So … my voice. It is not where it was. It is not where it finally will be. In the sixteen months since transition it has changed over time, as many other aspects of my “being” have. All these changes just happen as quickly as they can, so you can’t “co-ordinate” their progress, even if you want to, which would probably have been nice.
The most significant improvement is in the baseline, the starting point of my voice when I get up in the morning (assuming I don’t have one of this autumn/winter’s hideous, never-ending colds). When I first transitioned in July 2009 I had started to do a bit of work on my voice, guided by a friend. In the period I was away from work I had the opportunity to focus on it a while, while spending time with a number of trans women friends. That did move things on, but in a not terribly consistent way. Over the past year, in various ways I’ve been able to approach voice more methodically, and as a result see significant benefits – the default, resting state of my voice is in a significantly different place from where it was before transition, and with conscious effort I can get it into an even more positively different state, and happily start to “inhabit” that state (I’ll explain what I mean by that next post).
In the early days of transition I was consciously attempting to modify my voice most of the time I spoke to people. Although my motive was to make a significant, long-term change, the key issue was to be “read” as female outside the house, and voice modification was part of that process. I had a lot of experiences early on of going into a shop, browsing, choosing stuff and being accepted as female until I went to pay and they heard my voice. People were mostly cool about it when they noticed my voice (apart from one particularly horrible guy in Great Yarmouth), but they did notice. The effect on me was feeling as though I was repeatedly failing an audition or a job interview, time after time after time …
The next stage of the experience was coming to understand elements of the voice and vocal apparatus. Not just pitch, but resonance, articulation, learning to use the vocal tract in a different way physically, tonality and modes of speaking, even vocabulary. Of all of these, vocabulary was the element I was least inclined to modify. I resisted the notion of particular words belonging to a given gender, and this was one of the elements of voice modification which to me felt most like conforming to a stereotype. At one level, conforming to a stereotype might have been a comfortable thing to do … and in some ways I guess many transitioning people do it to facilitate the shift in how others perceive us. Interestingly vocabulary has now shifted, but in a way that feels more natural to me.
Once you know about some of the elements of voice, and start to be taught how to modify them, you enter an incredibly self-conscious period. Trans women have to resist the temptation to push pitch artificially high and adopt a falsetto, which will definitely sound wrong. But to begin with there is an awful lot of trial and error in the process, and to some degree that carries on even as elements of your new approach to voice start to become more habitual.
My initial assessment by local speech therapists was a few months before transitioning, and their preference for therapy was to wait until I had transitioned and could therefore work on my voice full-time. By the time therapy was actually offered to me, the local provision had changed from one-to-one to working in a group, primarily I think for financial reasons.
I don’t think group work is ideal – it certainly wasn’t for me. Because everyone’s voice/starting point is different, because people have different capabilities and confidence levels, it is quite difficult to progress as a group. This is not a criticism of the therapists, who were doing as well as they could under constrained circumstances.
So, given the limitation of groupwork, I decided to seek further help elsewhere, and am now working with someone one-to-one. For me, voice felt like an important issue for several reasons. In addition to day-to-day functioning as female (as mentioned above) I do a lot of teaching and talking in my professional role, so I want to feel good, and confident about my voice (I’m getting there). Finally, and most crucially, voice has become an incredibly important element of identity for me, one way of demonstrating to the world who I am, and what kind of woman I am. “Owning” my voice in that fundamental way is again, something in progress rather than arrived it, but I can see how far I’ve come, and as with many aspects of my transition I am confident that I’ll get where I want to go with it. In the next post or two I’ll try and explain in a bit more detail what that means and how it feels, and also how it shades into the final area I wanted to look at in respect of “finding a voice” – which is about being seen, heard and respected as female in a whole range of social, professional and other situations.