Michelle Devon, member of the Exeter Festival Chorus and Axminster Choral Society, talks to us about how her music groups accepted her as Michelle.
When I received the last issue of Highnotes, I never expected it'd end with me writing this blog. I had just read Making Music's new five-year plan and emailed them to say I supported their inclusivity objective. A few emails later, and I'm now writing about my own experience 'coming out' to my own choirs.
To put that into context, I have been crossdressing for even longer than I have been singing. But although my singing has been in public for 60 years, my crossdressing was a guilty secret for many years. It became public when Michelle was 'born' in September 2007, not long after I joined Exeter Festival Chorus. In November 2013 Michelle had a day out, but my train back was late and it was choir night. I had time to either grab some food or get changed. I emailed the chairperson (who already knew about Michelle) and she was happy for Michelle to come! It was with considerable trepidation that I walked in, but the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, even more so when they read my grateful email to the choir the following day. Only after my retirement in late 2018 did I begin going to rehearsals regularly as Michelle.
'You’re a tenor, you can come as who you like!'
Her concert debut was to be in March 2020 but that didn’t happen - due to obvious reasons. We had Zoom rehearsals during lockdown which were always Michelle time, armed with a cocktail! So when rehearsals began again I decided I would go as Michelle. I checked with our new music director, who just said 'You’re a tenor, you can come as who you like' - an inspirational reaction!
The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, I’ve done four concerts as Michelle. My colleagues in the choir are so welcoming, so supportive that it is doubly pleasurable - singing AND being out as Michelle.
I also sang one concert last year with the Axminster Choral Society, and we sang Elijah, which I did in memory of my mother, as it was her favourite (sadly, she was a Covid casualty). Again, I was made wonderfully welcome having turned up initially as Stephen but thereafter only as Michelle. One of my fellow tenors was even a post-op trans woman.
'...we’re just trying to live a life doing the sort of things other people do.'
What began in November 2013 as an evening of quivering nerves and near panic has become a wonderfully self-affirming leisure-time activity. My colleagues have been amazing and I cannot speak too highly of both choirs. Being a crossdresser in public (I prefer to call myself a t-girl*) is fraught with anxiety for many, with ever-present worries about being recognised, being verbally abused or simply rejected. So I have to commend both these choirs for their supportive, welcoming attitude. And, to any Making Music member, I would urge you to be as open-minded as my choirs have been. We aren’t freaks, we’re not dangerous, we’re not a threat to other women - we’re just trying to live a life doing the sort of things other people do.
My closing plea would be, to quote St Luke’s gospel - 'Go, and do thou likewise'.
*Note on terminology: there are many different words trans people can use to describe themselves. We respect their autonomy to identify with whichever words best describe them. Find out more on the GLAAD website.
If you are trans, or know somebody who is trans and requires support, contact the Beaumont Society via their website or their 24/7 information line on 01582 412220.