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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pianist describes life in music world post-sexual reassignment surgery

Published: October 1, 2010
Section: News

Internationally renowned pianist Sara David Buechner spoke about her experiences as a pianist and as a transgendered woman at the seventh annual Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture in Rapaporte Treasure Hall on Tuesday.

Buechner, who was born and and lived as a boy, David, until her gender reassignment surgery in 1998, expressed feeling ill-equipped to talk about gender differences because she said they are not easily simplified and that everyone has their own story.

Still, she said that with her decision to become a female, she “lost all the privileges of the straight, male, white world,” but that she does not regret it.

Buechner said that men put up multiple masks of strength, power and achievement to fit society’s standards. Now, she can be who she feels she was always meant to be: Sara Buechner.

At the age of three, Buechner could already play her older brother’s sheet music on the piano without ever having studied it.

Once she began to take piano lessons, she learned Mozart and became so infatuated with the composer that her grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, made her a Mozart-like blouse, as well as a purple velvet jacket. Buechner wore these items to school, completely naïve to the fact that some might consider this weird behavior for a young boy.

The pianist illustrates her childhood as a period that was strictly black and white, where there was no room for someone like her: someone in between the gender spectrum. During this time, she would visit art museums with her mother.

Peter Paul Ruben’s portraits always struck her as beautiful and she expressed to her mother how she wanted to look like the women in the paintings. This did not seem abnormal to her at the time, but as she grew older, she understood that it might be to others.

The musician stated that the worst part of her adolescence was the lack of information. Her parents were typical parents of that time and never spoke about sex. As a result, Buechner became scared and ashamed that she did not identify with being a boy.

Buechner’s success as a musician was thriving and, at age 17, she attended her first year at the prestigious Julliard School in New York City. Buechner began to be well known in the classical music scene.

Still, her parents tried to help their son and sent her to multiple psychiatrists who tried to “fix” her and deduce what was “wrong” with her.

After years of ridicule and dealing with rejection and criticism, especially from the musical world, Buechner decided to finally do what she wanted to. She traveled to Bangkok, where she had gender reassignment surgery and was given numerous hormone injections.

Today, Buechner is happily married to her partner in British Columbia. She is a music professor at the University of British Columbia and still regards Mozart with the same admiration she felt as a child.

The Department of Women’s and Gender Studies created the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture Series in 2004 to honor the historical figure’s commitment to social justice. The former First Lady and U.N. Ambassador also served on Brandeis’ Board of Trustees for 13 years.