Blind, Lesbian Opera Singer Inspires With Her Story
By Andrew Villagomez
Acclaimed mezzo-soprano opera singer Laurie Rubin has been blind since birth, is openly lesbian, and of Jewish background. What better reason to write a memoir? On paper, she was, obviously, not your typical everyday teenager growing up. But with determination and a strong support system, she continually surpassed and redefined others’ expectations—both professionally in the music industry and outside of it.
Defying the naysayers since childhood, the lively and charismatic Rubin releases Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight this week, recounting her experiences from childhood to full-fledged opera singer. An uplifting story about her journey to follow her dreams, Rubin’s story asks those universal questions—"Who am I?" and "Where do I fit in?"—while giving an insight into a musicxal world you probably know nothing about. Not only does she have a busy concert schedule, Rubin is also in developing a curriculum for Yale music (where she earned her masters) that will aim to dispel stereotypes and better the
perceived value of people living with disabilities by allowing people of all ages and walks of life to share in the experiences of blindness. We caught up with her by phone while she was in Hawaii to discuss her phenomenal life story.
Out: Growing up blind, how did you tap into your determination and find the power from within to keep going and continue to your goals?
Laurie Rubin: A lot of it came from just being ingrained in me, because when I was younger my family always supported everything I wanted to do, and they never told me that I shouldn’t be able to do something. They encouraged me to do everything from snow skiing to water skiing and river rafting to just going full force into singing. That and my natural feisty personality, I just don’t like to be told I can’t do something no matter what it is. And I certainly also had enough support beyond family too with teachers, mentors, and friends.
You started your musical aspirations at a very young age. When did you know you wanted to focus on opera and become an opera singer?
When I was younger, 4 and 5, my grandparents would play things from various different operas. They really enjoyed [Edward] Strauss and they would play things from Carmen, and I would imamate the sound of opera because I just naturally gravitated toward it. They were amazed that I wanted to sing like that, so they suggested to my parents that I take voice lessons and as I wasn’t a very good piano student. When I was about 11, I went to see Phantom Of The Opera and I was mesmerized by it, and that was when I decided to switch my focus of music to opera shortly after. It kind of snowballed from there. As I got to middle and high school, already different for being blind, the students had a difficult time figuring that they could relate to me; even though I felt that I was a pretty normal kid and the others kids took me at face value and were afraid to become friends with me.
Opera and singing was sort of a way to connect with kids outside of school who were interested in the same things that I was since it didn’t really matter that I was blind or what everybody’s socioeconomic or culture background was since we all connected because we have this mutual love of music and opera. Because it was such a social force for me, I decided that I really wanted to go into this for the rest of my life.
While finding you passion for music at a young age, did you also realize your sexuality anytime at the stage in your life?
It all started with dreams. When I was 12 years old, I had my first full on lesbian dream and it was really a shock to me and I was scared. My mom told me a lot of kids have that and doesn’t mean anything, but then I realized when I was about 16 or 17 it was definitely not just a dream, and I had more dreams and they were more vivid than any kind of dreams I had about being with guys. At that time I was more open to it and excited about the idea because my brother actually came out before me, and I realized that it wasn’t so scary to come out [having him as an example]. By the time I got to college, I went to Oberlin which of course is known as a gay Mecca–if you aren’t gay when you start at Oberlin you will have some kind of gay experience, I did get into my first relationship with a woman and never turned back.
You’ve faced hardships in the music industry such as people thinking your partner Jenny is your assistant or helper, and they don’t realize she is in fact your partner and a musician herself. How has that been, and has it been changing recently?
It’s been difficult for many reasons, because of course I want people to see her as wonderful musician because she is, and in fact she’s going to be producing and composing for an album that we are working on together. Also the fact that we are partners, I want people to recognize that too. But I know we [as a nation] have moved forward in terms of acceptance and understanding gay issues, but because certain parts of the country still don’t get it, it is a difficulty. A lot of the concerts we do are in those parts of the country, and I think a lot of the time men will assume, even if they know were are together, that we don’t take the relationship as seriously as a heterosexual couple because there is still this idea that, unfortunately, people think there is promiscuity within gay relationships, since some are open. [I think] once the book comes out, it will be interesting to see if people do end up changing [how they act and opinions] or are defensive.