Paula's Place

Paula's Place

Sunday, 18 March 2018

More WOW!!!

It has been quite a week, and now it seems hard to believe that it is only a week ago that I was sitting on the platform of the Royal Festival Hall surrounded by women all coming to gather to make music, and a point or two!

This weekend I have virtually nothing on, and what I had planed couldn't be done due to the weather ~ Yes we've got snow again!  This has lead me to thinking, thinking about just why playing at WOW has, and does mean so much to me.   As an avid Women's Hour listener I have been aware of the festival for a while, but not specifically about the big finale event in the main Hall with Sandy Toksvig, so when back in 2014 a friend shared the call for musicians for the 2015 event it came as a bit of a surprise, a very pleasant surprise that they considered me to be a suitable applicant.

Orchestra and Choir ~ with many conductors!
 If I remember correctly the application form invited all musicians of a competent standard who are women, or identify as women, to apply. At that stage I was still very sensitive about being considered a woman, and felt that playing in this event would be affirmation of my womanhood. I was quite right, as  young trans woman, young as in accepting that I'm trans not in terms of how many rings there will be to count if my heads cut off, it was inspiring. I was still very nervous, I was constantly expecting somebody to call me out, shout out "That's not even a proper woman!" I certainly wasn't ready for communal changing facilities.   All the other ladies made me very welcome, accepted me as part of the orchestra and as part of the wider sisterhood. Nobody mentioned, or suggested that I might be Trans.

The second year was simply the coolest thing I have done in music, or just about any other sphere of life. It was hot on the heels of this that BBC started filming for the Great British Amateur Orchestra Challenge at about 17:30 in you can hear a few of us singing "We are family" as I recount the story of my previous weekend.   I was feeling a bit more confidence in myself, both as a woman and as a musician, this was about the time that I began to realise that I had been acting all my life, I had just been playing a variety of roles, husband, father, employee, musician, in many ways this was when I started to develop the confidence to be me, all the time.

Being asked to play for third year running was a great affirmation of me as a musician, it meant that I was good enough, that I did have a right to be on that stage, I did not have to worry about being found out (imposter syndrome is a big problem for a lot of musicians). It was also my way as a woman, of saying enough! time for a change!

Sneaky shot of the section during performance
This year was different, I wanted to play, not just because it's fun, not just because I enjoy the music and the camaraderie, this year I wanted to play to make apolitical statement, a political statement as a Transgender Woman and as a Feminist.   Over the last few years things have got better for trans people, we have attained a lot more general acceptance in society. A few high profile transitions have helped make it all seem a little less strange.   But then over the last year there has been a bit of a back lash, with some quite hateful stuff coming out, especially from a group who describe themselves as feminists. This hurts as much as when people claiming to be Christian show hate instead of love, where we should be getting the greatest support we find some of the worst rejection.   So for me to get on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall as a Trans Woman at the Nations premier Feminist event would be a real political action ~ Actions Not Words!

The opening Fanfare
When I found I was not going to play I was quite knocked back, I really wanted this year! But then I reflected that I had played for three years, it is great that other, younger women, are now playing at a standard where they can do this, and that they want to. I was just trying to decide how many tickets to buy when I got the e-mail calling me up.   Again a bit of a roller coaster as my first thought was personal elation that I would be part of this, my second thought was disappointment for the player whose place I was taken through sickness, and then fear as at that point I hadn't played the trombone since Christmas!

Of course it all went really well, I'm looking forward to a new venture Women Of the World Brass, but one of the most notable things about this year's event for me was that I was talking to other performers about being trans, and getting so much love and support, this for me is the true face of feminism.

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