White Skirt IDAHOT

CalistoStrsbrg for IDAHOT

Singular instance (perhaps not if we staged more Venetian Baroque)? Elena Tsallagova (Calisto) and Vivica Genaux (Diana) on the brink of some love duetting in Cavalli’s “La Calisto”, Strasbourg 2017]

It’s May 17th, it’s IDAHOT – International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (and Queerphobia at large). It’s a day to remember that we all have bodies, and that how we read or shape or stage these bodies, how we live our truths in relation to them, and to whom these our bodies react (and how), does not make anybody or any body more valuable or ‘truer’ than the other.

Bear with me, this is going to get sappy.

Just yesterday, in between enthusiastically discussing the English Concert Ariodante tour and seeing Dehggi and Agathe figuring out a joint venture of Prina Fangirling in Halle via these pages, I stopped to think, “I am so lucky to have this place with you all.” A place where my queerness isn’t policed when I talk about opera, and a place where other queer ladies (and friends) get me, and treat themselves, others and their singer favorites with kindness.

I have been out for twenty years and I have been lucky and privileged for much of it, but I remember the early days. That shaky, nerve-wrecking road between inner and public coming out fell, for me, into the 1996/1997 season.
There was no internet to speak of yet. I was still in school, living with my parents. Finally realizing I was gay (“Oh… that’s what it is called what doesn’t happen with guys for me but when I watch Rosenkavalier? Okay, now it makes sense.”) and coming to terms with it was a lonely endeavour: I chickened out of calling the queer hotline at the local AIDS Support Center. The only thing in the media I had to hold onto was a b/w copy of the Ellen Time Cover boldly spelling out “Yep, I’m Gay”. I didn’t know anyone gay (or so I thought), and I didn’t know how to meet anyone gay, either. The only movie I had ever seen (in secret, at night, at very low volume) that featured lesbians was “Mädchen in Uniform” and that ended with the identification figure in a coma.

But I had opera.

I didn’t have names for many things yet and I certainly had no experience in anything resembling romance, but I knew crushes. And I had names for them thanks to opera. I had a pretext as a female body addressing another female body with desire and romantic intentions because I had worn out my “Le nozze di Figaro” recordings over the Cherubino arias, and because I had once seen “Rosenkavalier” on a rare night, at age seventeen, when my mother could not find an argument to deny my watching it (she was opposed, but to protest, she would have had to voice what she refused to acknowledge: “I do not like how you lighten up when you listen to these women sing to each other on screen”). I had – I have mentioned this elsewhere – poured over the “Idomeneo” libretto as a teenager, carried home the tape recording from the music library, and identified with Idamante in my crushes that I, for a long time, did not recognize as crushes. I thought I had to apologize for them, even though they happened to me without my doing: Non ho colpa, e mi condanni.

But there was opera.

The first summer I was consciously out was twenty years ago. It was 1997. Lady Di crashed against a tunnel wall in Paris. And I saw, for the first time, “La Calisto”. I spent most of that summer on the couch at a kind straight musician friend’s place, wearing out his videotape (I think I mentioned elsewhere that he later married the woman he was pining over that summer, and they are one of these couples that still just glow with serene happiness two decades later). “La Calisto” was a big step for me in terms of self-acknowledgement. Before, it had always been a reasoning of “But as long as I identify with the woman in the trousers, it’s actually a man, so I am still drawn to a straight romance, so I can’t be gay!” (I know, I know. Classic denial.)
“La Calisto” was different. “La Calisto” was a woman voicing desire for another woman. And slowly, I came to accept that that was me. And that it could be beautiful (there was so much shame in the beginning).

I also owe that acceptance to opera.

In opera, the mezzos in pants often got to walk off with the soprano, into a happy ending. And once I admitted that, no, I didn’t look at trouser roles like I looked at other male roles, it was a space where I began to imagine that I could perhaps have that, too, one day. The trouser role mezzos weren’t awkward, they were dashing. They didn’t wait for a prince, they were the prince. They were bodies, in their stage context, not shunned for presenting beyond conventional femininity, but being acknowledged, respected and even desired for it. They got to wear white shirts and trousers and they owned them.

I do not identify as trans. But I do not identify with conventional femininity in my self-presentation, either. It is something for which, at times, I get mocking, bewildered or even disgusted stares – on the bus, or in a concert venue foyer. But by now, I own my shirts and my pochettes and my trousers. Opera taught me that, too.
When I bought my first proper man’s shirt, I was in my late teens. I had saved up a bit of money, but I had no idea what my size would be (remember, no internet). And I was too shy and too embarrassed to ask the shop clerk for help, and so of course I bought the shirt far too big. But I treasured it for years, even though I must have looked awkward in it.
These days, I know my shirt size, and I know how to wear my pochettes and I can tie my neckwear in my sleep (and my mother-in-law, who is wonderful, gives me cufflinks for Christmas). I do at times get called out by friends for a bit of old-fashioned chivalry, and it makes me smile because I recognize the echo of the trouser roles that taught me to be the queer woman I am today.
And now and then, in the corner of one of my classrooms or walking next to their parents in the street, I will see a girl (or not a girl) look at me in sudden recognition, somewhere between wide-eyed disbelief and joy, before they quickly look away again. And those looks make all the offended or disgusted ones worth it. And I always hope that these young queers will find their way, perhaps, into opera, or into another environment that gives them representation, hope, and joy.

