Songbirds Choir sang in our first public concert since the pandemic, as guests of the South Wales Gay Mens Chorus, on Saturday 2 April 2022 at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. It was exciting, nerve-wracking and moving, all at once, and it’s made us look forward even more to our 10th Anniversary Concert later in June. Diolch o galon to Lizzie, our Musical Director, for all her hard work throughout the pandemic to get us back onto an actual stage again. And also to SWGMC for having us!
Although Songbirds has taken part in L Fest (a UK Lesbian Music, Art and Comedy Festival) several times in previous years, this year was the first time for me. In a car full of Songbirds and camping gear, we set off across Wales, for a proper “road trip” just like “To Wong Fu Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar” (in spirit, if not glamour).
Camping with the choir was such good, wholesome fun. It is rare that we all get to just chat and enjoy each other’s company. Even when we have time to go to the pub (which is rare), everyone has only a short while to finish a drink and have a chin wag before rushing home to rest up for a busy tomorrow. Once we’d all pitched up, we had hours just to sit and natter, take part in L Fest events, or (my favourite) go for a swim at Llandudno’s famous beach (we found the water to be less cold, but more jellyfishy than we anticipated).
L Fest itself was cracking. It was very much an “L with the T Fest”, with an atmosphere welcoming not just Lesbians, but also Trans women trans men, nonbinary and bisexual peeps, families, and, most importantly, a lot of very cute dogs. There were lots of fun and varied things to do like a Drag King show, morning yoga, musical performances, and a dog show (did I mention there were a lot of cute dogs?).
Practicing in the open air in our little camp circle had such a spontaneous, informal feeling, and it was just lovely to hear the hush from neighbouring campsites as people wandered over or stopped their chatting to listen. I particularly enjoyed cramming all the second sopranos into a Volkswagon in order to practice together as a section; very cozy. And our performance itself was exhilarating; we’ve had enthusiastic audiences before, but there, as we sang “Calon Lan”, someone stood and waved the Rainbow Welsh flag. We might have been 150 miles from Cardiff, but we were very much at home at L Fest.
As we crawled our way up the motorway through the classic Friday afternoon duet of traffic and roadworks, stuffing our faces with alternate handfuls of chipsticks, mint imperials and grapes (quite possibly the trifecta of car snacks), I felt the tell-tale bubbling of nervous excitement. We were headed north towards the bright lights of Manchester to join hundreds of other LGBT choristers at the Hand in Hand Festival 2017, and I wasn’t sure what to expect… Continue reading Side by Side, Hand in Hand, we all sing together
Growing up in a small town in the Valleys in the 70s was not the most conducive environment to come out (think of the film ‘Pride’ but a few years earlier!). The only visible role models were comedic and the likes of Danny La Rue and Dick Emery with, what seemed to me, no discussion of context or the issues involved, just sniggers. So despite having strong feelings towards women and female friends, knowing in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t just crushes, I didn’t. I didn’t share my thoughts with anyone, my parents being fairly ‘old school’ and dealing with my brother’s mental health issues at the time, I think subconsciously I didn’t want to burden them further. I genuinely didn’t know what the consequences of coming out would be, and it was fairly terrifying, and something I took forward for years. This was allied to a fear of losing friends and being further alienated.
Being a tomboy and not having originally been from the area, I stood out and was bullied at school. I changed schools at 14 and boarded in an all-girls school, potentially the perfect environment to come out. Not. In hindsight, I think had in stayed at my old school I may have come out in my teens – already being a bit of an outsider I may eventually thought “sod it”. Although I was much happier in my new school I think that being at an all-girls school actually made it harder to come out, especially as a boarder. Although I had strong friendships, many still so to this day, there was still the fear of rejection and uncertainty and I would have felt uncomfortable for the other girls in my dorm had I come out. I continued to ‘blank out’ my feelings and was quite shy as a result.
After school came uni in London, a fantastic opportunity and I fell in love, fairly quickly…with a guy. My first serious relationship. It was love, but perhaps we were propelled together as we were both fairly shy and lost in the big city. So, in time we married and have two great kids, but all the while I harboured feelings for other women, although I repressed these, and was not a happy bunny, maybe hoping for some romantic encounter over tea and cake at the NCT coffee morning! I did have a few brief semi-platonic affairs with guys, which in hindsight was probably me trying to find myself. I actually came out to my (at the time of writing, soon to be not) husband about 10 years ago and to a good friend, but I guess we never properly discussed the implications or my feelings, or indeed his, and muddled along “for the good of the children”. As time crept on I became increasingly disenchanted with life and gave up my career as I felt that something needed to give, the choice, I felt, being career or marriage (der!) but things still weren’t right and I was growing increasing disenchanted and unhappy and realised I had to resolve things.
