Voice Training as a Genderqueer Person

Posted by on Feb 23, 2016 in A Little Respect--Queer Art & Life, Catharsis Blog on Media, Writing, and Art

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Recently, Cosmopolitan published a video featuring Speech-Language Pathologist Christie Block. Christie is my therapist for voice training; she treats various kinds of speech conditions, and works with transgender/genderqueer persons on training one’s voice to better fit with one’s gender identity. Christie’s website is here: http://www.nyspeechandvoicelab.net/

The Cosmo video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpMiqCmRNOU It is short, but gives an idea of voice training and the importance of it for trans/genderqueer persons. I participated in the video and it has a clip of me explaining how voice training is empowering. I am very pleased at how my voice sounds on this video. I wanted to add more to that here on what voice training is like, and how important it has been to my identity as a genderqueer person.

I sought out voice training in 2015 because I seeking self-actualization in relation to my gender identity. For the couple years previous to that, I had been simultaneously working on Gabriel’s World and becoming more comfortable in my identity. Gender identity was more daunting to fully express to others and be open about. It’s why writing the post about writing a GQ character has taken me a bit.

I had reflected for some time what would express being GQ, I relate to the Del LaGrace Volcano portrait, Half and Half. For me, GQ is being both masculine and feminine–but definitions are unique to the individual (how I define is not necessarily how other genderqueer people may define). I am more male than female, and always have been, so I’ve felt set apart most of my life in not fitting in, not meeting expectations until I set my own expectations. As typical with trans/gender non-conforming persons I was targeted in school for not fitting in, and in the past while trying to understand/explore my identity I was threatened with institutionalization. Writing helped me become more comfortable myself in a myriad of ways, which is why I’m developing a program to help queer youth. The next step was self-actualization through expression. I set some goals. One, to change my name to a more androgynous one, which I did last year. Two, to work on my voice to better express the masculine/androgynous aspects. I had trans persons talk to me in the past about their individual voice training and the positive effect from the training. So I researched the options around NYC for getting such training, and found Christie’s website. I was heartened by her not only helping trans persons, as I’m very much a trans/genderqueer advocate, but also that she was open to genderqueer persons as well.

Voice training has made me feel more in my identity, as if I moved from two dimensions to three dimensions. For me, my voice is more than just reflective of my gender identity. I have a very rough childhood and background, and my voice for a long time reflected lack of confidence, uncertainty, and fear. I did not feel it was my true voice because I could not feel power behind it. Now in my head and out loud I can hear and connect my true self.

My voice has become a signifier of me becoming, metamorphosing more into my identity and being confident in it. When I hear my voice, it confirms my authentic self being real. As a good deal of my identity is in my writing, I have also wanted to use more audio work to enhance my series. My training allows me to develop a voice not just lower but resonant, and to distinguish the Gabriel’s World characters I feel so close to.

The exercises involved developing an open throat, which helped in projection and confidence to use the voice in ‘bigger’ sound. On my first session, my current vocal pitch was recorded for later comparison. Later on, I was evaluated on any possible physical problems that may impact my voice. Christie designed individual exercises to practice in strengthening the new pitch and also to improve tone. But this wasn’t just getting a lower voice, it was also working on making the voice natural–to use the true voice spontaneously in various situations. Christie created exercises for me where I could use vocal resources I had already such as my Buddhist chanting and readings from my stories.

During my training I heard a change very quickly, from proper discipline and practice. I teach critical thinking, and part of critical thinking is finding the right information/expertise when needed. I needed an expert with compassion, and I needed direction–both in what to do, and also in what not to do–not to try for voices that might be harmful. Christie was that expert. One aspect to understand is you work the the range you have and not to try to aim for that which may damage your vocal cords. I’d love to sound like Tom Hardy, but Tom’s voice is not good for me.

Another important aspect is to practice. Practice helps you in getting used to the voice and using it in more situations. Practice helps develop new neural pathways to make the new voice a habit. Practice makes you more confident. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for me was using my true voice with people I know. Using it with people I didn’t know was easier, as it was using my new name. Luckily, I have a very supportive partner and supportive friends, and a place of my own to practice. I know for others having a private place to practice is more difficult, as they may not be able to safely be out.

My current voice–true voice–has a subtle but a distinct difference from the old one. My current voice is an anchor to so much more than just a voice–it is my expression of confidence outside of writing. Under stress I’ll revert back to the previous voice, but that is what training is about–to get stronger in keeping the change until it is second nature. Persistence is important in training. Sometimes a person falls off here and there, like in quitting smoking. But just keep going and don’t give up. Understand that in any new thing one has highs and lows, good practice and bad practice. Times when you’re on fire, and times when you’re ice cold. Just don’t give up.

As I mentioned, I like to do audio work and I use Audacity to create some voices for my characters. Some of this is on YouTube and this website. The experience of hearing their voices is terrific. But I needed something that was me, that wasn’t changed electronically, to use everyday.

For trans and genderqueer people who are working on their voice, I encourage you. Use critical thinking for yourself and have empathy for yourself. You are your main cheerleader. Critical thinking and metacognition (thinking about thinking) helps to understand yourself, and empathy encourages you in the search and the change. Seeking out good help, expertise, and staying with it. Keep working at it. Don’t give up. Also, finding an authentic voice is a metaphor for coming out, for transformation, for transcendence. As you seek and work on that voice remember too be yourself. It is your voice. Don’t let others tell you ‘who’ to be, no matter who they are. There isn’t one right way to be trans or genderqueer. There isn’t one right way to be female, male, nongendered, bigendered, gay, bi, black, white, Christian, Buddhist, young or old. You will find if you haven’t already that people will tell you how to be a good fill-in-the-blank. For transwomen as example some may complain that you are buying into a stereotyped ideal of femininity etc. etc. It’s not their business. It’s your business. Go with who you know you are, and find support from good people. There’s people out there like you such as myself and allies like Christie who are cheering you on.

Copyright 2016 Alex Fiano

Page last updated 2/22/2016