Authentic, but how? What questions would you ask this organization….

by cv harquail on May 21, 2008


I found a great story in my local paper about a woman in my town who sings in a men’s chorus. Yes, you read that correctly–She is in a Men’s chorus.

While not exactly like the photo, above, I think the ratio in this chorus is at least 75:1 men to woma n. Which is interesting, because– I don’t know about you, but — when I think of a "men’s chorus", the picture I have is more like this….

I suspect that this organization is either very special or very inauthentic — how else could the organization embrace being ‘for men’ and also embrace a woman/not man member?

There is obviously more to this story. Specifically, how can we understand this organization’s authenticity, if it defines itself as "a men’s chorus" at the same time that it admits a woman member?

I’m excited to say, I have the chance to interview Joan, the female member of the Men’s Chorus, early next week! I can’t wait to learn more about how Joan became a member of the Men’s Chorus, and explore what it says about ‘who’ the Men’s Chorus is that it welcomed her as a member.

There are so many different questions about authenticity that we might explore, that I thought I should ask you what you’d be interested in knowing…

What other questions should I ask Joan about her organization?

Send me your suggestions by making a comment, below. Or, shoot me an email at

I’ll put the questions together, talk with Joan, and report back…..

**note: to see the comments that have already been made, click on the "# comments" link…. (5.22.08 7 am)


Ian Ayres May 21, 2008 at 10:21 pm

What are the circumstances (if any) in which explicit organizational sex discrimination is justified? Are these circumstances symetric — so it is okay to exclude women from male “activities” as well as to exclude men from “female” activities? So it okay to stop females from playing for “male” teams? Is it okay to stop males from playing for “female” teams? Is it okay to stop women from applying to the Citadel? Is it okay to stop men from appling to Bryn Mawr? In a world, where John Travolta can play a woman straight and a woman can play Bob Dylan straight, is it okay to categorically refuse to consider “cross-gendered” casting?

Mary Jo Hatch May 22, 2008 at 5:49 am

Possible question (obvious): Tell me the story behind how you came to be a member of a Men’s Choir when you are clearly a woman!

Another: How did/does your membership in the Men’s Choir change how you think about yourself? How you think about men?

CV Harquail May 22, 2008 at 10:58 am

Mary Jo– that question about how becoming an unconventional/ ‘minority’ / out-of-type member is *intriguing*. I’ll ask Joan about how being a member has influenced her self-definition. … is there something self-defining that she shares with the men/organization? Has she acculturated or identified herself in ways that allow her to ‘fit in’? Has she resisted that? We’ll find out!

CV Harquail May 22, 2008 at 11:06 am

Hi Ian-

I’m not sure that the organization is discriminating per se… if no women (other than Joan) seek to be admitted, can we say that the organization is discriminating?

Or, is there a way that being ‘male’ is a ‘bona fide employment/membership criterion’? I hear your question as being about criteria for inclusion and exclusion that is ‘bio-identity’ based… And to make it more specific to Joan and this organization, would it work for you if I asked her under what conditions her being denied membership might have felt ok to her??

Also, Ian, would you have different questions and concerns about membership criteria and discrimination if I told you that (1) the chorus is the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus, and that (2) Joan was for 10 years the Director of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)?

As I mentioned, there is *MORE* to the story! 🙂

Adelaide May 22, 2008 at 12:35 pm

THese questions are really intriguing…

What about “How would you feel about a 2nd woman (or more) joining the group?” If that’s being considered, do you think you should have more of a say than the other (male) members? Would be interested in when she would think the group would lose its identity, and also if there are issues of her self-identification as the only woman.

If you want to go down the discernment line of questioning with sports analogies, there’s always the Danica Patrick/Michelle Wi (sp) or the Renee Richards paths to follow in examining the questions that Ian raises.

There’s actually a very funny “will and grace” episode where Matt Damon plays a character who is straight and joins the NYC Gay Man’s chorus, and Jack outs him.

CV Harquail May 22, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Thanks so much for the info about Will&Grace– I’ll see if I can find that online, b/c (not sure if you saw the reply to Ian, above) this is actually the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus– I wonder how much of the comedy reflected Joan’s experience?

I love that line of thinking– is there a ‘tipping point’ up to which the organization can ‘deviate’ but beyond which marks a change in ‘who they are’ and thus in the balance that creates authenticity….

And for the individual member herself, how much depends on being the only one? Hmmmmmmm

Deb May 23, 2008 at 3:54 am

First I have a question as to Joan’s position in the chorus as a singer. Does her voice uniquely qualify her to sing in a male range? Or is it the oppostie: does she bring something special to the group as, say, a soprano or alto voice that is higher than the others’ voices? Again, this raises the question of whether she is she a “one-off” in her role? Or is she simply a female tenor (of which there are a number out there) who blends right in and might be considered qualified due to her voice alone? Also, would it be legitimate — or perhaps highly offensive! — to ask Joan if being a gay woman makes her MORE qualified to be the only woman in this group. As a gay woman, is her gender or her view of it more fluid/less rigid than that of most women, allowing her to claim a slightly “male” status? Ok, never mind — a minefield…but I wonder. As a straight woman who once sang with a lot of gay men in a mixed chorus, I nonetheless cannot imagine I would ever feel that I was qualified to audition for a gay men’s chorus. Maybe Joan has a closer identification with them which makes her role possible. And finally, in a context where gender definitions may be more fluid, or at least are less traditional, is it possible her identification is “authentic” in ways that I could not judge as a tradition-bound straight first alto?

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