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?
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.
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
- 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.