• R E J Saunders

Trans voice training, or how to over think everything

For me my voice is a very personal thing, the one thing that is guaranteed to either affirm or out me to other people. 21 years into this gender adventure of mine I have still never had a single session of vocal training, and while on most occasions my voice comes across as feminine there are times when I patently get misgendered because of it. Admonishments from previous partners still ring through my ears, yet somehow it is just a part of me, my voice a layer of texture that adds to my character.

Don’t get me wrong, for most trans folk achieving the voice they want is of paramount importance, both in terms of gender affirmation and general wider societal acceptance. Voices are often the second thing we judge people on, straight after the two seconds spent judging a person’s appearance. Wrongly or rightly, regardless of gender, if your voice does not fit your appearance then people are quick to make a whole lot of assumptions about you. Your voice is a powerful force for gendering, classifying, and generally gate keeping, yet it is often the hardest thing to effectively manage without hours of elocution lessons and possibly costly voice training.

On top of this is the possible code switching many of us go through when we interact with different groups of people. Personally, I had a deep Sunderland accent when I grew up, as my mother was from that northern town. As I grew older I developed a more southern English accent, though as I moved around England I picked up various phrases and inflections. My go to accent is generally received pronunciation lite, though I subconsciously code switch depending on my audience. All of that gets thrown into the mix when I am actively aware of my voice, as often I will switch into an almost force feminine version of my usual speaking voice when dealing with trades folk and customer service.

Part of the reason I am relaxed about my voice, and do not talk misgendering to heart, is because attempting to speak in a higher range often leaves me with a sore throat and rather hoarse. Yes, there are probably voice training exercises I could take to improve this, but for all of that there is also the fact that I lose a lot of my vocal range when I push it higher. For me it is more about intonation and turn of phrase rather than exaggerated pitch. When I need to project my voice for sport or teaching I have to rely on resonance to carry my words, so any thoughts of gender and correct gender fly out the window. The needs of the moment are more important that any perceived sense of my gender.

As you can tell I have probably over thought this whole voice thing. I am acutely aware that my voice is the one thing prior to losing my hair that misgenders me the most. When I was younger this mattered a whole lot because the people around me made it a central aspect of my womanhood. There is a creeping neurosis that occasionally slips in about passing and being perceived as a card carrying woman, whatever that is. It is almost as if I had to fit into this straight jacket of affirmation that by being just so I would somehow pass over a threshold that makes me acceptable to the world. By doing so I would find love, work, friends, and be able to do the hobbies I enjoy. My voice was the key to unlocking all the wonderful things in the world.

Yet, at 39 my voice is the least of the things holding me back. My level of privilege, aside from being a trans woman, is one of the highest in the world. What often holds me back is my approach to life, my personality, and rushing head long into things without thinking. The voice I project, the voice I code switch, is my calling card to the world. While it would be super awesome to have a high ranger voice that instantly registered me “female”, the kicker is that it is my words and actions that get me rightly judged.

Trans women in particular are targeted and misgendered because of their voices, so for us it is a matter of self-preservation and necessity that we re-pitch and relearn our voices. I am probably at the fuck-it stage of life, yet I acknowledge that there are moments when I must codeswitch and change up my voice to get the things I need in life. It is a very fine balance between being casual and relaxed about my vocal patterns and having to actively switch things up to ensure I get through an encounter with a stranger without hassle or strife. For all my privilege there are still moments when my gender catches up with me and leaves me hanging. Conflict management is a habitual part of the trans experience, and while it has pretty much receded to the far shore for most of my life, the tides of gender trouble do occasionally still ripple for me.

In the end my voice is part of my personal tapestry. I cannot hide behind a projection of what I assume people want to hear; rather, I have to attune myself to the situations I am in. My voice is my instrument to the world, the immediate perception former that can affirm me or mark me as other. How I choose to react to those perceptions is what has changed over the last twenty years, and while I definitely still do over think things at time, as I enter middle age I think I have found just the right balance within myself that I am comfortable with.


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