A LOVE / HATE RELATIONSHIP

For a while now, I have been threatening to start a podcast – sharing my thoughts like a transgender Garrison Keillor in a Lake Wobegon turned on its’ head.

What has so far prevented me from doing so is not that I don’t have things to say – I have plenty. It’s not a technology issue. It’s my stupid voice.

That’s ironic isn’t it? Someone who has made a nice living with her voice for the last couple of millennia paralyzed with fear over a silly podcast?

Yep.

I am SO not alone in this. Although there are many Transwomen with beautiful speaking voices, I am not yet one of them. My voice was trained for years to be anything but feminine. For Pete’s sake, I was the authoritative news image voice for Dallas News/Talk station KRLD up until the end of April 2013. My voice never gave me a problem – it provided a living

Now, it’s the bane of my existence. (Bane – causing great stress or annoyance) Let me explain a little about that.

The problem with voice is pretty much unique to those of us who are Transwomen. Our Transmen brothers, once they are on Testosterone, hear their voices drop – just like a young boy in puberty. It happens pretty quickly too. Not so for us.

Estrogen gives, but it doesn’t take away. What has been done can’t be un-done (except through medical intervention) but things can be added to or created.

For instance, as I’ve discussed, Estrogen can build breast tissue and it has. I’m quite happy there. It has relocated body fat to areas more consistent with a female body. My face is noticeably different, but I just can’t put my finger on how. It just is.

However, Estrogen doesn’t do a thing for my beard growth. That will continue as is until I can do something permanent to stop it. Electrolysis. Estrogen also has no affect whatsoever on my voice.

That’s a problem. Visually, I no longer have a problem being accepted as female. I probably get read once in a while by people who are paying very close attention to things like my being 6 feet tall with hands like the woman in the Seinfeld episode – “She has MAN hands!” But since I dress appropriately and seem to fit in, even if I’m being read, I’ve not had a single problem and I have always been addressed as “Miss, Ma’am, her or she.” With two exceptions:

The telephone and those drive-through speakers.

I’m doing the best I can and what I am producing now is a vast improvement over what I started with. Short of a very risky and somewhat unreliable surgical procedure, training one’s voice is the only way to change it – and with the length of the vocal chords, speaking in a higher register is difficult and tiring.

Still, even when I am feeling confident and making progress I will answer the phone and get “Good morning SIR” and that really stings. I hate it. Going through the drive-thru – I give my order and am asked, “Thank you SIR, please pull forward.” When they actually SEE me, it magically changes to “Ma’am” – and sometimes an apology.

Imagine for a moment if you are cis-gender (comfortable and in agreement with the gender you were assigned at birth) and being identified as the opposite gender and maybe even treated that way because of your voice. I mentioned this in a post a while back; it’s quite unsettling.

With visual cues people don’t miss a beat, I am accepted 100% as female – my voice is unusual, but acceptable. I can maintain short duration conversations pretty easily. But long conversations invariably are fatiguing and I find my voice reverting to “old me.”

It’s worst with long-time friends. I’ve been told many times that I don’t sound any different, I still sound like me.

Without the visual cue though – I’m still a dude to most people and that drives me nuts. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it does.

Image

The thing is, pitch is maybe 25% of it. Men and women speak differently in many ways and being socialized as male for far too long, old habits die slowly.

Think for a moment about how effortless speech is. You may give thought to what you are going to say, but the volume, tone, intonation, vocabulary choice or speed are unconscious. They just happen – but they all send various messages to the listener including the gender of the speaker.

Most of the differences between male and female voices are social and not biological – meaning they are learned. Women speak more quickly, more indirectly with a wider range of pitch often ending declarative sentences with an up lilt that makes it sound like a question. Women also tend towards more superlatives or metaphor. “I have nothing to wear.”

