For those in the transgender community who are not satisfied with the sound of their voice, or who are having difficulty achieving a voice that matches their gender identity, everyday can be stressful. Anxiety is common for transgender individuals who aren’t comfortable with their voice, causing them to avoid socializing, speaking in public, or talking on the phone thereby negatively impacting their quality of life. Further complicating the matter is the range of medical treatments available for voice feminization. Some may be appropriate, others may be unnecessary and expensive.
For those pursuing voice changes in the transgender community, it is important to work with professionals who understand vocal anatomy, physiology and general vocal health. While many individuals turn to YouTube for tips and tricks on vocal feminization and masculinization, they often realize that the advice offered, while well-intentioned, may be damaging to the voice and body if practiced improperly. That is why it is important to find a professional with experience and education in voice training who has worked with transgender individuals.
Transgender people in the Lehigh Valley are lucky to have a group of Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) who are experienced in assisting trans people to find their voice and some of them have been kind enough to share their thoughts and information below. You can find their contact information on the Lehigh Valley Renaissance Resources page.
The Role of the SLP in Transgender Voice Therapy - By Jessica and Carly
SLPs have master’s level training in speech and hearing sciences. The “CCC” in our title means we are nationally certified in clinical competence with the American Speech-Language Hearing Association which is an important indicator of credibility to the practitioner you choose.
SLPs who specialize in voice care come from a perspective of rehabilitating voices and working toward optimal vocal health and vocal performance. It is expected that we have pursued many courses to enrich our care in the world of voice so that we are better equipped to care for high level voice users such as teachers, public speakers, customer service representatives, and singers.
The transgender man or woman who is pursuing vocal feminization or masculinization is in many ways a “vocal athlete.” These pursuits require high-level vocal endurance and performance. Healthy voice practices known as “vocal hygiene,” warm-ups, decreased strain, and self-exploration of the voice are some of the areas we can address together.
What to Expect from an SLP Evaluation and Treatment - By Anne
When a transgender client decides they would like to begin a program of voice therapy they have two options. The first is to see an SLP in an outpatient medical facility, which is treated in much the same way as a rehab program with a physical therapist. This may require a referral from their primary care doctor or an ENT/otolaryngologist but has the advantage of having some or all of the cost covered by insurance. Alternatively, patients may pay privately to see an SLP for individual or group lessons, which may not require the referral and can offer a more flexible training program than what is required within a medical setting.
Whether in a medical clinic or in a private studio, a complete background and evaluation takes place during the first session/lesson. This includes an interview and testing to assess the condition and function of the voice in five important areas of vocal function:
Hygiene - including fluid intake, vocal load, coughing or throat clearing, allergies, reflux
Posture/Breathing - body alignment, efficient breathing function
Phonation - the average pitch measured in conversation in relation to the average male/female range.
Resonance - how the laryngeal/vocal tract shape affects vocal sound quality
Articulation - speech patterns for perceived masculine and feminine voice
After the initial evaluation, a treatment program is outlined by the therapist that is based on the client’s priorities. The best part… In most cases the fundamental voice training goals can be met within 10 weeks (as long as the patient practices at home).
In the therapy sessions, the therapist will guide the client through a course of exercises designed to improve quality and function in gradually more challenging vocal tasks that may include:
Developing a clear voice quality while working to gradually and comfortably higher or lower pitches.
The use of sound analysis equipment and smartphone apps to monitor pitch and volume.
Chanting individual words to refine pitch.
Practicing common phrases, songs or rhymes
How to maintain your new voice skills.
Reviewing and practicing gender-related trends in conversational speech.
Wholeistic Care of the Transgender Voice - By Megan
Put the self in the sound and the sound in the self.
When the self is sound, all else falls away.
-Gheranda Samhita 7.8
When used freely, the human voice is a source of physical, spiritual and interpersonal connection. For many people, public speaking or singing evokes feelings of fear, shame or judgment which can significantly contribute to vocal difficulty.
Yet singing is a creative way for any transitioning voice (not just “singers!”) to explore vocal range, color, articulation, resonance and self-expression. In addition, research suggests that practices that build mindfulness through breath management like singing, meditative breathing, yoga, and chanting help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, effectively calming the body’s response to intense emotional situations.
Learning to slow down and observe the respiration cycle can help us attune to how the quality of the breath affects the freedom of the sound. This awareness facilitates vibrant, healthy, and authentic voice use.
That is why some practitioners have become certified YOGAVOICE® specialists. This process combines systematic voice pedagogy with yoga foundations to cultivate personal awareness, authenticity of communication, and the vocal artistry that contributes to the well-being of transgender people and healing in our culture.