female voice, feminization, transgender

Voice Tips for Girls #2

DisclaimerI am not qualified in any way as a voice therapist.  The tips and instructions provided here were given to me by a qualified speech therapist, but have been designed for my own individual needs.  These exercises may not be appropriate or necessary for you and are only an illustration of potentially useful voice adapting methods.  Look after your voice, it’s the only one you have, and please consult a professional before making these potentially damaging and permanent changes to your voice.  I am nowhere near achieving a passable voice or a strong understanding of these vocal concepts and am as much in the dark as any other beginner.  Some of the ideas, concepts and additions below are borne of my own mostly ignorant interpretations and opinions.  Try these at your own risk.

This one is for my girls, with achy throats compounded with vocal confusion.  I had my second voice therapy appointment and have learned a lot.  I don’t know about you, but before seeing a professional I had waded through a ton of YouTube videos, bought the Kathe Perez and Andrea James voice feminization programs, and even the EVA voice app.

I spent months working up the courage to try the exercises, and when I finally got around to it, I did the exercises, but I didn’t see what the point was, I didn’t see what I was trying to achieve.  I’ve had no basis of comparison to know whether what I was doing was correct, or whether the changes I was making were improvements, or a steady way of destroying my voice.

In my last post I outlined a few basics I learned in my first lesson, and I would like to share now the techniques I learned in the second lesson.

Firstly, anything I’ve encountered has suggested I practice for at least an hour a day, my voice therapist said the same (too much will over-strain the voice), but suggested doing 4 sessions of 10-15 minutes per day to optimize progress, rather than lumping the entire hour into one daily session.

If you feel the need to clear your throat, DON’T; take a drink of room temperature water instead.  I’ve been nicotene free for a little bit now and get goo in my throat but still don’t clear it because it’s doing damage.  If you have acid reflux or any other vocal/throat anomalies, I would advise not doing these exercises and speaking with a doctor or voice professional first.

Technique 1 – The Straw Method

This exercise is scientifically shown to reduce vocal chord tension and feelings of tightness in the throat.  It may seem silly, but the results are frankly astounding for such a simple activity.  It takes a little bit of practice to begin with but is quick, easy, and can be done in 5 minutes.

“The aim of these exercises is to build air pressure below the vocal chords to enable them to come together with less effort”

What you will need:

  • A bendy cocktail straw (small diameter)
  • A glass filled with about 2 inches of water
Cuddly Bear Optional

Cuddly Bear Optional

“Directions:

  1. Holding the glass in one hand and the straw in the other (have the straw in the water not touching the bottom, top, or sides), blow a steady stream of air into the water.  Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.  You will see bubbles in the glass.  Do this 5 times.  Your throat should seem more open.
  2. Blow through the straw into the water, this time adding the prolonged sound ‘uuuuuuuuuuuuuu.’  Use a pitch that is comfortable for you.  Ensure a good lip seal is maintained around the straw so no air leaks from the sides of your lips or down your nose.  This is tricky and may take several attempts (be careful not to blow water everywhere!).  Repeat this 5 times.  You throat should feel even more open.
  3. Pulse rhythmically on ‘uuuuu’, increasing the volume.  Repeat x5.
  4. Again, on the sound ‘uuuuuu’. Glide from high pitch to low pitch 5 times.
  5. Now glide from low pitch to high pitch and back down again 5 times.
  6. Hum a simple tune like Happy Birthday (or Iron Man by Black Sabbath =P) through the straw.
  7. Finally imitate the intonation of speech by humming through the straw, e.g.  Gliding up as if you were asking a question, e.g. ‘How are you today?’
  8. Remove the straw and begin to speak.  Notice a feeling of openness and effortless in your throat.” [1]

Paraphrased from [1] – Titze, 2006.  Voice Training and Therapy with a Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract:  Rational and Scientific Underpinnings.

From the first try on this exercise I noticed the openness.  After a couple of days I was surprised by the quality of my voice immediately after following these steps.

Technique 2 – Humming

For these exercises I was asked to try them in different pitches to find what was comfortable for me.  Online voice programs will generally ask you to aim for an A3 note (220HZ); however I was informed my A3 was unnatural, and a G3 or G#3 worked better and was still within the ‘feminine’ range.  Use an online piano, free mobile piano app, or a tuned musical instrument if you have one to find these pitches.  If your throat gets tight whilst doing these exercises, try step one of the straw again exercise to reduce the tension.

