Sunday, November 15, 2009

Being true to yourself never goes out of style.

New York Times Fashion and Style section is one of my favorites. In case you thought New York fashion was all about being skinny, young, and wealthy, the Times reminds us that glamour is about more than appearance, and style comes from within. At least that is the case for Sara Davis Buechner, a classical pianist who lived her first 39 years as David. In 1998 David Buechner was a successful pianist. Later that year, living as Sara Buechner, the same talented individual couldn't find work. The price of being transgender in the classical music world was high:
In the next years, Ms. Buechner largely disappeared from public view, though not by choice. David had done 50 concerts a year — performing with philharmonic orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Francisco — but as Sara, she couldn’t get bookings. “Apart from local gigs, from 1998 to 2003, I did three to five concerts a year,” she said. David taught as an adjunct professor at Manhattan School of Music and New York University but as Sara, seeking a full-time professorship, “I applied 35 places and wouldn’t even get a response. Behind my back, I’d hear, ‘Is it safe to leave him in a room with undergrads?’ ”
While the world suffered the loss of a great pianist, Sara remained upbeat through devastating rejections and while struggling to make a living. Finally, in 2004 and with the help of a new agent Sara Buechner began to see more concert offers, especially in Canada, and was selected for a job at the University of British Columbia. Today she is a tenured professor, and performs more then 60 gigs a year. She is also married, and her family who were once skeptical of the change (in fact encouraging her to keep her transgender status a secret) are once again her biggest fans. Still, Sara Buechner doesn't enjoy quite the prestige that she did as David:
As Sara, she has been featured with the Buffalo, Oakland and Seattle philharmonics. But still not, she noted, with this country’s top-tier orchestras. “Now that it’s going in Canada, can we get it to trickle down to the U.S. and rebuild that career I lost?” she said.
Clearly the discrimination suffered by Sara in the first few years was a result of her choice to, as she puts it, "flush David Buechner down the toilet". For some reason Sara's transgender status trumped her obvious talent. Musical high society was unwilling or unable to accept the transformation. The article points out that, in 2009, few people even remember that Sara was once David, which begs the question, why hasn't Carnegie Hall asked her to come back?

For me, Sara Buechner represents the height of fashion and style: poise, confidence, talent, and humor. The New York Philharmonic, meanwhile, has proven that even pearls and fur can't conceal the tawdry trappings of bigotry.

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