Joining a boyband gave Tyler everything he ever dreamed of. A close-knit group of friends, the chance to model a beautiful masculinity, and a vocal implant that lets him sing even better than he did before transitioning. But deep on tour, Tyler realizes he wants more from one of his bandmates, yearns for a love that would never fit the image that has been carefully crafted for him. His manager wants him to be the heartthrob: available, wholesome, and pure. And since his manager gave Tyler his voice, he can always take it away again.
Jeff opens the app on his phone while we warm up. While we run through scales and diction exercises and harmonies. While we breathe in—two, three—out—two, three. While four voices unite to become one, each a band in a rainbow of sound. While Jeff adjusts the timbre of my voice.
It didn’t always sound like this. That’s part of why I auditioned for Back 2 Back—for the vocal implant. A chance to sing like I used to before my vocal chords thickened. I wanted my range back, wanted the soaring feeling of a note held against the swell of harmony.
I clear my throat.
“Sounds good, boys.” Jeff pockets his phone. “Have a great show.” He waves over his shoulder and heads up to the sound booth.
As much as I love being in a band, I love being in a boyband even more. You’re not supposed to. Boyband members are male, but no one considers them masculine—not when their audience is comprised of teenage girls. Heaven forbid girls’ tastes be given any weight. When I was one, my favorite band was a group of baby-faced cis boys whom my classmates misgendered just so they could call me a lesbian for liking them. Figures, they were my trans masculinity goals and now here I am:
Beside a piano, backstage at Madison Square Garden, arms around three other guys as we huddle up before the show. I breathe in the spice of deodorant, freshly washed cotton, sweat, and hint of coffee. Feel the heat of their damp armpits against my shoulder blades. The beat of their hearts.
“All right, lovers, let’s go.” Zeke waggles his eyebrows, eliciting laughter as we pile our hands on one another’s, twine our fingers. Sing ourselves off.
“We’re all together again, we’re here, we’re here. We’re all together again, we’re here, we’re here!” Our joined hands bounce up and down to the rhythm as we sing the old campfire song in a circle no one else can penetrate. “Who knows when we’ll be all together again? Singing all together again! We’re here, we’re here!”
We whoop and cheer. Adrenaline punches through my body as we race to take our positions below the stage. The opening notes of “Keep Running” rumble through the stage above, though they play clearly in our monitors. I close my eyes, letting them vibrate through my body.
A stagehand holds out a microphone with a strip of blue tape wrapped around the handle. Mine is always blue. Jasper’s green. Aiden’s yellow. And Zeke’s red.
I take the offered mic, nod my thanks, and glance sideways at Jasper. He winks at me. Smirks. My heart flutters like a teenaged girl’s. It’s the same heart I’ve always had and it still flutters for musicians like Jasper. The edgy ones.
He exudes masculine energy through eyeliner, tight black jeans, and nail polish. I straighten my own jean jacket, a light blue denim over a thick white tee shirt. Khaki joggers. Clean white sneakers. I only wore them for the first time two shows ago. Still have the blisters to prove it.
“All right, B2B.” The stagehand’s voice is in our ears. “You’re up in five, four, three, two—”
I don’t hear her say “one.” I’m already in the music. A loaded bullet in a sparking chamber. When the trigger is pulled, we shoot up into an arena of sound. The electricity of the band—of a live-wire guitar and surging drums. The wall of cheering and screaming, words indistinguishable but the sentiment the same:
This music is a part of me. It hurts when I don’t listen and even more when I do. I’m here because this concert hall is my church. This melody is my body and these lyrics are my blood.
I feel the ache in my chest and know I feel the same.
Then, I’m raising my mic and our voices join the chorus of noise and we’re off. Euphoria settles under my skin, carrying me between songs. We don’t officially dance—we’re too cool for that—but we’re so close. We’re mocking dance: jumping to the beat, bouncing around the massive stage. Zeke runs past with the melody on his lips and a can of Silly String in his hand.
When it’s empty, he chucks it aside and slaps my ass, cackling. I’m not mad and the fans love it when he screws around. Even the label encourages it. I pick up the bridge, startled but laughing. My voice doesn’t break or crack. With Jeff’s control, it doesn’t falter—it lifts without effort. I close my eyes, hold my free hand up and, for a second, I’d swear I’m singing four notes at the same time, harmonizing with myself, conducting sound like a lightning rod.
I wonder, with the implant, if I could.
But then I see the others closing in, hear their voices joining mine. Aiden flips his long brown hair out of his eyes while he picks at his acoustic, notes like the patter of raindrops on hot pavement.
Jasper walks towards me like he’s in West Side Story, crouched down, snapping his fingers, singing to me—only me. He grabs my mic and our voices blend impossibly into one.
“When I kiss you / it’s like ooh-wee-ooh.”
“I can’t describe / your ahh-la-la-la.”
“Some night when / the moon is high”
“We’ll ay-ay-ay-ay / ’til it’s light.”
“When I kiss you, baby.” Then Jasper is looking at me the way he’s looked at a hundred girls and his hand is in my hair, sliding down my neck, and my face is burning, and the next thing I know I start to for-real kiss him. On stage. While Zeke sings, “ooh-wee-ooh,” and Aiden strums his guitar, and the crowd is so loud, I can’t even hear my ear monitors.
Slowly, the sound mellows, the lights drop, and spotlights illuminate our final song. No one looks at me differently. Zeke ruffles my hair like I’m his kid brother. Aiden leans over his guitar to sing backup into my mic. Jasper takes my hand for our bows.
Everything is okay. I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be. Zeke calls us “lovers” all the time, Aiden’s cried on stage before, and Jasper flirts with anyone with a pulse. I can kiss him. It doesn’t mean anything to the fans. Only to me.
“You wanted to see me?” I’m still rubbing a towel through my sweaty hair, when I duck into the makeshift office the venue’s provided for Jeff. “I got your text.”
“Hey, Tyler. Have a seat.” He gestures to an upholstered chair on the opposite side of his desk. It’s fat, polished wood that belongs in a penthouse office, not a room with a paper sign taped on the front. But his workspace needs are outlined in our tour rider alongside ours. I can’t blame him for wanting to feel comfortable.