Tag Archive: voice

kings-speechHello – it’s been a while. If I’m honest I’ve needed a little break from blogging. I do love doing it, and I’ve not run out of things to talk about (yet!) but my head has been in a funny place recently. My natural reaction to that sort of feeling is to crawl into bed and stay there, but Society will insist that I keep on going, so that is what I’ve done, albeit paring down on a few of my commitments.

That’s not to say I’ve been a hermit – tempting as that might have been. I’ve been doing a beginners’ climbing course at my local wall, which has been a lot of fun. I’ve discovered that after a lifetime of being not-terribly-strong, I now have muscles that will propel me from one small chunk of plastic rock to another if I ask them nicely (or tell them, dammit). Thank you very much, Mr Testosterone, for that one. Oh, and thanks are probably due to the weeks of eating well and going to the gym, which have resulted in biceps that make me happy, and leg muscles that have earned me the nickname ‘Thunder Thighs’ by my climbing partner. I’ve not, I confess, been able to stick to the strict regime the way I wanted to for a full 12 weeks. However, I did pretty well for 6 weeks, and I am trying to get my head around the concept of starting another 6 week stint soon. If in doubt, do things in chunks.

Possibly the biggest thing that has happened this month is a visit to a speech therapist about my slightly-deeper-than-it-was-but-definitely-still-female voice. After 2 years and 4 months *most* (but definitely not all – transition is not an exact science) people have a significantly more masculine voice than I do. Not necessarily deeper, but resonating differently. I did have a very high voice to start with, plus as a (cough) ‘older’ person, my voicebox has been used to doing what it does in the same way for a very long time.

I spent a long time assuming things would just sort themselves out, and it’s true that my voice is still getting lower as time goes on. However, it has become the thing that ‘gives me away’ in terms of people recognising me as male. I look pretty androgynous, which is fair enough, but that, coupled with the voice…no chance, or at best, much confusion.

I spoke to my GP about the issue in the end, because I spend a high-ish proportion of my time at work on the ‘phone, and I do get very down being mis-gendered on every third ‘phone-call. Despite giving my name clearly at the start. My GP referred my to the Ear Nose and Throat team at the local hospital, and much to my amazement, I was invited to make an appointment. Big up to the NHS.

I honestly thought the speech therapist would laugh me out of the room, or give me a stern lecture about there being people with REAL problems out there in the waiting room, and I was wasting their time. However, she has been wonderful. Enthusiastic, honest about what she does and doesn’t know about FTM voice issues, sweet, encouraging, and, let’s face it, I’m a little bit in love.

Far from giving me a photocopied sheet and sending me packing, she spent an hour working on solid, practical ways to change the sound of my voice without sounding silly. And it is working. My work this month revolves around the ‘Mmmm’ sound, as it helps me find a good pitch, a bit like a tuning fork. Try it – if you hum ‘Mmmmmm’ at what feels like a natural pitch, it should feel ‘right’. I then have to add on vowels (MmmmmMAY, MmmmmmmME, etc.) then ‘M’ words (MmmmmMARMALADE). This has really helped me find a lower sound to my own voice, and when I think about ‘setting’ my voice, it works a treat. Of course, as soon as I forget all about it and start chatting away as normal, the squeakier, less ‘grounded’ voice comes back.

I have started answering the ‘phone at work with my Mmmmmm voice, and I’ve only been called ‘love’ and ‘darling’ by one man in the last 3 weeks, which is a distinct improvement. I’m hoping the barman in my local hasn’t noticed the ‘Mmmmmmm’ before “I’d like a pint of Old Fisherman’s Sock, please”.

If this is the improvement I’m able to get in 3 weeks, I’m very much looking forward to what 2 more appointments will bring. Perhaps we can slowly get the body and the voice to match, and at least reduce the confusion a lot of the Great British Public experience on meeting me.

In other news, I will soon be guest blogging for ‘Original Plumbing’, an online spin-off of the OP magazine, “dedicated to the sexuality and culture of the FTM trans guy”. Their website is relaunching on 1st August, and I should be doing a piece once a month. Check out my introduction on there when the new website’s up – I’ll put a link on this page a bit closer to the time. Yeah, I’m the one going on about Hong Kong Phooey.

