by Anastasia Tsioulcas
February 04, 2013
Yesterday, pianist Sara Davis Buechner published on the New York Times website a brave and moving account of her experiences as a transgendered person. “As David Buechner, born in the northwest suburbs of Baltimore in 1959,” she writes, “I became an internationally known concert pianist. But from the time I was a child, I understood that I was meant to be Sara.”
As David, she won gold at the 1984 Gina Bachauer competition and bronze at the Tchaikovsky competition in 1986, and performed as a soloist with top-ranked ensembles including the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras.
What she goes on to say, however, is that after her gender reassignment surgery, her once-flourishing career stalled out — at least in the United States. Buechner’s story has much larger ramifications than its impact within the classical music community, but her assertion that she was rendered unemployable in her home country is troubling, to say the least. She writes: “In the United States, once I came out as Sara, I couldn’t get bookings with the top orchestras anymore, nor would any university employ me.” At the same time, she continues, her career has bloomed in Canada and abroad, particularly in Asia. She adds:
From The New York Times: An Evolving Country Begins to Accept Sara, Once David
By SARA DAVIS BUECHNER
Published: February 3, 2013
Ten summers ago, on an early evening stroll in Bangkok, I met a baby elephant. The animal’s owner was walking him past the open-air food stalls of one of the city night markets where, for the price of five Thai baht, one could purchase a handful of bamboo stalks and feed it to the little fellow. Concentrating on the broken sidewalk under my feet, and wishing not to trip, I hadn’t noticed the elephant until I nearly walked smack into him, eyeball to eyeball. Needless to say, it was a startling encounter. In my beloved Bronx, I had bumped into plenty of interesting creatures but no elephants. Being in Bangkok for extraordinary reasons, and in need of good luck, I fished into my purse and found a coin. I patted the head of the elephant for good measure as he crunched up his vegetarian treat.
Two mornings later I was wheeled in for the surgery I had needed since childhood. It was a fearful experience being so far from the familiar comforts of my Grand Concourse apartment. There was no money in my bank for an American surgeon (who would have charged six times as much). Nor did I have medical insurance — not that it would have made any difference. In 2002, no American insurer would approve payment for transgender surgery.
As David Buechner, born in the northwest suburbs of Baltimore in 1959, I became an internationally known concert pianist. But from the time I was a child, I understood that I was meant to be Sara. In those days, there was no information nor discussion of anything outside the heterosexual template. Nor were there role models for transgender children.
But in 1975, when I was a teenager, Richard Raskind — formerly the Yale men’s tennis captain and a lieutenant commander in the Navy — had surgery to become Renée Richards. It was front-page news in The Baltimore Sun. For the first time, I understood that I was not alone. But I said nothing; in those days I would have been taken to a psychiatric ward to be straightened out.
In an earlier time I might have remained hidden. But I am fortunate to have grown up as part of a generation in which so many — black people, women, gays — fought and gained so much. Their bravery and integrity inspired me.