Tips for Training Your Voice from a Speech Pathologist
Guest post by Mitch Cigoy, M.A. CCC-SLP
After all of the hormone treatments, surgeries, counseling, and wardrobe changes (and did I mention hairstyles changes?) many Male to Female, and some Female to Male, transsexuals find themselves still being perceived as their “before pictures.” Especially on the telephone and even by blind people, to boot. Blind people? After all, they can’t even see what you look like.
So, why is that? One of Dara’s readers wrote to her and is experiencing this phenomena first hand while at work. She has to be on the phone sometimes for her job, which is at a call center to work from. I can imagine she has always had a very clear voice and good verbal communication skills. Good for job security.
However, she is further along in her transitioning process then when she first started her job and she’s worried about her voice. After all, a communication disorder can be defined as a mode of speech that calls attention to itself and disrupts the communication process.
Her clear speaking voice is comparable, especially over the phone, to one produced by a male. She most likely already went through puberty and her voice box already dropped and her speech sounds like a man’s now. And now she has transitioned to where many people cannot even see where she could ever have presented as male to begin with.
Until she opens her mouth. Even if she’s whispering. Then she doesn’t want to talk. Communication process, disrupted.
Many transitioning individuals find themselves in similar situations. Maybe they didn’t realize that hormones would not change their voice or, even if they did know that, they struggle with changing their voices on their own. Even if they can afford vocal tract surgery, it isn’t always successful in changing people’s voices and is a very risky operation.
And then what about all of the other factors involved with talking that make men sound like men and women sound like women? Like pronunciations, speech rate, vocabulary used, to name a just a few. As a licensed Speech Pathologist, I do understand what it takes to change one’s voice and speaking patterns so they can be perceived as their intended gender. Even while talking on the phone.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, unfortunately, there is not any one thing you can do that can make your voice sound exactly like a female’s. More like a female’s, yes. And then more and more. Yes. And yes. If, and only if, you decide commit yourself to training your voice. Then, it is just a matter of time and practice and practice and practice.
But the practice has to be done correctly. Ever hear of laryngitis and vocal nodules? Practice correctly and these may not happen.
And you must practice. Mucho. But practicing is so boring and tedious. If only you just had someone to practice with. Maybe with a group of cool new peers, even, to motivate you and that understand you and give you feedback the right way.
And if you just had a Speech Therapist that could guide you and your new friends through this process. One that you can actually afford. And get results with. Perhaps with your “new” voice you can make an impact on the world in the process. Why not aim big? Big targets are easier to see and hit. Remember—you are that driven individual!
Well, just so you all know, I am in the process of creating an opportunity that hopefully will give many of you access to affordable, accessible and fun group speech therapy facilitated by a licensed Speech Pathologist. In fact, I have formed a pilot group and we are working on developing a template for delivering services in this manner. I am using this experience to draw from so I can have a program up and running this summer.
I am currently licensed in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico the by summer. I can obtain licensure in any state where people like Dara’s readers show an interest in affordable, accessible Voice and Speech Feminization/Masculinization services.
By the way, you won’t have to come to my tiny Colorado town in order to attend these speech groups. The therapy groups can meet right in your home in the 47/50 states that allow teletherapy services to their residents. You can split the cost of the sessions amongst the other group participants in any proportion you agree upon, to make it affordable and fit your budget. All the while using HIPPA compliant videoconferencing technology and free-to-cheap apps and downloads that you can take anywhere and use for feedback and motivation on your, or a communication partner’s, computer.
Oh, part of my deal, too, will be to “pay it all forward.” There may be opportunities for some of you that have real bills to attend therapy sessions on a “scholarship” if you will. And an opportunity do some real “family” relevant grassroots advocacy, if you want. You may even want to deposit your new voice anonymously in a “bank” for others to use when they lose their voice. You think I’m kidding? Not.
And in keeping with the theme of paying things forward… Dara’s reader wants some tips on how to make herself sound more female. I’m happy to offer that to you for free right now in this article – that’s paying it forward in my book.
Here’s my first suggestion: Remember what I said. “Reader, lots of practice, blah blah…. and make sure you’re doing it right”. Have someone with you to practice. A friend or family member can do at this point. Or one of your new cool friends you just met in speech in one of my on-line speech groups. A communication partner, if you will. And you will.