One of the most obvious parts of FTM transition is the voice change. To me, it’s one of the clearest signs that the testosterone is doing its thing, and as such, is quite comforting, in a way. My voice started changing on the very first day I took T – it became hoarse and uncomfortable –  which shocked me by the speed at which my body was responding, but delighted me too – it WORKS!

I was fully prepared for the changes to my voice, or so I thought. I’d done my reading, spoken to other people like me, and so on. I knew that the voice would not drop smoothly and I was aware that the most likely pattern would be sore throat, drop, sore throat, drop, until hopefully my voice reaches a suitably masculine pitch after several months.

I was wrong. My voice does get sore before going a bit deeper, but then pretty much stays croaky and uncomfortable before the next stage of the process. I sound like I permanently need a throat sweet. I had, with the benefit of hindsight, been warned. I read the memoir of a transman in which he describes a woman he worked with asking him constantly about his croaky voice, and him fobbing her off with ‘oh, it’s just a bit of a throat infection’. Apparently, by the end of nearly a year, she was practically dragging him along to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. When I read this, I thought it was odd that his throat seemed ‘off’ all the time, as I was convinced there would be ‘good bits’ in between the drops.

My throat and voice feel ‘off’ all the time now, and I’m always clearing my throat (witness all the coughing on my videos!). The trouble I find when my throat gets really painful (and it hurts like hell at the moment – hence the inspiration for this post!) is that although my conscious mind think ‘it’s ok, my voice is just about to get deeper again’, my subconscious mind think ‘aaaargh! I’m ill’. It’s very difficult not to feel ‘ill’ with a really sore throat, cos quite important bits of my brain only know that pain=poorly. So I feel quite low, physically and mentally, with my brain constantly trying to get me to stop what I’m doing and rest up, so I can get better. Except that I’m actually fine, so there’s a lot of mind over matter, or even mind over mind going on!

Back to my actual voice. Those of you who’ve known me for a while will attest to the fact that I had a pretty high voice before starting hormone therapy. The very first video on my YouTube channel was made after 4 days on testosterone, and even with the accompanying slight gravel (yes, really, this is my voice showing signs already) you can hear how high pitched I used to be. Now my voice is still solidly within ‘female’ range, but I sound a bit like I’m speaking through a vocoder at times.

The trouble is, I’ve lost my very ‘top end’, but not yet gained a real ‘low end’. I thought, wrongly, that my voice transition would go from high to low. Nope. I occasionally sound low (though fuzzy), with squeaks and slides. It’s almost impossible to keep talking at just one pitch. When I forget about it, my voice just goes everywhere, and I just sound like a crazed woman who’s been smoking 50 a day for her whole life.

Talking on the phone to people who don’t know me is hard, as there is no way my voice sounds male, even though I’ve given them a male name. Problems come up all the time with telephone banking, ringing the barber for an appointment, doctor, you name it. It’s embarrassing and frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do except put up with the sore throats and be patient.

I love singing, but cannot sing at the moment. I used to love doing karaoke, but that’s a no-no just now. I went to a pub recently where they had a karaoke, and a new friend was trying to persuade me to sing. I said I couldn’t, and she took that to mean that I had a bad singing voice and didn’t want to look silly. ‘It’s ok’, she said, ‘you can’t be THAT bad’. No, I really can’t sing. It’s physically impossible. I wouldn’t just not hit the notes, I wouldn’t be making even the right sounds. If anything came out at all in some places. That brings me down, even though it’s superficial and hopefully only short-term. I miss my singing voice.

It has been suggested to me that whilst in this stage where voice-control is up the spout that voice training would be helpful. A lot of transwomen spend time training their voices to sound natural at a higher pitch, and I believe it can be very successful. As a transman, I am fortunate in that whatever I do with my voice, it WILL end up lower. Testosterone thickens the vocal cords, so the voice has no choice, really, but to head South, albeit bumpily, and with little control.

‘Trying’ to sound like a man is something I’m wary of, as I don’t want to seem like a stereotypical ‘wannabe man’ pitching my voice really low, but there’s probably something to be gained from at least thinking about what I’m doing with my voice, until it’s finally decided where it’s going. Until then, Strepsils and positive thinking!