Then I had a brief affair with a woman and although we weren’t together very long it was enough for me to realise that I couldn’t ignore myself any more and I had to be honest with myself and others. She was very kind, and a catalyst for me, for which I thank her. At that point I decided to move out of the family home. A hard decision as I couldn’t afford to move anywhere where the children could be with me, but I felt I had to take visible action and a positive step. I wasn’t far and managed to see the kids regularly. However, financial constraints and other factors resulted in me moving back into the family home after two years, but living separately. That has been a little more long term than intended and awkward at times but will resolve shortly and life will become more relaxed for everyone.
My friends have been very accepting and supportive throughout, some saying they were not surprised, others not quite understanding how I can have been married, had kids and be gay. I think that this is a common thread for many people, and also has implications for how lesbians previously in a relationship with a guy are perceived, sometimes regarded as ‘’not proper lesbians’’. Pahh!!! Since coming out I have realised just how many older lesbians there are who have very similar stories to mine. Being completely honest means that I know who I am, no one can hold any power over me and I am so much more confident as a result. As far as I am aware only one friend has blanked me, but possibly because they were a friend of my husband’s initially, who knows, but it’s surprising how people who seem so generous and broad minded can close down. The upshot is that most don’t and many will surprise you.
To my shame I didn’t pluck up the courage to tell the kids the actual reason why I’d moved out for about a year afterwards. My son (now late teens), was and is pretty cool with it, though my daughter is a different kettle of fish. She’s becoming more accepting, but I guess because it’s her mum maybe she feels a little more uncertain about her own sexuality, which is in no way a criticism of her. Sometimes I do think her offhand attitude is just because she’s a 16 year old girl. I just hope that she learns to talk about her feelings a little more freely, not necessarily with me but someone, as talking about things and sharing how you feel, what you think, etc. really helps to crystalise your thoughts and provide insight and clarity, however difficult or painful that may be.
Coming out has been difficult, but overwhelmingly been a good and positive experience. To really accept myself for me, to know who I am, has made me a much more confident and happier person. It really was a weight off my shoulders. If anyone says ’how do you know’ you’re gay/straight/bi/trans/whatever, you just know. How do people ‘know’ they’re straight? For me, being in relationships with women has been so very different to any other relationship. It’s just ‘right’ and the emotional connection is definitely much, much stronger and can be overwhelming. I do feel that I am able to empathise with people (whoever they are) much more now because I have experienced emotions that previously were unknown to me or repressed.
There are still issues, not least untangling a 30 year relationship, finances, and supporting the kids emotionally but even my parent’s in law seem to accept it (enough) now. Being outed to them is a story for another time! If anyone ever has any doubts about coming out, the fear is debilitating, but the relief of coming out is empowering. There will inevitably be fall-out and consequences, but life is short and unless you know who you are you can’t live it to your full potential. You will always find people who’ve been through similar problems (whatever those problems are and whether they’re gay, straight, trans. etc.) and finding a supportive group is an enormous boost whatever stage of life or coming out you are at. That’s what I’ve found with the Songbirds. A strong family where everyone is welcomed, no one is judged, everyone and every contribution is valued, each with a different story to tell, as unique as the individual but equally valid and accepted.
Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at City United Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
I have a lot of contradictory feelings about Pride. The left-leaning corner of my brain can’t help but be cynical as supermarkets and highstreet banks lift a rainbow banner with one hand and place a neat tick in their ‘community conscience’ box with the other. I see members of the public string a boa around their necks, but curl their lips at my tattoos and buzzcut, and I think – what exactly does queer visibility mean here?
But I remember being 18 years old and stepping onto the platform of Brighton station for my very first Pride parade. I had never seen so many LGBT* people in one place, I had never seen such a colourful expression of identity and difference, and I had certainly never seen support for that expression on anywhere near as large a scale.
As an event, Pride is politically complicated, but the fact remains that it is the one time of year when we can see some reflection of ourselves on every street corner. And it is an opportunity to show ourselves, like a message in a bottle to the young people who follow us, and a salute to those who went before; it is our chance to demonstrate our presence, to hold up all the variations and permutations of LGBT* identity, and to show that they are all so very possible.
As a community choir, we are a mixed bag – in age, in lifestyle, in gender identity and presentation, some of us with disabilities, and some of us with families. So when we stand together, we are a bold handful of possibilities; and singing, we can open ears and minds to the complex beauty in the harmony of individual voices.
As August gives way to September and the rush of summer abates, we will go back into regular rehearsals, drawn together by our common love of music, our stories, and our laughter. We will look back with pride on the music we created together, but more importantly on having built a space which embraces many hues and refractions. And we will hope to add to it.
– Amo Rex, Aug 2015
Songbirds Choir meets at 7.30 every Wednesday at City United Reform Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.