birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Trial by Red Vest

When the junior high show choir, the Varsity Singers, came to perform at my elementary school, I was transfixed. I already played the piano pretty seriously (I started accompanying the school chorus in 5th grade), and when they showed up I knew I wanted to sing. I loved everything about it: their strong voices, the choreography, even the red shiny vests. I knew the vests were over the top, but I wanted one anyway. To me, the show choir kids represented the pinnacle of musical success.

When I actually got to junior high, which started in 7th grade in my district, I didn't apply to Varsity Singers the first year. I still wanted to, and when no one was home I would blast my parents' record albums and sing my head off. I would have imaginary conversations with Mrs. Black, the music teacher, wherein she would be so impressed with my audition that she would bend over backwards to let me in on the spot. But there was something holding me back: fear.

The show choir kids were so free in their expression. A lot of the guys in show choir seemed gay. In my town, in my school, in my family, that was not exactly the encouraged path. So I shoved down my secret wishes, kept playing the piano, and tried out for the basketball team, instead. My dad already complained enough about me practicing when he was watching TV. I couldn't imagine what he would have to say about me joining the red-vested crew.

I didn't make the basketball team, despite the fact that I was one of the tallest girls in my grade. I was overweight and I was not what one would call coordinated. So the next year, I finally got up the courage to try out for show choir. Mrs. Black said I had a spot if I wanted it. I remember quite clearly standing outside of the green-carpeted room and thinking "If I do this, my life will be different forever."

It felt like if I joined the choir, I'd be admitting that the queerness and exuberant creative expression of the people in it called to something deep down in me. I don't think I could've put that into words at the time, but I do remember being aware that joining meant I'd be taking a step in the complete opposite direction of the heteronormative, sports-centered world of my dad and brothers. In the end I couldn't ignore the call. I stepped into the room and donned the red vest.

I made my best friends in Varsity Singers. It was also, indeed, where I met my first queer buddies. They weren't out yet, but there were whispers, and besides, everyone just kind of knew. Sadly, some of those people didn't come out until after college. Hell, I didn't come out as bi until college either, even though I knew early on that it was part of me.

Varsity Singers was also where I made some my best middle school memories. People acting crazy in rehearsals. Finding the key to the area above the stage and playing cards there with my friends during study hall. The trip to Pittsburgh. The arrangement of The Water is Wide with the men's part that made the girls tear up.

I think that prescient thought I had about show choir changing the course of my life was probably accurate. It did change my life, and it helped me align more with who I really was and who I really wanted to be friends with. I never regretted it!