“Directions:

  1. Begin breathing down the nose and add the hum ‘mmmmmm….’  Gently place two fingers either side of your nose and feel for the vibrations.  Also, experiment with placing your hand on your chest, checking for vibration and resonance.  When done correctly there should be very little buzzing in the chest.  There will always be a little buzzing in the throat as this is of course where the vocal chords are located.  Imagine your voice coming from the front of the lips and/or the centre of the tongue.
  2. Once this has been achieved, the hum can be prolonged, remembering the lips should make light contact while the teeth remain apart.  Imagine the sound forward onto the lips.  This will allow the tongue to assume a neutral position, and because the hum is very close to quiet breathing, it will also put the larynx in a neutral position.  While you prolong the hum, not only will you feel the vibration around the face and lips, but also listen to the ’rounded’ quality of the sounds.
  3. Vowel sounds can be added to the hum, making sure initial the focus remains on the hum rather than the vowel, to prevent any increase in glottal tension.  You may then be able to produce the hum with simultaneous onset of breath and voice.
  4. Try the following sounds, 3 times each in a row at a pitch that feels natural and comfortable [in your preponderantly ‘female’ range] (i.e. Mmm … ah, Mmm … ah, Mmm … ah).
  5. Mmm … ah  – Mmm … oo  – Mmm … ee  – Mmm … ay  – Mmm … oh  – Mmm … eye.
  6. Once you have mastered these, you can move onto words and phrases, maintaining an intoned voice and initially prolonging the hum at the beginning of words (You may also want to first sing, and then say the words and phrases at your preferred pitch).
  7. – Main  – Mine  – Mean  – Moan  – Moon  – Mourn  – Many  – Money  – Morning  – Moaning  – Mining  – Meaning
  8. Short Phrases: – Many moons  – Many more  – Morn or noon  – More money  – My name  – Many miles  – Moaning Minnie  – Manage money
  9. Longer Phrases:
  • My name is Naomi More
  • My mum makes mince on Mondays
  •  My money may go missing
  • Mad Max moans from morning till night
  • Noisy monkeys made away with it
  • Mean Mary mocks Mike
  • Many miles more to the mountain
  • Martin has marmalade in the morning
  • Mandy like mince and minestrone soup”[2]

[2] These exercises were graciously provided to me by my voice therapist.  They are shared without permission, though I hope by sharing them that it can take a little pressure off NHS voice resources and help some of the transwomen who either cannot gain access to vocal therapy, or those who are thoughtlessly destroying their throats with bad practice in understandable despair, bearing in mind my disclaimer).

Remember to breathe diaphragmatically in general and before speaking and to drink at least 2 litres of water per day.

Once these exercises are completed you may want to try a few other speech patterns out.  A dictaphone may be helpful in gauging your progress.

  • Trying singing and speaking 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
  • Try humming then speaking the days of the week, or the months of the year.

Another little tip is to practice saying ‘mmhmm’ as a confirmation tone at different pitches.  This could be helpful in social situations rather than using words like ‘Sure’ and ‘Yeah’ which may sound inherently masculine for us, and potentially end in a downward inflection, a big difficulty in voice ‘feminization’ and a sure-fire tell.

Think Gumbel 2 Gumbel from Family Guy –

You might be able to use a Spectogram (download at your own risk) to gauge the pitch and inflection of your voice.  A set up guide for this Spectogram can be found HERE, again courtesy of Deep Stealth Productions.

Through doing these vocal exercises I’ve subtly been able to help myself take the voice away from my chest.  There is still a little resonance there often enough, but through gentle experimentation I can find what reduces that chest resonance to almost zero.  Remember this is a journey of change, not a switch that flicks between ‘male’ voice and ‘female’ voice.  I’ll be honest, I sound like a horrible transsexual, and you have to be able to deal with that for a while, maybe at the very least 6 months, maybe 2 years, maybe forever, because this is a transition, and it is usually very difficult, and probably impossible without a concerted effort and desire to improve.

Remember, the people who love and care about you will understand you are going through changes, your efforts will show them how serious and dedicated you are.  Strangers won’t know any different and will assume that it’s just your voice.

The good news is, my voice therapist said that when you “Get it”, progress becomes exponential and real results can be achieved.

Whilst making inroads with my vocal technique, I find it somewhat emotionally taxing already to go back to my old voice.  Even in private, when I tried a couple of times to bring the chest resonance back in, I just really didn’t like how it sounds, and I never want to hear it again, it is almost intolerable.  It is fine for a male voice, but it is not my voice.  Be prepared to feel like this, as it is a common experience.  Say goodbye to your old voice, realise that it’s most likely goodbye forever.

I hope these tips help you to understand the early stages of the process from the inside even just a little bit.  It is difficult and embarrassing at times, but remain courageous, stay focused, committed and determined, and you will reach your goals.

You can do it!

