Liz Bouk, an opera singer, realized just seven months ago that he was living in the wrong body.
The Rochester, New York native always felt like something was wrong.
‘I have been unhappy for much of my life, sensing that there was something missing,’ he tells GSN.
Bouk, who studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, is also the mother of a son.
‘I grew up pretty conservative, and married my high school best friend when we were 21.
After grad school, he got a really good job and I went off the pill. I was pregnant that month,’ he explains.
‘The experience of being pregnant and having a child was the worst thing that ever
happened to me. During pregnancy I didn’t feel any of the things I was told I should — I
wasn’t excited. I dreaded baby showers. I hated the attention.’
‘I felt drowned and suffocated by cisgendered parenting expectations. My son’s existence wasn’t the problem, it was all the social norms and expectations surrounding the idea of being a mother that plagued me with anxiety and anger.’
‘I love my son. But I knew that I could never, would never, put my body through that ever again. And now I know why. ‘
‘In September of 2017, I realized that I have been living in the wrong body, and that I am a man. This explained the misunderstanding, misattunement, and pain that I had experienced in much of my life.’
In 2014, Bouk quit his job and moved to Manhattan—partially for his career and partially to find himself.
His family joined him in Manhattan in January 2017, but something was still amiss.
‘I was much happier once we moved to New York City, but still couldn’t shake the feeling
that something was deeply wrong. I often felt trapped: I imagined leaving my family to live
alone in the woods somewhere.’
‘I became enraged when I would be verbally harassed on the street, and I livid whenever anyone said the word “mother.” I thought a lot about what it meant to be a woman, and thought that I was just a staunch feminist. We started using gender neutral language at home and stopped celebrating gendered holidays like Mother’s Day.’
His true self
Bouk credits his yoga practice, as well as performing, with bringing him to the realization of his true identity.
‘In 2014 I started practicing yoga and taking dance classes because I wanted to feel more comfortable in my body,’ he recalls.
‘As I stretched, moved, and learned to recognize and release bodily tension, I grew more in touch with myself. I came home from a yoga class in September, looked in the mirror, and for the first time, saw who I was. I saw a beautiful man looking back at me — that was who I really was. I teared up and called my partner, (a straight cisgendered man) and he assured me that he would stand by my side no matter what.’
‘He, as a straight man, has had to reimagine how he sees me, and has had to trust that my new expression of self could still work in our relationship,’ Bouk says of his partner.
In terms of Bouk’s son, William, he ‘gets it.’
‘Children have great imaginations and are still open to a world of possibility,’ Bouk says.
‘He sees that my sex is female, but understands that some people are born into the wrong bodies, and that I’m really a man. He understands that gender is a social construct. (He himself has long hair and is often mistaken as a girl. He brushes it off.) He calls me Daddy now, and my partner Papa. He is happy to have two loving parents, two Dads, and senses a shift in me. I am happier, calmer, and much more fun to be around now that I’m not pretending to be a woman anymore.’
The blank slate
Bouk is currently working on a new opera, Tabula Rasa (a Latin saying that translates to ‘blank slate’), by gay composer Felix Jarrar and his writing partner Brittany Goodwin.
In the show, Bouk plays a DADAist named Tristan Tzara who sings about living his artistic truth.
‘Felix and Brittany created it for me so I could publicly express my new gender identity,’ Bouk says of the role.
‘Throughout my career, I’ve loved playing men (which I often do as a mezzo-soprano) but Tristan Tzara is the first male role I’ll bring to life as a man myself.’
‘He’s my own tabula rasa, my own blank slate, my own way of starting over. I’ve been able to finally express my new gender identity and to explore the gender that I hid for so many years. It is so refreshing to be in rehearsals and in character as my male self. It is wonderful that I don’t have to pretend to be a woman any longer in my personal and professional life.’
Being trans in the world of opera
Yet, Bouk still faces trouble in the entertainment industry as a trans man.
‘The industry still expects men to look like men and women to look like women,’ he explains.
‘I’m an opera singer, and taking testosterone would change my voice, something I’m unwilling to do at the moment. So I have to be proactive in expressing my gender identity, and getting people to understand that I’m a man, even though I look like a woman on the outside. I am definitely afraid that some people won’t accept me as trans because I’m not going to do hormone therapy.’
‘There aren’t many openly trans opera singers in the industry. For concert work (non-staged productions) women wear gowns for galas and performances while men wear suits or tuxes.’
‘I hope that by wearing a tux for my concert debuts that I can help blaze the path for other trans or gender fluid colleagues to feel more comfortable expressing their true selves instead of just doing what the industry expects and has done for so many years. It’s 2018, it’s time for change.’
‘It’s no coincidence that things are starting to take off for me career-wise at the same time that I’m publicly coming out,’ Bouk says. ‘I’ve found this best part of myself and am happy to finally share it with the world onstage and offstage.’
Learn more about Liz Bouk on his website, or connect with him on Facebook/Instagram: @lizbouk.
Tabula Rasa runs May 4, 5, 11, 12 in Manhattan, NY. Tickets available here.