Developing authentic voice and communication skills can be an emotional and challenging process for a transgender person, but it is possible. While it’s important to state that not everyone who is trans or non-binary should feel like they have to change their voice to fit in, we know that many people suffer dysphoria when they are mis-gendered. Voice therapy can help.
Speech-language pathologists can play an important role in helping gender diverse individuals to achieve voice and communication skills that affirm their identity and expression.
In order to deliver sufficient care, culturally competent speech pathologists must take into account the complexity of modifying one’s voice based on the client’s desires, rather than perpetuating stereotypes and pushing a cis-centric focus on what voice is “supposed” to sound like.
Modifying voice and communication behaviours takes patience, dedication, and an enormous amount of self-compassion. Whether someone is looking to masculinize, feminize, or neutralize the sound of their voice, it’s safest to do so with professional guidance, in order to prevent injury to the vocal cords or develop muscle tension.
The goal of gender-affirming voice work is to help clients achieve a voice that is healthy, authentic, and sustainable. Sometimes clients will already have issues with their voice, prior to starting therapy, such as hoarseness, vocal fatigue, or reduced breath support. These difficulties need to be addressed through traditional voice therapy methods prior to targeting other goals.
After a comprehensive evaluation is completed and any voice disorders have been treated or ruled out, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) then begin to work on the following skills in collaboration with their clients:
- Speaking rate
- Laughing, coughing, sneezing
- Conversational style
- Word choice
- Breath support
- Non-verbal communication
The speech-language pathologist will also work with clients on developing a vocal health plan and they will design a unique set of exercises for at-home practice. As with so many things in life, a client’s success in voice therapy depends a lot on the amount of practice they put in at home. Short, frequent bursts of practice are most effective. After clients are able to use their new voice in words, we then move to working on phrases, sentences, reading passages, and structured conversation. A typical homework assignment later on in voice therapy may involve making a reservation at a restaurant to determine if one is gendered correctly over the phone or using the new voice in real-life scenarios like ordering a coffee from a café.
While our goal should always be to work towards becoming more accepting in society, so that gender diverse people don’t feel the need to change their voice and communication behaviours, voice therapy can have a positive impact, helping people to live a more authentic and confident life.
Ultimately, we need to remember that we are all human beings.
Jordan Ross Jakomin is a licensed and board-certified speech-language pathologist specialising in gender affirming voice and communication. He holds a certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and is an active member of The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).
To find out more about Jordan and to take part in one of his workshops click here.