He Transitioned to a Woman. But Sounding Like One Was Tough

Awl essay: Vocal training is a complicated and vital part of the process
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2016 11:08 AM CDT
Updated Jul 17, 2016 3:12 PM CDT

(Newser) – With more focus these days on transgender life, much attention is paid to physical transformations and the fight for equal rights. But a piece at the Awl by Vivian Wang highlights an often overlooked but vital part of the process: learning how to talk like a woman or a man. Indeed, "for many transgender people, sounding like their true gender is just as crucial to the transition process—and at times, just as complicated—as looking the part," writes Wang. For example, estrogen therapy and reconstructive surgery can help males who identify as females look like a woman, but unless they have surgery on their thick vocal cords, they probably won't naturally sound like one. Enter vocal training clinics, which help participants learn how to control their pitch and resonance.

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The story then dovetails into intriguing questions about the stereotypes involved in such training. At a UConn clinic, for example, males transitioning to females are taught to use mannerisms and ways of speaking—such as uttering sentences in what Wang describes as a "singsong quality"—associated with women. "In other words, the clinic uses gender stereotypes to train a group that is already, by definition pushing back on stereotypes of what it means to belong to a certain gender." A speech pathologist there counters that the clinic isn't condoning such stereotypes, but bowing to research that shows people who abide by them pass more easily for their identified gender. In the end, however, the person profiled in the piece opted for vocal cord surgery. Click to read the full story. (Read more transgender stories.)

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