SAI (Sweet Adelines International, the women’s barbershop organization I sing with) is more a part of my faith than any god has ever been. I joined when I was 14, which means very soon over half my life will be measured in pantyhose and false eyelashes. Many of us can say we would be completely different people if it weren’t for barbershop, and I’m no different. I can’t imagine my life without it, and I generally don’t want to.
There are moments, though, where I do imagine my life without it. I have doubts. I wonder what it would be like to offer the many hours I spend to another organization, maybe one that helps LGBTQ+ youth, promotes environmental sustainability, supports local individuals with mental health issues, or addresses race relations in my community. In a darker way, I find myself wondering whether offering my time and energy to this craft is frivolous and thoughtless in a time when there are so many other causes that deserve urgent attention.
People say you have to care for yourself before you can care for others, and this is our way of calibrating our own conscience in order to be able to do good in the world. But is it still self-care if I question my priorities more than I devote myself to them?
People say making music together is a unifying act, that it can cross barriers words and actions simply cannot. But is it still unifying if I look around me and see a largely homogeneous group of people, even internationally, and audiences that are only a mirror?
People say rehearsal nights are the ones you can be yourself, let bygones be bygones, and put aside any differences in the interest of learning and harmonizing together. But am I truly myself if I continue to be terrified by views and ideologies that threaten me or people I love?
I’m not going anywhere–at least, not yet–mostly because my reverence for the role models who have helped me feel like I have a place is too great. I hope to be half as inspirational to younger members as those people have unknowingly been to me. But I gotta say, I’m tired.
I’m tired of the language we use highlighting a gender binary and heteronormativity. I’m tired of having to accept defaults like women’s songs about men and vice versa. I’m tired of talking about our bodies in ways that focus on flaws and encourage self-deprecation, instead of in ways that appreciate strength and function. I’m tired of the assumed holiday (read: traditional Christian Christmas) chorus season. I’m tired of fighting tooth and nail to defend a fairly innocuous piece of music for its perceived philosophical undertones while being expected to sing any song that has overt Christian roots. I’m tired of worrying that more inclusion in membership will only highlight people’s differences or create more polarization and ultimate alienation of new members.
Mostly I’m tired of thinking I’m “just too sensitive” for noticing these things and wishing for an atmosphere that does seem to be moving in the direction of greater tolerance and inclusion.
In the church of barbershop, sometimes I wish there were a minister who could offer counsel.