Opera rave masquerade: photo by Heather Bobeck

Aiden Feltkamp enjoying a night of music.

It's probably not thought about widely by others outside of the trans musical community, but music composition and trans voices often conflict with each other. Think about it; you're changing your body to make you feel authentic to your gender, but your voice doesn't exactly follow.

Furthermore, if you are a singer, that can be devastating. You want to be able to express your authentic self both in body and voice. There is a lack of musical compositions that are trans-inclusive, so Aiden K. Feltkamp decided they would create an anthology of pieces that transgender folks could use, and it's quite a milestone concept.

Aiden explains in the interview below how and why it's important to have inclusivity in the musical world. There are many questions with complicated answers, but it's an eye-opening story about something you probably haven't thought of before.

Aiden Felkemp sitting on a brick staircase

Aiden K. Feltkamp talks about trans voices and musical compositiion.

Aiden K. Feltkamp

For people such as myself who need a basic explanation of this project; can you tell me what it is and why it’s important.

Of course! As an opera singer, you mostly learn and perform music from 50-400 years ago. However, there are composers creating opera and classical art songs today. In the field, we call this New Music.

This anthology collects New Music -- songs from operas, art songs, and musical theater songs that have been written by living composers -- that feature trans and nonbinary voices. To be eligible for the anthology, the song had to meet one of three criteria: either the music was written by a trans or nonbinary composer, the text was written by a trans or nonbinary writer, or the music was written for, and performed by, a trans or nonbinary singer.

As a trans nonbinary opera singer myself, I found it difficult to find repertoire that aligned with my gender experience. This anthology was, at first, a project to rectify that. Then, I realized that many voice teachers with trans or nonbinary singers, as well as presenters who wanted to diversify their programming, wanted a place to find repertoire for/by trans and nonbinary performers. This anthology fills all of those needs in our industry.

There isn't an existing anthology of vocal works for trans and nonbinary singers (believe me, I've tried to find one!). So this is the first. It's important for that reason, and for the others, I've explained above.

How are trans voices different and why would they need compositions in varied ranges that are not typical in traditional music?

Since trans people span the gamut of genders and ranges, the compositions must also. This is especially important because so much music written for women sits in the treble range, but feminine people can possibly have voices in the bass and treble ranges. The same goes for repertoire traditionally written for men.

What is voice Dysphoria?

In relation to trans and nonbinary people specifically, this is when your voice doesn't match your gender identity and therefore causes you gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is feeling discomfort or distress (to varying degrees) because your body differs in some way from your gender identity.

While most transmasculine people find their pre-HRT voice dysphoric, I didn't. Sometimes my speaking voice pre-HRT would cause people to misgender me as female and that would lead to gender dysphoria, but I didn't feel that my speaking or singing voice pre-HRT was at odds with my gender identity.

Performer with short hair on stage dressed in button down shirt and slacks

Sweets by Kate Stonewall

Tommy Venus

Despite my personal experience, this is a serious issue for many trans and nonbinary people and leads to a lot of gender dysphoria. This is the main reason that I'm working with the Musical Mentors Collaborative on GEMM club: a program that provides free voice lessons to underprivileged and unhoused trans and nonbinary people.

Kim Petras is a popular pop diva whose range doesn’t seem forced. In other words, it seems biological. Are pop music voices easier to manipulate because of technology as opposed to live music which requires more training?

Every voice is equally biological. If we're talking about technique, there are different vocal techniques for different genres of music. It could just be that Kim Petras' voice is naturally better suited to a pop style of singing. It's also possible she could learn to sing more classically if she wished. Production on pop songs can hide technical "flaws" (such as intonation issues or taking a breath where it's less than desirable) where live music cannot, but classical music can also be produced in a way to hide these things. Classical music tends to be more exposed, just as a facet of the genre, and the technique can be more complicated, but I don't think that one genre or style of singing is more forced than another.

Connecting to Songs as Your Authentic Self

What advice would you give a trans person who just sings casually with the radio or in the shower but suddenly feels self-conscious after transitioning?

Is there a psychological thing that happens, say to a trans female, when a past favorite song features a male lead singing about “male” things then suddenly that person transitions and they revisit that same song? I can only speak from my own experience here.

Book cover in blue and purple of "Anthology of New Music"

Written by Aiden K. Feltkamp

Aiden K. Feltkamp

NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, Vol. 1 is available on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever books are sold. Visit https://newmusicshelf.com.

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Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.

Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.