Belonging Stories

Jun 19, 2022

Our upcoming concert explores the idea of belonging. We asked our Puget Soundworks singing community to share stories with us about their experiences of belonging, not belonging, and everything in between. We hope that these stories inspire you and give you hope for a better world.
Tickets for online performances still available for June 25, 26th, and 29.
Get your tickets today! Click here to purchase.
A poem by Vanessa Carr, our Captain Veeevers

“Why I Sing Here”

When a Queer has a query
About Queers who may be near
My Dear, we’re right here.

Don’t stand alone
At the end of that old pier
Come on along, we are here.

Shed not a tear
Let’s have coffee or a beer
Learn to sing this sing along song
Out and loud and with cheer

Help steer this ship of fearless Queers
To its place of Love and Kindness
Right here, My Dear.
Our second story about belonging comes from singer Janet Ploss. This story explores loving acceptance of ourselves and our bodies and overcoming a sense of being “other.”

 

From Janet:

 

For many years, every time I went to the gym to work out by myself, I felt physically ill – that’s how strong my sense of not belonging was. I would think to myself: “All of these other people here – they are fit, and they work out on their own regularly. That’s what I’m supposed to do, but I am not one of them.”

My sense of being other and my physical disease were so strong that I would cut short my workout and get the hell out of there!

But I was frustrated because I knew that if I only went to the gym once a week when I worked out with a personal trainer, I would never get stronger. Yet I hated going to the gym and working out alone. Everything changed for me when the athletic director at the gym told me that HE also didn’t like working out alone.

 

His admission led me to start showing up regularly for group classes, and that led to a change in how I felt at the gym. Once I accepted that there is not a defect in my character, and that I am just not someone who likes to work out alone, I started to feel like I belonged at the gym. Then I no longer felt other.

Our third singer story comes from singer Michael Woodward. These stories explore Michael’s experience with transitioning, finding his voice, and what it feels like not to belong


From Michael:

I started college in 1981 as a voice major. It was long before I knew transitioning genders was possible, but I was uncomfortable with my high soprano voice — and I didn’t really care much about opera either. I used to say I wanted to be Pat Benatar, not Beverly Sills. (Oh, the irony today!) I quit music school, but I didn’t quit singing. And because I love to sing, I had to do a lot of soul searching when I was considering transitioning 15 years later – what would happen to my singing voice on testosterone? I knew a few guys who said they lost their ability to sing when they transitioned. I could not bear the thought of that. But the thought of not living authentically now that I had discovered myself was even more unbearable. So I did, and I am so glad I did. Now nearly 25 years into life as Michael, I truly feel like the voice I have now belongs to me, not someone else.

As far as NOT belonging, transitioning in Indiana in the previous millennium was not for the faint of heart. And while we’ve all come a long way since then, it still is not a walk in the park even in the best of times. Our most vulnerable, already at-risk trans kids are being attacked all across the nation. As someone who has dedicated a significant portion of my life and career to trans advocacy, it is hard not to feel each one of those attacks on a personal level. They serve as a reminder that belonging is a privilege, not a right.


Our fourth singer story comes from Amy Kastelin. This story explores Amy’s experience with how connection and visibility foster belonging.
From Amy:
When I was 15 years old I became pregnant and ended up carrying my daughter to term and surrendering her for adoption. The ways being pregnant changed my young body were quite distressing to me and caused me a great deal of shame. I had visible stretch marks across my belly and felt that I was flawed. I remember very clearly being at a summer music festival in my home town and dancing around with some other young women in our flowing skirts, one with her belly bared. I saw that she had stretch marks on her belly too, the clear sign that she too had carried a baby. I danced over to her and showed her my belly and the two of us embraced, our stretchy skin pressed into one another, no words needed. In that moment I felt seen and was literally embraced.

Seeing a woman who looked like me made me feel less alone and ashamed.

Our fifth singer story comes from Cindy Mix. Cindy’s story examines the relationships between belonging and loneliness, between identity and religion, and her journey to finding places where she belongs.

From Cindy:

I don’t know how many of you in our audience, or even here in our chorus, have struggled with “belonging.” I know I did as a youth and young adult. I’m quite proud that I was able to overcome this struggle.

When you use your hand held computers to look up the opposite of the word “belonging,” you get “lonely.” Words often affiliated with “belonging” are: acceptance, attachment, connection, closeness, rapport, kinship. That certainly sounds quite positive! Words affiliated with “lonely” are: rejected, unloved, unwanted, unpopular, and sad. I’m pretty sure none of us wanted to be lonely, but some of us certainly were.

In our Belonging concert, we sing a song entitled “I Ain’t Afraid,” written by Holly Near. I was working on memorization of this song and was writing down all the words when some feelings that I had as a young person welled up and reminded me of my loneliness due to this lack of belonging. My family is Catholic, and Catholics denounced members of the LGBTQ community. It was my understanding that if I identify as part of the LGBTQ community, I’m on the fast track to hell and most certainly NOT a good Catholic. When I knew I was attracted to women, I feared going to hell. I retreated into this shell of fear and loneliness, hoping that no one would ever find out about me. I denied my own self and lived a closeted life.

I did somehow continue to put one foot in front of the other, and eventually found places where I belonged. I was an athlete, and a good one; I was a kid in summer camp where I could be just me; I was a camp counselor where I was safe. This safety allowed me to distance myself from non-supportive people, and that darn church. I often say that I gave up Catholicism for Lent.

I sing “I Ain’t Afraid” from my soul. I’ve found my own spirituality, one that believes everyone and everything, has its own place, and its own beliefs. I’m not afraid – because I belong.


Our final story comes from singer and board member Diana Gard. Diana’s story explores how she found belonging by building relationships in new communities and living live as her true self.

From Diana: When I was a child, we moved at least every year, so I was the new kid all the way through to high school. What that looked like at first, is that I would jump right from the moving van off to the neighborhood houses, knock on doors, and acquire a reasonable posse of new friends. As I grew older, that got harder, and my sense of belonging grew less certain. I’m guessing the slow realization that I was gay was the reason for this difficulty. It was very easy for me to fit in as a child because I was good at reading groups of people and would just become the person each new group liked most. Once I realized my true self was not necessarily likable, I had to make a choice not to fit in. Not to belong. I made that choice, and came out, finally, when I was 23. At the time I believed I was choosing to be alone the rest of my life. The good news, of course, is that wasn’t the outcome. I found my people, even though – and maybe because – I was being my true self!

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