Singing in the Middle East
As a sophomore at the Cambridge School of Weston (CSW), Sean Crookes joined the Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA). He was, however, still conflicted about coming fully out to all of his classmates and his family.
"I was just living with the fear of what could happen, especially in high school, and having these horrible worries about being kicked out of my home, or victimized at school," Crookes recalls.
But when Crookes saw the Boston Gay Men's Chorus (BGMC) perform an OUTreach concert - the awareness-raising performances that BGMC holds in schools, places of worship, and community centers across the state - something shifted inside him. Seeing such a large group of gay men onstage, their happiness evident as they sang for the students, was a revelation for Crookes. "It gave me hope of reaching that same happiness with my own life and myself," he recently wrote. Crookes, who was very involved with CSW's music and theater programs, promised himself that he would someday join the chorus.
Seven years later, he did exactly that. After finally coming out to his family last July, Crookes auditioned for BGMC, officially joining its ranks in September. "It means a lot to me, finally having a group to sing with and be a family with," he says.
Crookes is now prepping to make his first trip abroad, as BGMC takes its OUTreach international with a 10-day tour of the Middle East in June. The chorus will take the stage in Istanbul, Eid Gedi, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, marking the first time a gay chorus performs in the region. Between performances, BGMC will meet with local Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian groups and artists, including members of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus. Proceeds from the performances will be donated to local organizations.
"There's a lot of personal excitement for me, having never left the country before and my birthday falls during the tour, so that will be fun," says Crookes, who will soon be 23. "It's a once in a lifetime chance that I am glad I didn't let myself pass up."
It would have been easy for Crookes to sit out these far-flung concerts. As one who lives with anxiety disorders, moving beyond his comfort zone does not always come easy to him. That's why he waited so long to tell his family he is gay. Although he was raised in a loving home, Crookes's fear got the better of him. "It was more self-preservation to not do it until I knew I was at a point in my life where I could support myself independently in case they cut me off," he explains.
Ironically, anxiety about not being honest with his family is what ultimately moved him to come out to them. Last summer, Crookes spent a weekend away with friends "just being completely myself." It had been quite a while since he had spent that much time away from his family and the idea of returning home to a life of secrecy and hiding half of his life provoked an anxiety attack. "It just really was a wake up moment for me where I came to the decision I needed to come out to them," Crookes says.
Crookes's involvement in music and theater is a balm for his anxiety. He played cello in his high school orchestra before turning his attention to theater. Now, in addition to singing with BGMC he is also a member of the Greater Boston Intergenerational Chorus.
"Performing is strange," says Crookes. "As a person with anxiety issues, and with social anxiety, it affects my life so much, but as a performer it all goes away in a performance. It's unexplainable. When I sing, when I act, or when I used to play an instrument, something in me just switches off during the performance and I don't worry about anything."
Knowing that, Crookes is relaxed when talking about the opportunities the tour presents to spread a pro-LGBT message of inclusivity in the Middle East, and the chance to travel with fellow members of BGMC. "I'm just looking forward to the shared experience of this wonderful trip with 100-plus other people who have come to mean a whole lot to me, and how much we will all be affected by it," he says. "I can't even begin to imagine how much we'll bring back to our friends and family, and the members who aren't coming with us."