A musician friend of mine says it’s possible to pick up a guitar or sit down at a piano, but a singing voice is something performers have to search for.
It’s a struggle Mandy Goodhandy knows well. While studying musical theatre at Sheridan College, the trans activist and artist fought endless battles with her vocal coaches. “I had no confidence in my voice because I was forcing myself to do things that didn’t come naturally to me,” she recalls. “My singing teacher would always say we had to put more bass in my voice because it was way too high for a man.”
Goodhandy also remembers the discomfort of having a teacher tell a roomful of students that he couldn’t give her a role in a show because she sounded like a woman. “It was so embarrassing, but it happened all the time so I also got used to it,” she says.
Despite the obstacles she faced, she completed her studies, started auditioning and began booking gigs. Still, her naturally high pitch often put her out of the running for speaking roles, and she mostly landed dance jobs where her pipes didn’t come into play.
Frustrated with the limitations of the industry, Goodhandy took a long hiatus from the business and worked as a male stripper, MC and booking agent. She later entered the sex trade and eventually transitioned. Her dual interests in sex work and entertainment led her and Todd Klink to open Club 120, the Church Street pansexual venue that hosts t-girl strippers, naked dance parties and other assorted kinky events.
Though performing remains part of Goodhandy’s life (she continues to serve as hostess at the club, tossing out jokes between pole dances), it wasn’t until last year’s solo show, Tranny, that she returned to the stage in full force. The three-night run at Buddies in Bad Times saw her kick up her heels and polish off her pipes to deliver an autobiographical musical comedy charting the various stages of her performing life.
This week, Goodhandy will take things up a notch when she becomes the first openly trans women to perform at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. True to her interests, the evening will feature a blend of lyrics with laughs, including a number of personal stories and a handful of stand-up comedians as guests. While the show is obviously another opportunity to engage with the stage, her motivations for doing it are not narcissistic.
“Being the first trans woman to perform at the festival is significant because it’s important for people in mainstream society to see us represented and know that we exist,” Goodhandy says. “I’m not a media person, but Todd told me a long time ago that I need to become a media whore because we need to fight for representation. The way we’re portrayed in the media, trans people can often come off like a bunch of angry victims looking for rights,” she observes.
“But I also want us to be seen as people who are going through our lives, living our authentic selves, and being successful in what we want to achieve.”
The performance is a return to her roots in a way, to a time before she began struggling with theatrical education and the pressures of the professional world. While training often pushes young artists beyond their perceived limitations, in her case it kept her in an impossible box. It took several decades of being out of school in order to get back to where she was before she started.
“My voice hasn’t actually changed since transitioning, though only my family would know that,” Goodhandy notes. “I always had a naturally feminine voice, so I had to learn to perform a role and speak like a man, both when I was acting but also in my everyday life.
“It took me a long time to let go of all those pressures and accept that there was nothing wrong with the way I felt, and to figure out how to be comfortable with who I was,” she elaborates.
“Now I can finally just sing in my natural voice and actually enjoy it.”