en English

Dr Helen and Marianne are joined by speech-language pathologist Jordan Ross Jakomin. Jordan talks about his passion for helping trans people and the importance of developing a voice that is authentic to the individual rather than trying to recreate a voice that merely conforms to gender stereotypes.

If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast, and would like to get in touch, please contact us via the Help Centre. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss, or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us. If you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app, it will help others to discover us.

Jordan will be running two workshops with GenderGP in January, on the 27th for voice feminization and one on the 28 for voice masculinization. To book your place visit https://www.gendergp.com/gendergp-network/jordan-jakomin/

 

Links:

Jordan’s website: https://jordanrosscommunication.com

Voice and Communication Therapy for the Transgender client by Richard Adler: Amazon

Liz Jackson Hearns, voice therapy

 

Blog posts:

Voice Therapy for Trans People

The role of non-verbal communication in how we are perceived

 

The GenderGP Podcast

Voice therapy for trans people

 

Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.

 

Jordan Jakomin:
My name is Jordan Jakomin and my pronouns are he, him, his. And I’m a speech language pathologist from Chicago, Illinois. And I specialize in working with the transgender and non-binary community on voice and communication. And I recently opened up my private practice, Jordan Ross Communication, primarily serving clients across the gender spectrum working on voice and communication skills.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Okay, brilliant. So that’s a lovely, lovely introduction. So, why this field? Why this group of people?

Jordan Jakomin:
Yeah, so I think it goes back—I mean, I knew I wanted to be a speech and language pathologist when I was 15 or 16 years old, but I didn’t even know that this was in the field at the time. And I remember being 19 years old and I went to a conference. There was a huge convention in Chicago where I was going to school at the time and it was for speech and language pathologists. And you have, you have all these different speech therapists from all over the country that come in and present. And I remember I passed a poster board that said transgender voice and communication. And I was like, wait, what is this? This falls under our scope of practice. I never heard of it. I was never taught it in a school. So, I remember being inspired by it. And I went back to my school and I said, you know, I’m really interested in this. I’m curious to learn about it. When are we taking the class on it? And they told me, well, there is no class on it.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Of course.

Jordan Jakomin:
And I was like, I mean—although this is changing, which is good, they’re starting to incorporate it more into the curriculum. But so, I did some Googling and I found the one textbook at the time that was on it. And I read it from front to back. It was interesting because I didn’t understand necessarily what I was reading because I was still 19, 20 at the time. And I hadn’t even been through my second year of undergraduate courses yet, but I remember I called the author on the back of the book, his name’s Richard Adler. And I remember calling him and I was 19 or 20 at the time. I’m 28 now. And I remember calling him and being like, how do I do what you do? I want to do this. I’m destined to do this. And ever since, he has been a mentor and a lot of people have helped guide me along the way. And I think this in particular, I mean, I’m gay, I’m cis, I identify with the LGBT community. So that is definitely a part of it. And my parents as well, I remember. My dad is from Slovenia and he is he grew up in, you know, when it was like a communist country, very anti-LGBT. And we grew up in Chicago. My parents are divorced and my dad was in Chicago and my mom was in the suburbs and they both did things that really were impactful for me. My dad, I remember he would say in his accent, he’d be like, “Being trans is beautiful.” Like he would point to somebody—and because I grew up near Boystown is what it’s called, so there was a lot of pride events and gay, lesbian, trans people, and non-binary people in the community. And my dad, I remember making a point to tell me that is somebody who’s trans and that’s beautiful. And I was a kid when I heard that and it stuck with me. So maybe that’s the reason my mom as well, when I wanted to do a little project on gender-affirming voice and communication. When I was an undergrad, my mom like posted the pamphlet that I created on the fridge. And those were just little things that were validating for me. And I knew, yeah, I think I was 20 when I was like, I’m destined to do this. So, I think a lot of it had to be yeah, that’s it. I just felt like I was destined to do it.

Dr Helen Webberley:
You know, that’s such a heartwarming story. Marianne, when Jordan was just starting to speak, then I said, oh, my dad this and my mum that, I was like, uh-oh, you know, what are we going to hear here? You know, what I mean? What an amazing turnaround, to hear those words being trans is beautiful. And to have your work, the early work with transgender people not pushed under the carpet, but put on the fridge. I mean, imagine if that had happened throughout your life throughout, you know, the last 20 years, I mean, how amazing would that be? I’ve met lots and lots of transgender people. And transgender people—trans and nonbinary people—have dysphoria in different ways. So, some, for some, it might be a particular part of their body or the way that they present it, the way they look in the mirror. For some, it’s the way they sound to themselves when they hear what they’re taught, what they sound like. So, why is the voice so important? Why can’t we just say it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you sounded like. This is you. Why is voice and communication speech so important?

