Voice and Identity

You can determine many things from a person’s voice. You can determine age and origin, you can hear emotions, intentions and attitudes. However, the most obvious thing that the voice reveals is one’s gender.

The World Health Organisation (2017) as refer to gender as “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men”. In our modern and diverse world, we now have many terms to describe one’s identity – as not everyone identifies with the binary ‘gender’ they were biologically assigned.

Transgender people are those that identify with the opposite sex to which they were assigned at birth. These people may seek various interventions and approaches to assist them in transitioning to their gender of choice. They may change their name, appearance and commence hormone therapy. However, the voice can be quite difficult to change and can often be an outstanding challenge in those who are transitioning between genders. This is due to the voice so obviously revealing our biologically assigned gender due to our hormones.

Our vocal cords change significantly during puberty – when hormones our change. The voice undergoes a more significant change in males, where the vocal cords undergo a greater increase in size and thickness than in females. This is what causes most males to have a deeper voice than females.

Hormone therapy is commonly undertaken by those wishing to transition to their opposite gender, allowing them to be more biologically aligned with their identity.

A female transitioning to a male may commence taking testosterone. Testosterone will affect the vocal cords in the same way that puberty does; they will increase in size and thickness. This will allow those who are transitioning from female to male to achieve a voice perceived as male. Although, they may require further intervention so that their voice fully aligns with the masculinity of their identity.

In males transitioning to females, intervention other than hormone therapy may need to be undertaken for their voice to match their feminine identity. Unfortunately, the oestrogen hormone taken does not assist in the feminisation of the voice, with their voice often causing a disconnect between the individual’s identity and their biological gender.

Speech Pathologists experienced in the voice domain can assist those transitioning between genders to achieve a voice that aligns with their identity. A Speech Pathologist will assess the ability for your voice to change and function within a female or male pitch range. Once this has been determined, you will engage in therapy consisting of techniques and strategies to achieve your desired voice. This incorporates exercises to ensure that you are producing a good, healthy voice and not damaging the vocal cords.

In addition to exercises required to ensure healthy voicing, the voice’s resonance and fundamental frequency are targeted. This is achieved through a series of techniques, working through a hierarchy with the new voice from words to phrases, sentences, conversation and the ultimate goal: generalisation and a connection between your identity and voice.

However, perfect practice makes perfect, and in order for clients to achieve desired outcomes they must be dedicated and willing to follow home practice schedules.

At Peninsula Speech Plus we have clinicians experienced in the voice domain, with a particular interest in transgender voice therapy.

Please call our friendly reception on 5975 1500 to find out more, or to book an appointment!

References:

http://www.who.int/gender-equity-rights/understanding/gender-definition/en/