Fourteen years ago, I remembered the choirs of my youth with too much distance, so I harbored no flashbacks that would keep me from joining a chorus as an adult. College was over, and grad school was over. I just worked. A lot. There was no reason why I couldn’t sing and dance again. It might be fun, I thought—a little something for work/life balance. So I auditioned. Some people I knew sang in the chorus, and I didn’t think: "are these people enjoying this because they are very different from me?"
Except they were.
I was this woman who paid dues to Planned Parenthood, hoping the world would turn out okay. They were a group requiring me to wear a lot of mascara in shows, something that stood out more than the tests we did to prove we knew the music.
After a year of less fun and more bullying than you can possibly imagine, I decided to stay with the chorus through an international competition. After that, all bets were off. It was to be a long song and dance.
One day at the contest finals we had finished rehearsing. As we waited until time to line up and go on stage, several chorus members grabbed me. It was as serious as the White House situation room and all we were doing was singing some songs in Canada.
“Sit!” someone demanded.
Most chorus members were laughing and talking to each other, oblivious. They walked by in bunches while several women made a circle around me.
“We have to redo your hair,” one of the women said.
I didn’t think there was anything especially wrong with my hair. My hair is fine and limp, yes, but it styled okay. And anyway, when in life is it okay for an adult woman to grab another adult woman, and insist on doing her hair? Had I gone all the way to Canada to be assaulted with a hairbrush?
I already had stage makeup and my glittery costume on. Several women holding giant cans of hairspray insisted that something about me wasn’t right. They morphed my hair, moving it to some style I have blocked from memory. They stood around me, their faces grim as if my hair were the most serious thing they had ever seen before going on a stage.
By the time we walked on stage moments later, prepared to win a major award, I knew that I would take myself off the chorus roster and back out into the world. I took one step forward and then another. I pushed aside that I felt like those old stories of Gloria Steinem, dressed undercover as a Playboy bunny. And I climbed the risers, listening to them shake underneath us. I heard, but could not always see, the shapes in the dark under the dimmed house lights. In a moment, I started to smile, dancing as I sang with the other women for the very last time.