HIGH – by Livingston Woolf

(c) 2017, Livingston Woolf.

In my teens, my parents dragged me from specialist to specialist. They were ashamed of my “perversion” as my enlightened father called it. Ultimately, they dragged me to an endocrinologist who put me through a battery of tests. Mom and dad were shocked when they heard the doctor’s report

“There’s an abnormality of the pituitary gland,” Dr. Kim said. “Not enough testosterone was produced at the onset of puberty and because of this Orlando’s vocal cords never thickened properly.

“How do we fix it?” my mother asked

“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do,” Dr. Kim said. “But don’t worry, Mrs. Farinelli, it’s not a life threatening disease. It’s just a condition Orlando will have to live with. Some people live with being midgets. Some are born with missing limbs. And Orlando will have to live with a voice that makes him sound female. There are worse things.”

“There’s nothing worse than being a fag,” my father said.

“I’m not a fag!” I squeaked. Actually, I already knew I was queer, but I was being defensive.

My father turned on my mother. “This comes from your side,” Loretta. “Your uncle is a homo and you passed those tainted genes on to our son. Or should I say our daughter? I wanted a son and you gave me a fairy.”

Years later, after dad divorced mom and married Marge, he got the son he wanted. Of course Frankie is now in prison for armed robbery, but when he gets out in eight to ten I’m sure he’ll emerge with his baritone voice intact, not to mention the swastika on his left bicep.

One thing Frankie and I always had in common was our tempers. He beats up women (and I guess that made him a “real man” in our father’s eyes). In my case, several of my schoolmates wound up with black eyes and bloody noses when they made fun of my voice. I was nearly expelled from my very strict Jesuit college for attacking some homophobic asshole in my statistics course.

In order to remain in school I had to agree to attend anger management classes. That’s where I met Brother James Corcoran, a pastoral counselor and Jesuit priest. After several sessions, Brother Jim pulled me aside one day and asked, “Have you ever done any singing, Orlando?”

“Not even in the shower,” I said. Brother Jim, it turned out, played the organ for a Baroque choir and they needed a countertenor.  I didn’t even know what a countertenor was until Brother Jim explained.

As it turned out, I had talent. Not as a countertenor, exactly.  With my rare endocrinological anomaly and my previously untapped ability as a singer, I emerged as a male soprano, not unlike the castrati of the Sixteenth Century.

I had help, of course. Brother Jim recognized my talent and connected me with the right teachers and some wealthy music patrons. These generous souls paid for my schooling and sent me to Europe where I learned performance technique and languages.

I met the directors of various opera houses.  I started getting work. Then I started getting raves. I went from singing at small, German houses to singing at all the major venues. I have learned how to transform rage into kickass vocal runs. My e-flats are the envy of coloratura sopranos all over Europe.

People pay to hear my voice.

I’m glad Dr. Kim, all those years ago, couldn’t “fix” me.  My voice is my fortune.  The public adores me. So does my husband. I met him when we were both singing in Germany. He’s a bass-baritone.  My parents “couldn’t make it” to my wedding.

Dad passed last year. I couldn’t make it to his funeral. I was singing in Rome. But his favorite son Frankie was allowed to attend, in handcuffs and surrounded by police officers.

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Livingston Woolf is a queer Jew, father, grandfather, author, fiction reader and opera lover.  He lives in NYC, which they haven’t blown away yet.

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