Trans opera singer Lucia Lucas talks about her gender identity, the conservative industry of opera, trans idols and more. Photo by Johannes Kaplan.
Lucia Lucas, a female trans opera singer who plays male Baritone characters on stage, is performing in Madame Butterfly in the National Concert Hall on February 18, 19 and 21.
Lucia was working as an opera singer in Germany for several years where she held off making the decision to transition, for fear that her career might be compromised once she embarked on that journey.
Thankfully, Lucas continues to be successfully employed as an opera singer, proving her initial fears to be unfounded. She also blogs about her experiences as a trans woman on her own website.
We caught up with her after rehearsals for her upcoming performance as Sharpless in Madame Butterfly to ask her a few questions.
What was the hardest thing about keeping your gender identity a secret?
Well, I knew since I was five or six years old so when I was growing up I was basically studying this [performance of gender]. It was like really elaborate role study.
In retrospect, that’s really what it was and actually it really prepared me for my future on the stage. I was really closely playing attention to mannerisms, speech and walking and everything.
So as far as keeping it a secret, when I was in university, I actually had gone to school in dresses and stuff. But by the time I had moved to Germany, I was just trying to do my career.
It’s always been easy for me to talk about it and in fact now if I had film makeup, I have the mannerisms, like my mannerisms are good enough that I could go out in public and not be read female if I had film makeup on.
Did you have to come out to your wife Ariana?
Well, that I had presented female at school, that was no secret, and that’s where we got together. So when we got together, it was at a time when I said OK, I’m not going to do that anymore, I’m going to focus on my school and my career and try to be you know, try and have a typical life. So it was a conscious decision, but she knew. She knew about that before.
So while at that moment, that’s not something that I thought that I’d want. I mean we had discussions about it. She was like: “Is this something you are going to need to do?” And I said: “I don’t think so. That was something from before and I’m beyond that now.”
But of course you never really get beyond that.
— Lucia Lucas (@lucialucasde) December 22, 2014
It was always a question. It was something that I thought that I didn’t need. But clearly over the next eight to ten years, the need became more important.
I had lounge clothes that were more feminine at home, and it was sort of an open thing before we got married.
And then I was in Germany for I guess about three or four years before I knew that I had to transition. And she actually brought it up to me. She said ‘This is probably something that we should talk about.’
Do you feel that the opera industry is too conservative?
I think when you’re talking about an industry that’s privately funded, such as the US, they’re extremely conservative.
There was a German production that was brought to San Francisco when I was still in the States and there was some family that gave like $5 million a year or something like that [to the theatre that put it on]. So I mean, that’s part of their budget, you can’t easily replace that amount of money.
Immediately, that funding was gone. So if you’re in Germany, let’s say, and there’s a full-time theatre, even if they want to shut down the theatre, or give less money to the arts, it takes years and years before the theatre feels that impact [because it receives public funding].
Whereas in the States, if you have a donor who says I’m pulling five million of my funding, then immediately you feel that impact restructure your next year’s season because you don’t have the money.
What I’m saying is if you know that your funding is coming in regardless of what productions you do and who you engage, I think it’s easier for you to take risks.
Whereas my colleagues might be nice, the administration may personally say “Yeah, sure, whatever , but if our clientele can’t deal with this, we don’t want to lose funding.”
So in that respect, they’re trying to respect the conservative interest of their public, should they be conservative.
Would you ever consider branching out into other disciplines like musical theatre?
Yeah, before I did opera I did musical theatre. Actually in California I did a small black box theatre with a maximum audience of one hundred.
I did an original musical called ‘The Shores of Americay’ and it was actually about Irish immigrants going to California, not to build the railroad but to look for gold.
So that was, strangely enough, that was my first musical theatre production, even before opera.
What advice would you give to encourage other trans performers?
Know your craft – really well. If you are trans and you are working anywhere, whether it’s on the stage, or serving coffee, or a surgeon, or anything, it’s imperative that you know your craft ten times better than anybody else. People will look for you to slip up, because no one is fired for being trans.
No one is actually fired for being trans because there are generally rules in most countries about firing somebody specifically because of a trait that they have, whether it’s religion, or skin tone, or country of origin, or whatever, there is, generally (within the West) rules about that.
So nobody is really fired for being trans, that’s not the official reason given, but they will find reasons if they want to fire you.
They’re not going to fire you for being trans but they might fire you for being 30 seconds late.
They might fire you for all sorts of different stuff, and if you don’t have a job, well, if you haven’t yet really started on your social, or medical, or whatever transition, you’re going to have a hard time, because transitioning costs money.
Even if you have a single care health system, transition costs money, even just to replace your wardrobe, that costs a lot of money.
So what I would say to anybody, be really good at whatever you do. You have to be better than somebody who is not trans. It’s unfortunate, but being trans really does separate you from people. And people will look for reasons to single you out.
Who do you think is a good role model for trans people?
Janet Mock, she wrote Redefining Realness, and Laverne Cox, she’s an actress, I think her show Doubt comes out this week. It’s a network TV show which should be really great because she was on Orange Is The New Black and she didn’t have that much to do on there.
I think that Jamie Clayton is a fantastic actress, she’s not really an advocate, but she was in Sense-8. I think the Wachowski sisters are great people to have to show the worth, artistically, of trans people, and that character that Jamie Clayton plays, Nomi, she’s one of the most flushed out trans characters that I’ve ever seen. So I think that Lana did a really, really great job of that and I’m really looking forward to the next season.
Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are just fantastic, fantastic speakers. It’s also nice that they have a bit of intersectionality to their identity. They’re not just white trans girls who are coming from money. There’s a huge sort of revolution in the feminist community. If you’re a white girl coming from wealth, you probably should let some other people have the microphone, and that’s something that I think about as well because I didn’t come a rich family, but I didn’t come from a poor family either.
I think it’s fantastic to have people who have less privilege taking the reins, because there’s a larger group of people who can identify with them, and gain strength from them.
Is there anything you would say to people who are living in America at the moment, or anywhere in the world, who are worried about Trump’s administration?
If you’re in school, if you’re under eighteen: get good grades so that you can move to a place where you will be comfortable.
It is very important. Get good grades, go away to a school. If you’re trapped in the middle of America, whether you come out or not, prepare, get good grades so that you can go off to San Francisco or Chicago or New York or someplace where it is less dangerous for you.
Tickets for Madame Butterfly can be purchased here.
Copyrighted image of Lucia Lucas provided courtesy of Johannes Kaplan.