Over the last few years, society experienced a pivotal change. We recognize that many people identify with a gender different from or nonconforming with their biological sex.
This awareness led to an increase in equality and rights for the LGBTQ community. And as more people from this community begin to live as their authentic selves, more clients seek to modify their voice to better match their gender identity—and they seek professional guidance from speech-language pathologists to do so. Although SLPs have helped transgender clients for decades, the wider societal acceptance means more people feel comfortable seeking our voice-modification services.
Our voice is an integral part of our identity. Imagine yourself as a person taking steps to begin living in a new gender role. You may feel your voice tone or pitch doesn’t accurately represent who you are. Based on my experience working with this population, I know that having a voice that doesn’t match your identity can feel devastating, and often hinders clients’ transition process.
SLPs—experts in voice, resonance and vocal care—are best suited to deliver innovative services in these areas. In addition, we should collect data on our clients’ results and share our anecdotal evidence and research with our peers.
I’ll go first! Using the following strategies, my clients seeking voice-modification services saw significant improvement in their desired voice outcomes:
- Warming up the voice and the body before beginning each session: I like to start my clients with Stemple’s Vocal Function Exercises, as well as breath work to help with relaxation. I find this also helps clients release stress, establishes rapport as we join together in this exercise, and generally sets a positive tone for the session.
- Teaching a feminine resonance isn’t all about higher pitch: Many of my clients want their voice to sound more “feminine.” To achieve a voice perceived as feminine, we tend to think of elevating the pitch. Instead, I teach clients to speak with a forward-focused resonance. This means directing them to bring their voice out of their chest.
- Stressing the importance of exercising new skills: From day one with a client, I focus on generalization with other people and in other settings. It doesn’t matter if it’s a vocal hygiene plan or practicing their new resonance techniques with a friend for 10 minutes each day. I stress follow-up and practice at home immediately. I find if clients are uncomfortable practicing their plan of care outside of our sessions, then they can’t generalize even with the most effective approaches. I also help my clients figure out how to integrate working on their new skills at multiple opportunities throughout the day. For example, talking to customer service representatives who don’t know them is a good time to practice their forward-focused resonance.
These strategies have worked well for my clients who are transgender or gender nonconforming. Through our collective efforts, we can change the future of transgender voice modification, while we provide effective and evidence-based services for these clients.
Tina Babajanians, MS, CCC-SLP, has nine years of experience working with voice clients. She owns a Los Angeles-based private voice clinic, The Voice Stylist. Follow her @thevoicestylist. firstname.lastname@example.org