Men are more monotone and subdued when speaking with adults and are more absolute in their vocabulary selection. Men also are more likely to interrupt. Oddly, women will often “overlap” one another and these aren’t perceived as interruptions – it’s a term called “Co-Authoring.”

Men talk to inform – women talk to connect.

Without going into a more elaborate and academic list of differences, the ones given here serve to amply illustrate the difficulty in adopting the speech of the other gender.

Since speech should flow freely with the brain occupied in sorting out the message and how to convey it, what’s going on in my mind while having a simple conversation is:

  • Raise the pitch
  • Speak softly – watch the resonance
  • Pick up the pace a little
  • Vary the pitch
  • Smile
  • Don’t be so direct
  • Watch out for word choices

(These are just a few!)

This can boggle the mind! If you pause to think of and do all of these things you can become paralyzed. It takes a long time to learn them. It can take years to become comfortable.

(I was with a girlfriend who is also a Transwoman and we were in a store where she was buying some costume jewelry. The store was doing some remodeling and the female clerk made small talk with us and then apologized for the construction – my friend (who presents as a striking brunette) looked at it and responded “Drywall is drywall.” Not a sentence that would generally come out of the mouth of a female shopper)

That simple 3-word sentence illustrates the difficulty in making the transition. The brain responds lightning fast with a response, but too often for us, it’s a response that has been socialized in the other gender.

So, it’s not just the voice that betrays me it’s years of male socialization. I’m learning. I’m practicing. This means a lot to me. It’s not about fooling anyone – frankly, I feel like I’ve been doing that most of my life. But it’s about putting all of the pieces together to live the life I have always longed to live and to do it without attracting undue attention or being reminded of what I want so much to leave behind.

I am very much a work in progress.

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5 Responses to A LOVE / HATE RELATIONSHIP

  1. chrissyholm says:

    I too am having to overcome my male trained voice. In the past I was told I should get a job on the radio. However, through singing and an app on my phone, I’ve been working on raising the register of my voice. The phone and drive-thru still can cause problems more often than not but with practice the frequency of “sir” has been diminishing over time.

  2. Jan says:

    Do the pod cast!!!! You will have a blast. We don’t give a rats ass what your voice sounds like. Just be YOU! We all have some body image bullshit we are dealing with transgender or not. ALL of us. So get to work! I love your blog and have learned a lot!! 🙂 have you checked out Blogtalkradiio.com? Its pretty cool and you can take callers.

  3. mountainmama33 says:

    Ms. Leslie, this is words of love and encouragement coming from your most recent past, “you never were too fond of doing your homework and relied instead of that brilliantly sharp mind of yours that retains knowledge like a steel trap!” (Analogy). Now is when a girl becomes a real woman, one that she gives birth to from within. Birthing isn’t pretty, birthing isn’t easy. Birthing is going deep into the void of the unknown and giving life to that that demands to have a place made for its beauty and Grace for that which is uniquely your own, not what you read in the magazines. The magazines can produce a pretty shell, but it’s thru the Heart does any girl become a woman who seeks to share her unique beauty with the World making no apologies that she woke up even more beautiful than she went to bed….inside. And it wasn’t easy. Do your homework, you have it in you, just take away all the reasons why you can’t, and replace them with you……I love you. You will do well if you just have fun with it. Throw in a toss of your head and flash your stunningly beautiful smile and in 4, 3, 2, 1 ✊👇

    • Thank you for your heartfelt advice. There is nothing easy about this. I work diligently on every aspect of my life. The outside is the easiest to comment upon, but those in my close circle have also noticed the changes from within. That said, I agree completely. It’s not easy and it comes in fits and starts. 2 steps forward, one step back. Much of it is unlearning the expectations imposed on me by society for 50 years. It’s a glorious struggle and it is fun. It’s a never ending learning experience. I do my very best yet still often fail, but I’m making progress. Time is short and there is much to do. I feel blessed to finally have the opportunity to be me – on my terms. My growth is continuous and often hilarious.

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