A communication partner can learn how to give you the right kind of feedback at the right times. We can train them, you and I, so they in turn can teach us. Then get ahold of a computer or smartphone. Download something as simple as a free virtual piano keyboard or tuning fork on your phone or computer. You and your communication partner can then start talking to each other and see if you can find a piano note that, when played, has the same pitch as your voice.
See where your voice compares to middle “C.” Listen to it real good. Memorize it. Now, try to just say or sing “ee” so you are vocalizing around middle “C.” Middle “C” is the pitch at which many adult binary cisgender females speak. How do you compare? Probably lower if you went through puberty.
Note: A large number of men grunt and talk like a text message. Many women enunciate melodically using long words and “fancy” grammar.
Next, try vocalizing/singing sounds on or near middle “C.”
- Always inhale through your nose so you will use your diaphragm and then exhale the inhaled air out of your mouth.
- Let your voice float on out over the exhalation as you vocalize and sing words at middle “C” level that start with an easy “H” sound.
- Sing your sounds and words for a few seconds each. No forcing, no pushing, watch for shoulder tension.
- Keep neck elongated, chin up when you do this. Pain, hoarseness, pitch breaks, strain = stop.
- Sip water or fruit juice, or lick a lollipop between trials. A wet voice-box is a healthy voice-box.
If you feel awkward hearing or using your new voice at first, as many of you may, that is good. It means you are trying something new. It takes a while to change years of speech and voice patterns and replacing them with new ones.
Once you start feeling less awkward making and using your new “voice,” and know by feedback from you and your communication partner that you are doing this exercise correctly, then you can start aiming for a middle “C” on some target words. Then phrases. Try it when you are engaging in a structured speaking activity like talking on the phone, as our call center worker may be trying after reading this, I hope.
Like I said, not a quick fix, but a start.
In the mean-time, remember that the voice you developed all of your life, this voice that you were hired with? It is job security for you. Nobody on the phone, say, the customers, know what you look like. Keep up the good customer service. And as you keep working at your voice exercise program with support and appropriate feedback, customers will keep understanding you while your voice eventually transitions into a match for your true gender, and your voice can remain healthy in the process.
Now the middle “C” suggestion will certainly help you be perceived as a female when speaking. But it is just the tip of an iceberg full of suggestions, any combination of which may be the key to your success. And it may also not be the tip that makes a difference, for you.
Our voices and the ways each of us talk lean more towards either male or female. But in this world of binary compartmentalization, it’s something we have to embrace, at least for now, if we want people to truly listen to what we have to say instead of how we are saying it.
So much goes into sounding stereotypically male or female that I will just have to write a bazillion more articles in order to teach you how. Please look for future posts from me for more tips that have related exercises or activities you can do safely with a friend. You may just eventually start sounding as fabulous as you know you already are.
Mitch is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist and is currently licensed to provide services in both medical and academic settings in Colorado and Arizona. He lives in Canon City, CO with his partner of 15 years and his sister-in-law, along with his 3 dogs and a magnolia tree.
Mitch brings with him 33 years of experience as a Speech Pathologist improving the communication, cognitive, and swallowing skills of clients from ages 4 to 104. He currently works primarily out of his home office providing speech teletherapy services to school-based special education students.
Mitch has a history of being actively involved on behalf of the GLBTQ community. He acted as one of the founding members of the Phoenix Chapter of GLSEN in addition to conducting support groups and anti-bullying camps for GLBTQ teens.
You may also have spotted him marching in the first gay pride parade in Cleveland, Ohio way back in 1975 and more recently marching for marriage equality in the MLK day parade in Mesa, AZ about 4 years ago.
He currently is developing a private practice specializing in the on-line voice and communication therapy for the transgender community. He has a pilot group formed to work on program development and his goal is to have services available to residents of CO, AZ, and NM by August 2015 and then expand into other states as needs are identified.
His mission is to provide every transitioning person with an opportunity to participate in very affordable, very accessible, fun, and effective voice and communication therapy services while having an positive impact on the GLBTQ community in the process.