read about it, all who had men in power dangling their success in front of their noses like a carrot, always being forced to do demeaning, demoralizing things in order to stay afloat. This all hit home for me when Jenny read an article to me about a famous conductor who for years, had been sexually harassing and abusing an opera singer who I used to see performing the leads in operas all the time in LA when I was a kid. She was the kind of singer I wanted to be when I grew up. Finding out that she was afraid to go on stage because this conductor would grab her breasts moments before a performance, ask her to visit his hotel room before and after concerts or else, or try to force his tongue down her throat absolutely devastated me. Everyone from the stage managers to the higher-ups at the companies she worked for were forced to hush it up and calm her down. Right then and there, I knew that this issue needed a louder voice in the classical music community, and I wanted to do something, anything.
I immediately started calling friends of mine who are opera directors, composers, and fellow singers, sharing various project ideas which were starting to form in my mind. Enthusiastic responses started coming in, and I am so thrilled that I’m now getting the great privilege of exploring another big part of my identity as a woman, and adding my own voice to the tapestry of women artists out there raising their voices. More details for future posts. Strangely enough, I was also approached by other amazing female artists to join them on musical initiatives they have started to celebrate women artists. Karma is incredible, and timing is everything! These women had no idea that I was working on projects with the brilliant composer Lisa Bielawa, and another equally exciting long term project with fantastic opera director Sarah Myers and producer Beth Morrison, but they happened to ask me to join them on their awesome project around the same time.
I would like to encourage any of you who have ever felt like something was missing in your artistic exploration to get out there and start looking for ways to branch out. Just remember that there are so many amazing parts of what makes you whole, and sometimes, it just takes a little event in your life, or that self reflection to ignite that fire which will light the path to further artistic exploration. Have any of you gone through your own artistic identity crisis? I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to comment below and share your experiences.