Taunee Grant wasn’t initially sure if the marketing/communications job with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington was right. The Theresa, N.Y., native had been in Buffalo for 10 years when Grant’s partner of six years, Tessa Lew, was offered a full-time position in the costume department of Shakespeare Theatre Company in late 2008.
“I hemmed and hawed a little,” Grant admits. “It was the first job that was offered and I didn’t know if I should take the first one that came along but then Tessa’s mother said, ‘This could be great blessing, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,’ and that ended up being so true. It’s a dream job for me. Perfect.”
Grant, 32, identifies as queer and trans and is transitioning but hasn’t decided if a name change is in the cards. “It’s kind of an awkward time,” Grant says. “I probably will but I don’t know for sure yet.”
So what’s it like being surrounded by gay men all the time? Grant calls the Chorus “very warm” and “a big family” but also keeps a separate social life with a partner and a group of friends — mostly gay and straight couples who share their interests such as organic gardening, kayaking, whitewater canoeing and the arts.
The Chorus is gearing up for its fall season after taking July and August off. “Men in Tights: a Pink Nutcracker” opens in December while Grant toils away at subscription renewals. Grant admits the job has challenges but finds it rewarding. “Working in the gay community just feels right for me,” Grant says. “I’d kind of been moving toward it for a while. It just feels right.” Grant lives in Capitol Hill.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve never been really in the closet, whether I look like a lesbian, transgendered, or like a guy, I just look queer. There is no option for me to pass as straight unless I decide to create an elaborate and ridiculous costume for myself. My mother asked me if I thought I was gay my junior year in high school. That was a tough conversation. She was so flustered that we missed our exit on the way home and had to turn the car around when we found ourselves at the foot of the bridge to Canada.
Who’s your gay hero?
There are many. Allen Ginsberg. I think the way that his work has documented a gay man’s voice in America is profoundly important. I think that Michaelangelo Signorile’s book “Queer In America” was responsible for inspiring an entire generation of activists. I have to include John Waters, Dorothy Alison, Leslie Feinberg, Urvashi Vaid, Sapphire, Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I’m still exploring all there is to offer but I do know 275 gay men who will be happy to give you their opinion, perhaps in the form of a song.
Describe your dream gay wedding.
I don’t dream in gay wedding. If I did, I hope it would look like a Kenneth Anger film.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Sustainable agriculture. Producing food below the cost of production is bad for farmers, communities, nutrition and the environment. I also think it is bringing us into a state of living where preparing and sharing quality food isn’t meaningful.
What historical outcome would you change?
I’d spare the world from eight years of Bush, Jr.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
During my first week of work with GMCW, the Chorus was invited to sing at “We Are One: the Obama Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial. Two weeks later I found myself backstage where I met Martin Luther King III, spoke with a delightful woman who sang in choirs for at least three inaugural ceremonies and stood directly in front of Stevie Wonder when he stopped on the grass to sing a few verses of “My Cherie Amour” with GMCW.
On what do you insist?
Joy. Fresh air. Honesty. A good haircut. Good shoes. Good pens.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“I found out I’m going to the Americans for the Arts National Arts Marketing Project Conference this fall. Very exciting.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“On the Road to Find Out” or maybe “The Tranny in the Rye”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would do you?
I’d like to joke that I’d torment Maggie Gallagher and Bishop Harry Jackson with the prospect of turning them gay. But in seriousness, I’ll be writing letters and making calls to say that homosexuality should not be treated as a disease.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
There is a common bond that unites human beings and all natural things. It’s not an iPhone.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Keep the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender out in the forefront. It is celebratory, relevant and our unique culture as LGBT people should be respected. We change hearts by telling the stories of all of our lives. I was so inspired by young LGBT activists at the National Equality March last October. I think they have the power to call out the classism in the LGBT movement and that they are a generation who sees the dark consequences of assimilationist ideas in the LGBT movement. To those young leaders, my advice is to hang on to your ideals.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My partner, Tessa. Absolutely. And maybe at the end of the row of coals we’d meet in a circle and have that gay dream wedding you asked me about.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
Most any stereotype that isn’t “by gays for gays” for our own enjoyment or cultural relevance. It irritates me when I sometimes see straight people suddenly become usually loud, superficial, catty or flamey in the company of gay men. It’s so offensive and so very lame.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
“The Cockettes,” “Paris is Burning,” “Antonia’s Line” and all early Almodovar or Waters films.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Assigning everything under the sun, inanimate or living, a male or female or “appropriated other” gender whether they want one or not.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
A comment I heard at Nellie’s Sports Bar made it on Overheard in D.C.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
You are defined by what you do, not necessarily by your potential to do it.
Aside from the obvious cultural tourism stuff, which is fantastic, I love that I can leave the office and get in a boat to get a different perspective or escape for a few hours. I appreciate Washington’s rich and long standing cultural diversity. … It’s a great city to enjoy the company of intelligent, opinionated people who are passionate about their work, whatever it may be.