ANNA Crusis was founded in 1975 as a community choir with the mission of uplifting the voices of women. It became a safe space for lesbians and straight women alike: a feminist women’s choir. Over the years, as diversity in gender identity and expression became more and more visible, the choir’s makeup changed with it, but without a clear understanding of what that meant to us as a community. To be more welcoming to our transgender community, we began to make changes. Our language shifted; singers were no longer ‘women and sisters,’ but sopranos, altos, and siblings. The restrooms in our rehearsal venue lost their gendered designations. Our concert costuming expanded to include more options. But along with these changes, it became clear that some members felt concerned and fearful about the potential loss of their women-centered space. We realized that we needed a more intentional choir-wide process.
Our journey progressed over four years, with many questions and discussions that were not at all easy. It became clear that some of our transgender singers experienced the dichotomy of feeling welcomed as a person but not necessarily seen and embraced as members of the transgender community. They wondered if they would have been accepted as a new member if they were trans? Did we truly create a community where everyone belonged, or were we just making room without working toward a deeper cultural shift? Did our feminism need to grow and change with the times?
We struggled to get to the heart of what it meant to belong. We wondered how to talk about it, so everyone felt heard and respected. We also wondered what potential change would mean for our membership, our identity, our voicing, our name. For everyone involved, it was a challenging time.
We had many discussions, panels, training sessions, member surveys, and countless hours of committee meetings. Our conversations led to the realization that moving forward would mean making big decisions about our name and membership. Eventually, we concluded that the whole-hearted inclusion of transgender people in the ANNA Crusis community of singers is fundamentally an extension of our feminist values. By a majority vote, the choir decided that membership would be open to anyone in the transgender community who could sing in the treble vocal range.
Choir members also voted to change ANNA’s name from ANNA Crusis Women’s Choir to ANNA Crusis Feminist Choir. This name change reflects our commitment to gender-expansive membership while also honoring our history and core values.
In keeping with ANNA’s mission to “value and seek diversity and inclusion in its membership and music selection,” song selection is intended to represent all of our lives, singer and audience, reflecting issues that are important to us, stories that need to be told. The goal is not to find individual pieces that speak to a universal experience, but to stand in solidarity and in support of each other’s stories. The songs we sing tell a variety of experiences and perspectives that point our singers and our audiences to a greater understanding of the rich diversity of the world in which we live.