Speaking of . . .
I spend far more of my time than is strictly healthy browsing through sites where I know going in that any mention of trans issues will draw mostly, if not entirely, negative commentary. I tell myself that I don’t like mutual confirmation societies as I do confronting ignorance and bias and challenging it, but it may be that I’m just obsessed with debating. Anyway, that digression aside, doing so gives me a sort of sense of what our harshest critics are saying and thinking.
A couple of days ago, one of those critics posted a column in which he, for the most part, just regurgitated the standard boilerplate cliches he’s posted many times before (he’s one of those Traditionalists who are obsessed with gay and trans people to the point of psychosis). But his set-up introduction hit me in a tender spot. He claimed that his son had called up a video of Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY speech and, not realizing what it was at first, the writer assumed he was listening to a man speaking. If you are like me, whether the anecdote is true or not, it touches a raw nerve.
One of the most prevalent sources of distress for trans women is reaching a place where their voice registers in a typical female range so that it does not out them to strangers, or get them misgendered when they can’t be seen such as on the phone. That struggle for me ranges from being ecstatic when a stranger on the telephone calls me “ma’am” to being very careful not to speak at all within the stall of a public ladies room lest I set off a ruckus. Even Jenner herself acknowledged in a recent blog post that one of her big concerns about the appearance was how her voice might interfere with the communication of her message.
I’m more than a little impressed at the part-time crossdresser who can shift back and forth with a convincing voice, because for me even after several years of full-time female status, I struggle to avoid those moments when I “drop out” enough to make bystanders double-take (or worse). Of course I’m aware that some trans women simply don’t bother. A Facebook friend once linked a video of a presentation she gave at her church, and being always curious to put a voice with a face I clicked it. Even knowing this subject as I do, I was taken aback when she spoke in a voice that was reminiscent of actor John Noble. Clearly she had no intention of trying to modify how she sounded and intended to defy the expectation that women should sound a certain way. Before that day, I had taken it as a given that every trans woman was working to raise the pitch of their voice.
However, while their are exceptions to pretty much any expectation you might have (don’t get me started on the London trans woman who proudly sports a full beard) I still think it’s generally true that effectively all of us either are working on it or have achieved a more feminine voice. For me, not being able to afford a voice coach or other similar programs, I’m not completely sure how well I’m doing, but those very rare phone or intercom “ma’ams” tell me I can get into that range, if I was consistent enough to stay there. It is important to remember that some women do speak witth an uncommonly deep or resonant voice compared to the typical female, but given the prejudices that still abound in our culture, I’d rather not draw that kind of attention, or have to spend too much time correcting those who misgender me.
Still, I’m thankful for the therapists out there who’ve developed programs which hel ptrans women achieve their goals concerning their voice. And I’m glad that high profile trans women draw attention to these hurdles we need to overcome. One of the criticisms of Jenner was that her money got her past a lot of problems the typical transitioning person deals with. That’s going to be challenging for her, to comment authentically on things that she will be accused of having no experience with – so I’m glad she mentioned this, however briefly.
Photo by: Valentina Volavia