ASAE Annual Meeting

Sing Your Song with Authenticity

By Association Adviser staff • August 25, 2022

“I am a walking disruption, and I always have been,” said Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and LGBTQ advocate Cidny Bullens, who told his tale through song and story to close the 2022 ASAE Annual Meeting, September 20-23 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Bullens said he first stated out loud who he was at the age of 4 and was told by his mother that he had been “born wrong.” While he searched for answers, there wasn’t a word for people like him, who felt they had been born in the wrong body, in the 1970s. Society wanted the sexes to be binary, and even as an androgynous woman, he didn’t fit that description.

In 1975, Bullens crashed a party that changed his life. The party was at a record label owned by Elton John, who introduced himself to Bullens. Two days later, he was rehearsing with Elton. One week later, they were on tour. He was nominated for two Grammys, including one for a solo album titled “Desire Wire.”

But the 1980s were a time of disruption in Bullens’ life. He was told to be more feminine … “or else,” but he said he couldn’t not be himself, so he stepped away from music.

After living as a wife and mother for years and trying to fit himself into that role and look and act the way he was expected, he started writing music again and found a home in Nashville. He was accepted here and said the city “saved his musical soul.”

Yet again he learned though that life is uncertain, when in 1996 his daughter Jessie died at the age of 11 of complications from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bullens turned to songwriting in his grief, and he created the album “Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth,” which led him to work with grieving parents around the world. He said his “angel gave him back music, and a voice and a purpose.”

In 2011, when a friend came out to him as transgender, Bullens finally asked all the questions he hadn’t been able to ask for 50 years, including “Can I do this?” Understanding the difficulties ahead, he said that nothing could be worse than losing a child, so if he couldn’t become his true self at 61, when could he?

Bullens transitioned, because he said he could no longer ignore who he is. He prompted attendees to ask themselves how far they’d be willing to go to be their authentic and whole selves.

He also admitted he’s not alone, noting the young people like he was who know who they are and who are struggling with that. “Activism starts with acceptance,” he closed.