And this is tied yet another, important point: back then, twenty years ago, I couldn’t begin to imagine that I would ever know people with whom I could share my love of opera, much less from my (gay) perspective. I couldn’t fathom that there would be people who would nod and say “me, too” when I sighed over an Octavian, or an Idamante, or a female-cast Giulio Cesare, or a Contessa. Or the entirety of “Alcina”.

But here you are, and I also have to thank opera for that.

And so yesterday, I stopped and thought about how very lucky I am. And how grateful for your presence in my life. We’ve got liveblogs, and White Shirt venue meet-ups, and alerting each other to concerts and performances, and ‘our’ reviews, and lot’s of “me, too”. That we also are a little hub of queer visibility is just as an added bonus.

Thank you, and happy IDAHOT, wherever you are.

66 thoughts on “White Skirt IDAHOT”

    1. jcmwee! Always good to see you 🙂
      Hugs to down under, and I hope things are sailing smoothly for you.

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  1. So beautifully written I was almost in tears… and so much I can relate to…

    I have always loved trouser roles. As a teenager, I dreamed of becoming an opera singer and singing them all, Cherubino, Octavian, Sesto… you name it. It made me a little embarrassed because I have always identified as straight, and yet, I’ve seldom been so hot and bothered about male singers. At times, I have questioned my straightness and lately, I have also started to question the need for labels…

    I am so glad to have found your blog! It’s so good to have a place where you can drool over female singers without getting a condescending ”well, that’s a bit weird but I guess you can get used to that!” I, too, used to to think I was the only one in the whole world who felt like this about mezzos and other female singers…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If a role or an interpretation moves you, it moves you. No need for labels, and the only label we hand out here is “White Shirt” 😉

      I’m glad you feel comfortable here, and that there are things you could relate to.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Hi, once again to you all.
    If you are interested (especially this day) I managed to get video of the last MET in HD transmission with El_na G_ranča and R_née Fl_ming.
    Here are the links:
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3

    Thank you for this wonderful blog.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Guys. Girls. Everyone. Look at what Annio brought. YES! I guess that means the liveblog is a go sometime soon?

    (Annio, do we have to rename you from Capuleti_Hero to Rofrano_Hero?)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We hade made plans to watch it via their HD on replay service, but perhaps DVD is the better option.

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    1. WOW, she’s amazing! How she effortlessly rings out those landing notes, that’s astounding…giving Damrau a run for her money here! I’m kinda meh on Magic Flute but I’d watch THIS.

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  4. At last someone who understands why I endlessly watch Rosenkavalier on Youtube. So happy to have found your blog today.

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  5. Finally coming back to actually read this. You’ve made me cry, Anik. I love this blog and this community and how we understand each other. I feel so much of what you wrote. And I think…in my own journey of really coming into myself and claiming the fullness of myself in the last few years, this blog-community has been such a huge part of that. I’m deeply deeply grateful. ❤

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      1. Big ❤ ❤ ❤

        (case in point, shifting to my FierceRev here which links directly to my more professional website. I don't care now that people know the FierceRev is a Fangirl. Thank you for that.)

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        1. FierceFangirl. Reverence is part of the job! (Funny how these things fit together so well – claiming our fullness/wholeness, what you said!)

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  6. I’ve been away from my computer a lot lately, so I’ve only just read this! Thanks so much for making this space – it’s amazing to have a community of queer & queer-friendly people to talk about and appreciate opera with. It’s brought me into the world of classical music more than ever, knowing that I can enjoy it queerly. My teenage coming-out-to-myself journey started with Voyager, and I have you to thank for contributing to those online spaces as well. My deep appreciation and thanks on both of those veins. #campusforever #undergradreading #notwhatmyparentsthoughtwhenIsaidliteraturedegree #onceaqueernerdalwaysaqueernerd

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      1. So good!!! I guess discovering Campus eventually turned me into a huge opera queen (to borrow the gay boy parlance). I can’t wait till it’s published so I can buy it and read it again now that I’ve actually been to Venice!

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          1. Publishing “Campus” would be so much work. I still haven’t given up on it, but to sell it, I would have to cut and change so much that it wouldn’t be the same story any longer, so perhaps it would be more along the way of self-publishing on demand.

            It just occurs to me that I started writing Campus 17 years and 2 months ago. Heh.

            Much of the writing makes me wince today, it is stylistically uneven, to put it mildly, some things are overly dramatic from my current vantage point, BUT. I still stand with the mood and the enthusiasm and the slight breathlessness of it all. Always will. And it seems to have struck that same kind of with many of its readers, which is the most beautiful thing. I don’t think I would ever be able to write something like this, in spirit, again.

