For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.
T. S. Elliot
Ordering a drink at your favourite coffee shop, greeting your colleagues in the lift, telling a loved one what they mean to you. All these things, no matter how simple, have something in common that we hardly think about. Something that is natural and automatic, without hesitation or thought. They are all accomplished through speaking, using that voice and creating sounds with your face, throat, tongue and breath.
This is all good and well for the most part and for most people their voice is of little concern and they use it day in, day out to go about their business in society. The fact there is difference in everybody’s voice is a great tool to help us recognise each other and makes up a part of our identity. Another crucial factor to this identifier is it gives people the ability to distinguish another persons gender with ease because male and female voices are mostly very different in pitch and resonance.
If you have not worked it out by now this post concerns the difficulty trans people have with their voice. Transition and all this entails is as much about expressing yourself from the inside as much as it is about changing your outward appearance. You can spend time, effort and money making yourself look exactly how you imagined and strangers will see that when they pass you on the street. You feel great! Confidence is booming! You smile in the mirror, you flex your new manly muscles or twirl in that lovely new dress. Have a conversation, however, and that confidence can be shattered if your voice lets you down.
For female to male transition the voice will be too high pitched and for male to female transition the voice too deep. This is a major problem and it is something that all trans people will think about a lot. Even something as basic as ordering a pizza can be stressful because misgendering will occur time and time again and for those who want to be recognised and treated as their preferred gender it can cause great anxiety because it gives them away when out in public. It is also one of the hardest things to change about yourself and without very hard work and determination will never get any better.
It is not a hopeless position though and it is possible to physically change your voice to sound more in line with what people would expect to hear. There are countless YouTube videos explaining how to achieve that perfect voice and it is evident that with practice it is a reachable goal. Female to male folk get a little help from their testosterone boosts as this will help lower the voice but male to female folk have no help from HRT. It is purely down to how much hard work and practice you put in and how much you want to succeed. It is also something that you can receive professional help with through voice therapy or coaching.
This brings me to my personal view on the dilemma of voice while transitioning. I have enlisted the help of a professional because I felt the voice tutorials on-line were not helping me and I was left with a very sore throat. This was down to not having someone give feedback on what I was practising and if I had continued doing what I thought was right I could have damaged my voice permanently. I do not wish to scaremonger anyone but what works for an untrained amateur may not work for everyone and I feel that anyone using the internet to retrain their voice should do so with caution. I know many of the videos on-line are really good for getting you started and getting you thinking about your voice but also consider using a professional to fine tune and really find your voice. The internet cannot teach you elocution and it certainly cannot have a practice conversation or help you say your name with confidence.
The irony is that trans people want to change their voice so society will instantly recognise their chosen gender and to not have another person tell you it sounds right defeats the purpose of trying to achieve this. If you do not feel comfortable or unable to see a specialist ask a friend or family member to practice with you. Have chats about your day, practice telling them your phone number or recite the alphabet. Whatever you choose or however you go about it just don’t do this alone, use your voice and shout for help! You and your vocals cords will not regret it.