Amy Xx

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gender, transgender

Free Pass

It’s a classic story told on the road by many sparkling travellers, the occasion when one is gendered correctly for the first time by a stranger.  Likely it comes when least expected, for preceding it is the scary period when the pessimist inside says: ‘Nobody will ever see me for who I truly am.’  For as often as hopes are dashed, it’s important to realise that similarly our doubts are quashed, because how we perceive is only one view of how things are.

A few days before I came across this little comic on Transgender Graphics:

It made me sad, as sad as listening to ‘La Valse D’Amelie’ whilst watching couples hug close together on bridges during the still cold nights.  ‘This will never happen to me’, I thought, almost defiant in accessing future failures.

The fates care not for emotional whim.  A few days later, in the midst of that four or five day period each month I feel utterly despondent (hmm!) I met one of my girlfriends who convinced me to go out to dinner with her.  It was a horrendous day so we arrived at the restaurant with big coats on and I was too sad to wear any make up, I looked and felt decisively ‘unfemale’.  The hostess at the front desk greeted us briefly and signalled a waiter to take us to our table.

“Just a second and we’ll show you ladies to your table.”  Huh?

The waiter comes over and ushers us to the table, hands out the menus,

“So, have either of you girls eaten here before?”  What?!

My friend of course heard this as well and we both enjoyed the surreal moment.  I say surreal because dude…..

Lady looks like a dude…

Lady looks like a dude…

A funny thought I’ve had since, that if I were a man, I’d have been pretty damn offended at being misgendered, and if that’s the case, why am I so passively lenient to those who would misgender me?

So what happened?  I’m calling it a fluke, a ‘free pass’.  I consider this whole passing thing to be a rate rather than a fixed value depending on personal success, and I really have to call perception into question.  I could make all sorts of excuses to try and invalidate myself but I’m going to take it, and use it to show that a transitioner isn’t always the one who knows how well they are doing.  It can become typical to get negative about physical appearance, and I think we need these little boons from others to lift our heads from the grey stone to look once more at the path we travel.  I am so grateful for my loved ones and friends.

I finished my 6 session private laser therapy not long before all this, coming across a new craze for tweezing out the hairs from dead follicles (not recommended =D).  I tweezed just about every single [dark] hair out of my face, which didn’t hurt as much as you’d think since the hairs have been basically cauterized half a dozen times.  It makes a massive difference to how I look, no shadow, just the few fine greys and skin.  A perception is, that adult males are generally considered to have at least a little beard shadow at all times, take that away and the doors of ambiguity creak open a little. Way too much of the hair grows back though, it’s only good for one clearance after a laser session. Again, not recommended.

Also, I don’t know why in male upbringing, we are made to avoid anything that could be considered not macho, so much so that we ruin ourselves to maintain the image.  I said I’d refrain from giving actual transition advice, but I’m going to give some simple life advice – moisturize.  My skin has improved as much in the past couple of months with a learned skincare routine as I see at the two month point in most transition videos.  My skin is bright and alive, because I treat it so much better now, and people notice this.

Appointments, The Lasers! The Voices!

Looking for solid work at the moment is almost pointless.  From home, my monthly/six weekly laser appointments were a 2 and a half hour round trip; my fortnightly therapy appointment at the gender clinic is a 4 hour round trip; now I’ve started voice therapy, which is now a fortnightly 5 hour round trip.  Upcoming is an unknown appointment for fertility storage that I rush downstairs in hope for every morning, and then all the appointments hopefully testing for and prescribing HRT.  That’s too many appointments to take on a new hire, not that it will stop me trying.

Each little appointment is progress, inconvenient, but not an effort.  However, the voice therapy was terrifying.  For my first appointment a couple of interns were present, three cis-women, and me, hitting falsetto.  Basically it was only an assessment, I was asked what my goals were, what my issues were, what my habits were.  For future comparison I had to read a pre-written paragraph into a dictaphone, and do various basic exercises to monitor my breath and voice placement.  For example I was asked to go ‘shhhhhhhh’ for as long as possible, I was made go ‘eeee’ to check my pitch, and then again to see if I could modify the pitch.  It was all just making fundamental noises to give the therapist a baseline to individualise my treatment. It succckkkeeeedddd, it’s going to continue to suuuuuccccckkkkk, and it’s my number one priority, even over HRT.

As I’ve written before, the voice thing scares me.  I’m no longer scared of the changes to my identity and so on, nor scared of the exercises – like many aspects of transition I’ve noticed, the recalcitrance fades away because the train never stops.  I’m just scared of sounding stupid, having that cartoon squeaky trans voice.  You know what I learned?  Too bad.  It’s a real-time transition, not a time warp, the reality is, you have to plough on right through the horror.

‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’ – Winston Churchill

Homework number one is simply motivation, dedication, commitment.  The process is to permanently stretch the vocal chords and say goodbye to the old voice.  Transwomen say they can keep their male voice but in many videos I’ve seen them try to show this it leads to uncomfortableness and coughing fits.  So are ya ready?

