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.

A new life

It’s been a little over 10 months since I shaved my beard and almost a year since I started using my new name everywhere and already it feels like another lifetime and another person. I’m still getting photos from a year ago popping up in my Facebook memories and it is hard to even recognize them as myself. I can see that the person in (some) of the photos is beautiful but it isn’t me anymore. I have moved so far beyond who I was in that moment.

The first few months after shaving were definitely rough with having to face my dysphoria around my chin and stubble. But now there is so little hair left that I don’t have to think about it 90% of the time and I often forget to shave the few stubborn hairs around my lips. I feel so much more feminine now without the shadow on my face.

It also helps that I can really visibly see the changes that estrogen has made in my body. My facial structure has been changed by both rounding of the edges from hormones and from a pretty distinct cheek structure change created by the first jaw surgery. Many acquaintances I see think I have already had the feminization portion of the surgery which feels great. At this point I’m feeling more excitement than dread about the second surgery and the final results I’ll have. Especially since I can finally get this annoying metal out of my mouth and feel confident smiling again.

There are still a lot of hurdles to cross. I’m trying to get the letters from the psychiatrists that I need for surgery and the hair removal on my genitals to prep for that. I have appointments today and next week that should hopefully cover those barriers.

I also started vocal feminization lessons last week. While my voice has subconsciously raised a few degrees already, estrogen doesn’t automatically bring your voice back to where it was before testosterone (yet another reason to support hormone blockers for trans teens). I have to do a lot of conscious work to expand my upper range and retrain my muscles not to create the masculinized resonance my vocal cords are used to. Someday it will hopefully be second nature but for now it is exhausting work.

However, I do seem to have crossed some magical threshold now where many people in public recognize me pretty quickly as a trans woman. Whereas before with my beard I would get stares of befuddlement everywhere I went, now I mostly get recognition, at least in liberal Seattle.  Which has meant that I get a lot more “ma’am”s and “she” either automatically or from self correction.

I tried using she/her pronouns before just around my chosen family but it still felt grating at the time. Like I was too far away from that reality and the pronouns just reminded me that no one would automatically assume that. But now I have decided to use them again as another option in addition to they/them and it feels wonderful. Especially when it is coming from strangers who I am first meeting.

In the moment, progress can feel so slow but it is nice to have these moments where my head comes out of the water and I feel like I can breathe again.