Gender euphoria through singing

Last weekend I went to my annual favorite event of the year – Geek Girl Con. There were lots of great workshops and panels about various fandoms such as Captain Marvel and about inclusivity in geek culture. But the highlight of the weekend for me was the Steven Universe Sing-Along.

I sat in a room packed to overflowing with kids and adults of all kinds who were all singing their hearts out to what is now well over an hour of collected songs from my favorite cartoon. And I realized as I was sitting next to a friend’s adorable kid that the way that I sing them is pretty unusual. I am all over the vocal range depending on the song. Some I sing very very low in my deep bass voice. And some I sing in their original alto or soprano ranges.

Being able to have such a huge range in my singing voice (and do it well) is such a euphoric thing for me. It is probably one of the biggest signs that I’m nonbinary because I love hitting the low, rumbly notes and I love singing way up high above even the tenor range. That ability has come from a lot of privilege around access to vocal lessons and coaching but it’s also from a lot of hard work to expand my high range over the years. And now that is all paying off and I get to sign just about anything I want (other than stunt soprano stuff).

I’m now in my second year of singing with an all-gender LGBTQ focused chorus. And it is so great to be in a Bass section made up of so many diverse genders. Where men aren’t even the majority some of the time. And to look across the faces of my choir and feel like I am with my family. There are so many loving and supportive people and they have shown up for me time and time again outside of choir too.

I am so glad that I’m singing again. And I’m really looking forward to the GALA Festival next July.

Feminizing my voice

Sometimes I feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back.

A few weeks ago I started taking lessons on how to feminize my voice from another trans woman. Because unlike with taking testosterone which lowers your voice, taking estrogen doesn’t bring it back up. Once your voice has dropped, it takes a lot of conscious effort to retrain your muscles not to use that lower range and resonance. Eventually it becomes a subconscious thing but it takes months of hard work.

I’ve been avoiding doing this for a long time, partly because I’m not interested in passing, but mostly because I knew that focusing on my voice would trigger a lot of dysphoria. The reason I finally started is because I’ve realized that a big part of my fear of using the women’s restroom is the fact that I don’t feel like I can safely talk without creating a ruckus. Having a more feminine voice would open up more doors and make it easier to move through the world.

Trans femmes in particular also face a lot of subtle transmisogynistic messages, even in trans community, about how “scary” or “aggressive” we are, often based on our size or voice. And we can often be targeted and excluded because of it.

I definitely right about it being triggering. Paying attention to my voice and having to listen to recordings of it is really hard for me. When I’m in choir, somehow it feels okay to hit the very bottom notes. It’s really fun actually to be all rumbly and resonant. But that’s partly because I’m blending with other voices and it feels like I’m intentionally putting on a vocal costume and performing my voice in a particular way.

But when I try to consciously listen to my voice outside of that context, it is just a painful reminder of that choice that most trans people face. Do I put a lot of work into trying to pass, knowing it will only ever be semi-successful, in order to be safer or more accepted? Or do I “just be myself” knowing that I will forever be experiencing transphobia everywhere I go?

For my voice lessons, I was asked to pay attention to the voices around me and how they use their resonance in their body and sinuses. And then I was supposed to imitate various extreme examples of those such as cartoon voices to learn how to move and use those vocal centers. Which is great in theory but it also means a lot of practice time where I have to sit with a lot of discomfort.

Today I made the hard decision to put those lessons on hold. I’ve realized that I don’t have the emotional capacity right now to push through that intense dysphoria to do the practice necessary to make it worth my teacher’s time. My work has been stressful and demanding now that I am doing 2 and a half people’s jobs during a hiring freeze. And I already have to fight so much dysphoria with my preparations for jaw surgery and bottom surgery. I feel like I just have so much work to put in to transition at the moment (and so many appointment) and something had to give. So for now the voice lessons go on hold.

Luckily my voice has subconsciously raised a little bit from where it used to be. I still use a more masculine resonance but I speak more in a tenor range with an effeminate touch than my singing voice as a second bass would suggest. I guess I’ll take the little wins for now and try to go back to ignoring my voice until I am past some of this other transition work.

Queer Choir and name change

A few weeks ago a fellow enby told me that the former associate director of the gay men’s and women’s choruses in town was starting an all gender, queer-focused choir. This is literally a dream come true for me. Some of you may recall that a year and a half ago I tried to start my own choral group for trans voices because I was so frustrated with the lack of options in town that weren’t either too binary or too heteronormative. I forgot to do a follow up post here but basically while I found lots of people who were initially interested, I didn’t have enough musical talent to train them and not enough people auditioned to make it work.

So I’ve been waiting either for the right people/time to try again or for someone else to start something so I could join. And it finally happened! Someone else had the same vision and was much better connected than I am so she managed to not only get 80 people to audition but got a well known and very talented artistic director on board.

Last night was our first rehearsal and it felt so good to be singing again after a 3 year break. And what was even better was being part of a bass section with several other nonbinary people as well as trans people from both directions. The tenor section was half women too which was super fun to hear. I got several of my friends to join and I’ve already started making new friends.

I realized about halfway through the rehearsal that this is my opportunity to try out my new name in earnest. I switched my middle name to my chosen gender neutral/femme leaning name last year and I have been trying it out at home and among close friends tentatively the last couple weeks. But here I have a chance at a new start with a group where the only people who know me are fellow trans people and it is by design mostly (if not all) queer and very inclusive. I did have to do some explaining to some people who met me at auditions or when I first came in the door but people were very understanding.

So double excitement! A chance for a fresh start and new name context as well as the choir I’ve always dreamed of! The first rehearsal went so much better than I expected and we sound amazing. There’s about 70 people and everyone is equally enthusiastic. I can’t wait to hear how we sound by our concert in Dec.