Concert pianist Sara Davis Buechner doesn’t worry too much about what audiences will think about transgender people such as herself.
“I think audiences are just people who bought a ticket and want to hear a good show,” she said. “I don’t think they give a darn about any trans issues.”
At least, that’s not what’s on their minds when they come to hear her play something like composer Robert Schumann’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A-minor.”
Buechner, who performs Saturday night with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, said, “Certainly, when I’m playing a song or I’m talking about the music afterwards or even beforehand, I’ve never encountered any negative feedback about who I am or what kind of person I am.”
Music lovers mostly just care about the beautiful music, she said, and the rest isn’t all that important.
Buechner’s career has seen a resurgence over the past decade or so.
Born David Buechner almost 60 years ago, the pianist enjoyed a successful concert and recording career through the 1980s and 1990s, almost right up until she decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery in the early 2000s.
Buechner said it was an incredibly difficult time. The original surgery was a disaster, and she had to undergo several procedures to correct and repair the damage done. After she recovered, finding concert or music teaching work in the United States became very difficult.
“Classical music boards can be terribly conservative people,” Buechner said.
She lived and worked in Canada for a while. After a few years, she said, Americans were a little more accepting of and open to trans people. She came back to the States, taught and performed.
Buechner said when people are introduced to something new, their gut reaction is, “That’s wrong.”
Usually, how people react is based on a lack of experience.
“It’s ignorance,” she said. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. They just don’t necessarily understand an issue or have little actual knowledge about it.”
With information and experience, people can set aside their judgment and see that accepting someone very different than what they’re used to isn’t that big of a stretch.
Buechner wants to be on the side of understanding. Along with concert performances, part of what she does is speak on college campuses, often to LGBTQ groups, and just talk about her history and tell her story that veers from acclaim to aversion to acceptance.
“On the one hand, that’s very touching to me,” she said.
On the other, it’s aggravating. Buechner said she’s been on the forefront of trans rights for years even before she had the surgery 15 years ago.
“We’re still fighting for those rights today,” Buechner sighed and added, “In a way, it’s a little perplexing, but if you look at the struggle of many groups in America, it’s just part and parcel of our country.”
Growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, following the civil rights movement and the end to segregation, Buechner had believed that discrimination had been settled.
It’s not just equal rights and protections for trans people, but equal treatment for people of all kinds.
“I can’t believe in 2020, we’re still fighting over all of these issues,” she said. “I guess change comes very, very slowly, slower than we think or like.”
Still, Buechner understood that there was a lot to take in. Society and culture are changing and what people understand about each other has evolved. It takes a little getting used to.
When she goes to speak with LGBTQ groups, Buechner is sometimes introduced to people who identify as non-binary, being both male and female or neither.
People are people, but Buechner said even she had trouble with parts of it in the beginning.
“They’ll use the ‘they’ or ‘them’ pronoun,” she said. “My 59- or 60-year-old brain thinks that sounds all wrong, that it’s grammatically incorrect, but, of course, it’s perfectly fine.”