Directed by Gail Willumsen, the 50-minute documentary “Out Loud” chronicles the beginnings of the first all-transgender-identified chorus in America—the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (TCLA)—as they interject a whole new presence into the choral industry.
The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles
With only six months of preparation, TCLA launched its 2016 debut as California’s first transgender chorus group. TCLA is led by trans artistic director and co-founder, Lindsey Deaton. The non-profit organization welcomes all members of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex communities and nurtures an inclusive space to uplift these groups through music.
While they all share similar trans and nonbinary experiences, the choristers in “Out Loud” come from various different backgrounds in terms of race, class, nationality, age, and education. “The commonality is that they all love to sing and they all love to sing their truth,” stated TCLA’s executive director Lisa Marchbanks.
Gail Willumsen’s Documentary Film “OUT LOUD”
Through intimate storytelling and montages of rehearsal footage, “Out Loud” unveils TCLA’s journey towards amplifying transgender voices within the choral industry.
In the film, as the choristers practice “Iris” by The Goo-Goo Dolls, the audience witnesses the singing and how the members of this chorus bear the profundities of their spirits. They passionately croon lyrics like “I don’t want the world to see me / Cause I don’t think that they’d understand / When everything’s made to be broken / I just want you to know who I am.”
Reorienting this mainstream song through a queer lens allows the choristers to mirror individual and collective experiences of being transgender, which is vital for universal audiences to see.
Combating the preconceptions against the transgender community, these choristers bravely reclaim the stage while embracing their truths through exhibition and performance.
According to lead guitarist Nicole Dandy, “the trans community has been undergoing an awakening at the point where people are feeling more comfortable being like ‘I look trans, I am trans and I look fucking badass.'”
“OUT LOUD” Highlights the Challenges Faced by Trans Members of TCLA
“Out Loud” highlights the pressures that come with becoming the first all-trans-identified chorus in America to debut on stage. The weight of this significant achievement raises questions surrounding whether the audience will view TCLA as more than just a “trans chorus” but also a musically-inclined one.
The chorus consists of members ranging from classically-trained singers to attendees who hold little to no previous experience in vocal performance. Deaton’s mission is to “help these choristers to discover, love and use their voices,” however, there are difficulties surrounding this.
Trans Women and Voice Registers
According to Deaton, some of the trans women restrain from embracing their lower registers or using their chest-voices and continue using falsetto tones.
Chorister Kathryn Davis expresses that “in my heart, I sing way up here. And in my real voice, I sing baritone.”
This struggle is unique to the transgender experience.
“Unlike women in other choruses, our women are tenors, baritones and bases,” stated Deaton. “And then, there are our female-to-males that are on testosterone, whose voices are moving down as their vocal chorus lengthen and thicken and we are witnessing it in real-time in this chorus.”
However, these trans women and trans men slowly begin to accept their natural vocal ranges to obtain a collective voice as a group. This is because TCLA is about more than just vocal presentation, as it’s also about the palpable elation and love these choristers radiate through music.
“OUT LOUD” Documents the Stories of Choristers
TCLA would not exist without the individuals who shape it.
Although the film centers on TCLA, it also focuses on its choristers through interviews about their lives beyond the group, which roots its narrative with multiple layers of sincerity.
Gender Identity and Being Nonbinary
Rex E. Wilde’s emotive story outlines their journey with being nonbinary.
Wilde recounts their struggles with “fitting into” a gender identity—they couldn’t sing or perform as a cis-gendered woman without feeling inauthentic to themselves. The film reveals intimate moments of Wilde binding their breasts, as well as the steps they take before and after getting chest surgery. After their chest procedure, the visible transformation in Wilde’s nature, indicates they’ve leaped towards fully living as their candid self.
Another story involves Ann Thomas, who works as a water jet machinist by day and works to restore authentic transgender representation in Hollywood by night. By starting a Transgender Talent Management company, Thomas has made it her mission to give trans actors jobs in film/tv/commercials.
These little snapshots into each chorister’s life personalize them and emphasize the gifts they bring to the table, which the film cleverly encapsulates. Hearing the choristers individually speak their truth, intensifies the importance of them being able to come together and allowing their experiences to intertwine with each other through song.
Unity as a Narrative Theme in “OUT LOUD”
The theme of unity and interconnectedness runs through the veins of this film.
In training her choristers, Lindsey employs the approach of “eurhythmics,” which refers to physical movements that mirror the beat. When rehearsing, the chorus members are encouraged to espouse the melodies they hear with their bodies in order to understand how rhythms operate, which suggests a physical union with music.
Shared Experiences: Trans and Nonbinary Individuals
There is also a sense of unity among the choristers in their shared, interconnected experiences as trans and nonbinary individuals.
When singing Jeff Marx’s “You Have More Friends Than You Know,” they express the notion that whatever one is going through, they don’t have to “go through it on their own.”
“Feeling” and “Hearing” their pain, the lyrics in this song resonate with the members, especially James Wen. “Growing up trans, especially when your family doesn’t recognize or see you, it is extraordinarily lonely,” said Wen. “So to be in a room full of choristers who are all of trans experience, you realize you’ve got more friends than you know.”
OUT LOUD: Empowering the Trans Community
Through various montages of these transgender individuals singing, laughing and relating with each other, audiences notice that they all carry a combined desire to deliver themselves a voice; independently and in unison.
“Out Loud” incites a larger message to the transgender community: You have the power to situate yourself in this world and among others who embrace you and you can do it through perfect harmony.
“OUT LOUD” is part of the Socially Relevant Film Festival’s 2021 lineup.