Thu, Jan 16, 2020 - Page 13 News List

Vocalist silenced by sexual trauma sings again

Lucy Dhegrae rediscovers the voice that she lost after being assaulted in 2013


Just as her career as a vocalist began taking off in 2013, singer Lucy Dhegrae found herself silenced, physically unable to produce the notes she once delivered with ease.

photo: AFP

Just as her career as a vocalist began taking off in 2013, singer Lucy Dhegrae found herself silenced, physically unable to produce the notes she once delivered with ease.

Diagnosed with paresis of the vocal folds, a form of paralysis, the artist traced the condition threatening her future as a performer to a traumatic night a decade earlier, when she says she was drugged and raped as a first-year student at the University of Michigan.

“The moment of discovering that I couldn’t sing — it felt like a death,” Dhegrae said in an interview at her apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.

“It was just like my body saying, ‘Okay, now you really have to deal with this. We’re going to take away the one thing that you need, and that you use to make money, that you use to survive,’” she said. “It forced me to look at [the trauma], and honestly, I’m not sure I would have.”

Dhegrae, who had kept her assault private, poured herself into research of her mysterious condition that doctors were unable to explain.

She found articles that referred to sexual assault survivors who eventually lost their voices altogether after keeping silent for a period of time.

She became an active volunteer with the US anti-sexual violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and, through her research, learned survivors regained their ability to speak by starting to discuss their trauma. “I knew at that time, because I had lost my singing voice and not my speaking voice, that I would need to sing about it,” she said.


She employed a range of healing techniques including meditation, breath work, massage, self-defense training and holistic alternative therapies.

Dhegrae also developed The Processing Series”of experimental voice concerts — already under way at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust arts institution — that explore music’s ability to help the body and mind deal with the impact of trauma.

“To heal trauma, we have to go beyond understanding it. It’s beyond logic,” she said. “Your brain can’t make sense that all of a sudden, something horrible can happen to you at any time.”

“You have to find a way to unravel that and to make your body whole, because your brain learns ... to section off that memory.”

Advisors instructed Dhegrae to keep her vocal condition under wraps, saying it could “blacklist” her from getting hired, she said.

“Discovering that I had paresis really echoed the experience of being assaulted,” the 35-year-old said, saying she plunged into depression. “I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.”

“That’s a lot like rape... you don’t know who to talk to about this deep shame.”

After years of therapy, Dhegrae hoped performing in her The Processing Series concerts based on her own healing journey could help other survivors feel less alone.

“I had these really powerful experiences of physical recovery, of physical cohesiveness — feeling like you’re separate and coming together again — that was something I wanted to share,” she said.

“I wanted to create a show that I would have wanted to see, that would have helped me in that moment, because in 2013 when I found out that I had paresis, I had no one to talk to,” she continued. “If I had had one person to talk to... that would have made that period of my life just infinitely easier.”

“I wanted to be that for other people.”

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