The notes I got were:

  • Increase fluid intake, WATER, avoid alcohol, fizzy drinks, dairy
  • Avoid spicy foods
  • Practice humming at different pitches, feeling for a buzzing in the face/lips
  • Don’t clear your throat unnecessarily
  • Avoid answering by shouting when upset or anxious (or in general)
  • Warm up your voice if you are going to use it for a long time
  • Observe cis-females in real life in terms of: presentation/image, pitch, resonance, ‘femaleness’
  • Consider female role models and how they carry their voices.

I’ve been doing voice practice through youtube video’s, doing the paid programs, using the apps, using a spectrograph etc, but I have no idea what I’m doing and how to achieve that, and I’m hoping voice therapy will help this.  Step one for me is simple, speak with a voice located above the throat.  As a natal male, my voice had sunk down into my chest, giving that rattling ‘bricks in a cement mixer’ kind of sound, which leads to all those downward inflections at the end of sentences and other vocal maladies.

I asked, what is a female voice, and she didn’t know, because such a thing doesn’t always specifically exist on a bandwidth, all there is, is a commonality.  I’ve made my commitment and now I am using a new voice all the time.  It sounds as stupid as I feared, but I don’t feel as stupid as I feared.  I’m making myself do this now all day, every day, because it’s the only way I know that is fully involved, it is the only way for it to become automatic.  There is no magic technique of ‘male voice off’ to ‘female voice on’, it has to go in stages – Very Male, Somewhat Male, ‘Gender Neutral’, Somewhat Female, Very Female.  Each step must be taken, each lesson must be learned on its own and put together, just like anything else that must be learned.

Remember, laser and voice are creating permanent changes.

Cis-gender dissonance

I met an old friend last week for the first time in years, a cis lesbian woman.  She told me about her gender struggles throughout life.  As a kid she was referred to as male regardless of how she presented, and she didn’t mind.  As an adult, she often wondered if she was a man, or was supposed to be a man.  A while back she had a couple of years dealing with a real gender identity crisis, but was unable to conceptualize the idea of dysphoria.  She didn’t and doesn’t understand it, but the feelings subsided, she came to realise she is just a woman who likes to screw other women.  She has male traits 614-629 and female traits 1646-2042. You know what I mean? She is who she is.

This is where I have some empathy towards a little trans criticism, and wonder where the lines are between being transgender, and having dysphoria.  For example, I could be as feminine as I want, moreso than I ever will be as a real life transwoman, think about being a woman every day, dress as a woman every day, do all that stuff, but without dysphoria, what would I be?  The term transgender consists of an overlap of personal gender freedom and medically understood gender dysphoria.

Each are valid, though ‘wants’ are very different from ‘needs’, and as with my friend, if there isn’t a long term problem, then maybe there are better long term solutions than transition.  Accepting oneself in ones gender doesn’t always need a change in gender self-perception.  Listen to the transitioned when they say it – if you can avoid transition, avoid transition, there is no glamour, and the price is too high if all you want to do is look in the mirror and see a pretty face.  Additional or removal of breast tissue is a consequence in aid of soothing the tumultuous mind, not in looking good, although the results often seem generally pleasantly congruous.

…and finally

I know my posts are too long. Shush, they are essays 😉

My passport arrived a few days ago.  The Sex says ‘F’.  I am officially, legally female… a bit, there’s still the two year wait for a Gender Recognition Certificate.  Now I can get all my other documents changed and that’s another kind of fun yet frustrating chore out of the way.

I guess a key thing for me right now is consistency.  Dysphoria is a constant annoyance, and I am rolling with it rather than resisting, and the things I’m doing are what my body asks for.  I know to expect a lot of different types of changes.  From the revelation, so much changed instantly and it takes a long while to untangle that giant clusterfudge into intentional components.

There are a lot of weights and balances in my experience, gradualisation.  I gain a little more self awareness, I commit a little more to voice, a little more to make-up (bleh), a little more to my presentation.  Though I moaned and scorned about it, I wear breast forms any time I’m going to be around people, because, you know, boobs don’t come on and off like that, and strangers don’t know they aren’t real, soooo… I’m not working by some sort of guide I read, it’s really what makes this experience more tangible and quite truly it helps, it all helps, and it’s bloody annoying.

The medical wait continues, but I continue to take power back, to claim, reclaim, and expand my life, and it’s working.  People notice the changes, they know it’s not a phase when they see it day in, day out, I notice, and I’m starting to feel it. I’m starting to look in the mirror and go, hey…..maybe.

Amy Xx

May be I'm a woman, but I ain't no lady.

May be I’m a woman, but I ain’t no lady.

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