            (Of course it is obvious I wrote this when I was wrapping up my undergrad degree and still thought academia was about truth and knowledge and research and came with enough lecture prep time for the lectures that then impressed the undergrads… Sigh)

            Perhaps that is my favorite but about the story, how it is so stark and uncompromising and not jaded yet. 🙂

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          2. My. This reflection makes my heart ache in a very Rosenkavalier-Trio-ish kind of way. How beautiful the story is, who you were then, the joy it’s brought us, and the…grief? that you would not write the same way now…oh Anik. I hope it helps you to know we love it, still. (and you)

            (and if it were to show up on AO3 as is for like, 5 minutes so certain people could download it to their kindle, certain people would not object. 🙂 )

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          3. especially that one (since my then webmistress, back in the day before blogging platforms existed, also always uploaded a full pdf file) is so widely disseminated through the web that I will never fully get it offline again… there are more than a few pirate copies circulating. It is another of those reasons I may never get it ‘officially’ published since it is already out there, copiously.

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          4. I usually try not to see it because then I’d need to think about people who do this with my material, and it’s not a good feeling.

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          5. …just don’t tell me how many they are. I know it used to be up as a torrent, even. And one hand, it is great that so many people want to read this and share this, but if I ever actually try to publish it and make good on the seven years I worked on it to put some more food on the table, it is not so great (apart from the simple fact of sharing something I see as mine)

            Maybe I am turning older, or perhaps there really has been a shift in fandom and fanfic consumption – it used to be more widespread to give feedback an communicate about works. Now, many times, I see people – I just spoke with Barbara about that – going through these pages, downloading everything, and disappearing again without ever even saying thank you, and that also stings in its own way. You will likely know the feeling, although AO3 still has some of the best feedback culture out there.

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          6. I won’t tell you. ❤ In fact, if you would prefer I not go looking for it, I won’t. Because yeah, it actually is gross, the consumption of it as a commodity disconnected from its artist. Gross and not ok.

            My fandom is great on feedback but i do wonder sometimes what would prevent someone from stealing my stuff and sharing it under their own name elsewhere. AO3 has some strict language about that but beyond them (like, outside AO3) what could be done?

            What I do hope you hear from this is that your work matters to us and we thank you for it. All of it. ❤

            Liked by 1 person

          7. rereading older things – it is like revisiting the sort of material we talked about the other week, and realizing that in the meantime, there has opened up a space between that thing and yourself as you lived on and grew.

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        1. (Campus turned you into an opera queen? But they only went to see Rosenkavalier once…? Either way, I want an opera toaster now!)

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          1. Ha! Just because it eventually lead to me reading this blog. So that journey took the scenic route, but I still think a toaster is in order. 😄

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          2. And now I think things like how silly it was of the Voyager writers to introduce a dislike of opera into Janeway’s character in the final season, after they’d already given her that big romantic Mahler episode. I mean, it just seems unlikely. Maybe it was just because of the Doctor?

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          3. yes. well, not “Imperfection”, obviously. But yes. though it had to be said that the final outcome could very easily be made right (It just took me a vignette, not a novella as with TdU). 😉

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          4. And that if Janeway loves romantic-era composers (which is at least consistent with her love of gothic holonovels), would Seven disagree and find Handel to be superior? Also, I feel strongly that joining a choir would have been a more appropriate exploration of Seven’s humanity than singing “You Are My Sunshine” with the Doctor. #lostholoprograms #deeplynerdythoughts

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          5. Seven in a choir, definitely. And also Janeway as a conaisseur of latter 19th century opera, starting with Lucia. All the way to Strauss (someone who holoplays Brontë governesses, I mean COME ON!). Of course Seven would prefer Handel and obscure early monody because that is the structure, not the emotion.

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    1. I ❤ every single one of these hashtags!

      I'm touched that some of my writings (my first, wildly across the map online writings – we are not counting the transgender YA musketeer novel I designed as a k

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I ❤ every single one of these hashtags!

      And I am touched and humbled that some of my writings (the early ones, even!) are linked to good journey memories for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If you do ever publish it (no matter the method) you’ll have to let us know how we can get our copies! Campus was a perfect undergrad read, which I gleefully lost many late night hours to. I also want to take a moment to fangirl over “Troubled Passage” which created a deeply involving an complete world (plus amazing footnotes). If you published that, I would also be super into it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would look fomr soemthing with easy online retail – the reading community for “Campus” is literally scattered across the planet, so that would be a deciding factor.
      “Troubled Passage”, I think, may not be historically sound enough? And it does take the concpetual idea from the ST:Voy ep.

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      1. Fair enough! I’m just a big fan! 😄 Now I’m going to have to start watching Warehouse 13, just so I can read more of your writing.

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        1. The only story which actually would require some knowledge of WH13 is “Timeless” (the payoff is bigger if you know it, sicne it is an epic fix-it). But it was a queer show in the best sense. Just remember that there is no season 5. That never happened.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. …on the bright side, you don’t need any knowlege of WH13 for that whatsoever. Oh the not so bright side, it is not finished (though no bad cliffhangers at the moment).

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