“From the moment I first realized I was “different,” fear and loneliness controlled my life.
“The school yard bullies of a small conservative town in western North Dakota taught me well. Even when their hatred was directed at others, I got their message loud and clear: If I were a “queer… faggot… homo… fruit…” — it would be better to be dead than to be gay. I thought I’d never be able to tell anyone who I truly was, and I was mortified that my secret might ever come out. I have never felt so lonely as the night my first lover – the only other living person who knew I was gay — completed suicide. And I have never known a fear so paralyzing, so devastating, or felt so abandoned by God, as the night I was sexually assaulted at gun point. For over thirty years — three long, lonely decades – my most steadfast companions were fear, loneliness — and my own thoughts of suicide.
“Somehow, I survived long enough to move to Minnesota and begin the gradual process of coming out, to myself and to others. Just ten years ago, I began attending Pride festivals and openly referring to myself as “gay”. And I never truly considered myself fully “out” until having that painful yet cathartic conversation with my mother – just three years ago! So at the age of 56, I still consider myself “newly out,” a novice on my journey to learn all about this new culture and community I have finally come to embrace.
“Last fall, I took a huge step on that journey when, at the prompting of my dear friend (and Chorus member) David Coleman, I auditioned for the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. He enticed me with stories of how much fun it is, and how rewarding it would be to perform for our appreciative audiences. But what surprised me most was to find it to be such a powerfully spiritual experience. When you connect with others – both your fellow Chorus singers and audience members – it is as though you are doing God’s calling, using the power of music to unite people and share the love of God.
“During my first concert period for our holiday concert, Our First Noel, my favorite song quickly became “I Sing Out”. I felt these lines accurately captured what I saw as the mission of the Chorus: ‘With our voices we inspire, we empower, we enlighten / With our voice we can heal the world.’
“When we joined with so many people from around the state to stand up for the LGBT community and beat back a proposal to enshrine discrimination in our state constitution, I viewed the phrase “heal the world” as something we could do for others: to heal them of their hatred and prejudices toward the gay community. What a beautiful, powerful mission! I thought of writing and submitting these observations for this project after our unprecedented election victory in November – but something told me to hold off, and I’m glad I did…
“Rehearsals progressed, and we finally came to December and my long-awaited first concert. It was an amazing experience! I’ll always treasure my first concert experience, the special pre-concert ceremony and words of encouragement for us “newbies”, and all the special moments of camaraderie we shared (even hearing “more cowbell!” for the umpteenth time!) Most moving to me were the “focus” sessions prior to each performance which provided opportunities for Chorus members to share: who they had invited, what the Chorus meant to them, why they were singing… and with it, a glimpse of the loving, caring, sharing family that is the Gay Men’s Chorus. And the audience reactions showed that our music was connecting with them, further affirmed by the hugs and tears shared in the lobby afterwards.
“But it was the first rehearsal for the next concert that brought it full circle for me, and finally provided my own answer to the question “Why is the Chorus important to you?” It was when we began rehearsing the beautiful Stephen Schwartz song ‘Testimony’… when I began sobbing, and felt a visceral reaction throughout my body. That’s when I realized how deeply the scars remain, the physical and emotional remnants of decades of fear and loneliness. The brutally raw emotionalism of the beginning of ‘Testimony’, building to its uplifting message of hope at its end, showed me something about the tremendous power of music to “heal the world”: it isn’t just for our audiences; it’s for us, too, and something I desperately needed. And judging from the reactions shared during rehearsal, others in the Chorus are seeking this awesome healing power of music as well.
“’Testimony’ is going to be a difficult song to get through – but I’m sure going to try! Because I need to get through it, I need to go through this process of personal healing. I need to share this healing process for my Chorus brothers who need to hear it. And I need the challenge of doing my best on that song – and every song – because of “the one”. That’s what I call that one person, someone sitting in our audience who may never be known to me — perhaps it’s some scared, bullied kid just coming to grips with their sexuality, or maybe it’s someone whose life-long struggle for acceptance has taken its toll – someone who may feel life isn’t worth living, and thinking of giving up, who so desperately needs to hear us bring a message of hope, and see our witness that life does get better. For them, I sing!
“For over three decades, my life was controlled by fear and loneliness, devoid of hope. But for the grace of God and some caring friends who love me way more than I deserve, I may not be here today, singing with the Chorus and healing the world with music. As it says in ‘Testimony’: ‘I would have missed / The chance to sing out like this / With people I love beside me.’
“To build community — within and beyond the Chorus — through the healing power of beautiful music sung by a wonderfully caring family of friends — and in turn, to find my own healing — that is why the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus is important to me. Our music has the power and potential to change lives — and with songs like ‘Testimony,’ maybe even save them, too. So ‘how can I keep from singing?’!”
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