Jordan Jakomin:
So, I definitely want to start off by saying that just because somebody is trans or non-binary does not mean they need to have voice therapy, or it should be a requirement, or I believe that everybody needs to have voice therapy. I don’t believe that at all. I think that for some, voice and communication is something that they want to work on. And I want to be a resource for those people who want the service. And I think that everyone’s story is different. So, someone might be completely—might love their voice and not want to change it at all. But somebody might want to say, okay, I want it to sound brighter, lighter. I’m trying, I’m really trying hard to stay away from the words like sounding feminine or masculine, because what really even is feminine or masculine, it’s all changing. And yes, there’s research that shows that, okay, something is more feminine and more masculine, but I’m really trying to use words like brighter and lighter, darker and deeper. And so, I think for those who want to modify their voice, that there’s somebody out there to help you with it. And I wanted to be that person for those people.

Marianne Oakes:
All right, can I just come in there, Helen?

Dr Helen Webberley:
It’s okay.

Marianne Oakes:
Why did I ask? I don’t normally ask. I just barge in. What I was going to say, that people come to me and will say to me, I can’t transition until I’ve got the voice right. You know, it’s an important part of their journey towards their gender. And I always feel a little bit sad when I hear that because, you know, you just think, well, that’s just what you’ve imprinted on your own mind. But then when I look at my own journey, I’ve had 12 sessions voice therapy. One of the difficulties I faced was that one, I didn’t want to lose my identity. I didn’t want to change my voice and lose my identity, not just for me, what, from a family, if that makes sense. That, you know, it’s hard enough seeing us change in so many ways and then, you know, to take the voice. And conversations that I had with different people, and I think maybe Helen’s reinforced this with me at times is, you know, after speaking to me for a short length of time, actually, it just becomes you. It just becomes part of everything. But I always say it’s that first 15 minutes of talking to somebody where that’s the most difficult, where they get confused, and if I could just erase that first 15 minutes. And I just wonder whether, you know, part of what you do could be just to help people to soften the voice enough that they don’t lose it, but we can get over that first 15 minutes.

Jordan Jakomin:
Definitely. And I mean, for me, I don’t want to change the essence of the person. I tell everybody your voice is beautiful, to begin with. I don’t want to change you completely. Let’s take what you have. And also, I’ll show you all the different techniques and strategies and you get to tell me, oh, I like this, ah, I don’t like this. I’m not saying, okay, do this and this and this to sound feminine. Do this and this and this to some masculine. I’m going to show you a lot of different tools and techniques. And then you can decide what you like and want to do with your voice, whether it’s changing it in the littlest bit, or sounding, you know, a lot different than when we started.

Dr Helen Webberley:
What you’re both saying there, for someone sitting on the outside, listening in is really interesting. So, Marianne, I think what you’re saying is that first 15 minutes, if there’s only audio clues and no visual clues to go with it, then, then that can be very misgendering because you have a darker, deeper voice than someone who didn’t go through a testosterone puberty. So, I mean, there are many ways if we limit—if we added the visual in as well, it doesn’t matter because the visual gives you all the clues that, you know, that, that dark, deeper voice belongs to a woman kind of thing. And then, what I’m hearing from Jordan is wouldn’t it be amazing if Marianne could have those techniques that she could use in those first 15, even just the first 15 minutes, if there weren’t the visual clues, just to help her identify the space as the woman that I am, and then I can get on and use my ordinary voice because that’s who I am. Is that what I’m saying?

Jordan Jakomin:
Exactly. And I think that it’s really interesting because I don’t think there should be a requirement like, oh, you need to—if you haven’t been, if you’re not living full time in this gender, then we shouldn’t work on voice. I don’t think that there should be those requirements at all, because some people would like to go back and forth between two voices, which I think is awesome. I think it it’s so individualized to the client. And I think that’s the most important thing here. What matters is the client and not a cis-centric focus on what voice is supposed to sound like. And definitely, I need to be careful as a clinician to deconstruct my own stereotypes of what I think is once again, I’m going to use those words that I didn’t want to use, but what feminine or masculine is because those it’s changing. I mean, there’s, and the more I learn, get to know trans and non-binary people and take continuing education that is trans-led, and that’s not just speech pathology courses, but that are kind of about deconstructing gender. And I still have a long way to go, but the more I’m learning about, you know, just how to be a more culturally competent clinician, because I don’t want to be, I don’t want somebody to get my intake form and then already be triggered before starting or already have that. And so, I still have learning to do, but I feel like I really am on my way and on the right path.

Marianne Oakes:
I was just going to say I think when you said about the visual clues, Helen, I think that does help. The biggest issue I have is even now ringing the doctors up or not knowing which of the receptionists is going to answer and then when they ask my name and date of birth, not all the time, but sometimes there’s that hesitation. And I can see that, did I hear that right? So, I think what that does to me is trigger my anxiety a little bit. And when I get anxious, I go lower, if that makes sense. It will be good. You know, techniques for me would be to make, maintain at least a softer pitch when I’m anxious, for want of a better description. Just simple things like that I think will be really useful.

Jordan Jakomin:
Yeah. And I think once again, it might be instead of, you know sessions for a longer period of time, it might be that we work only on a phone call and maintaining a different voice or new voice or whatever. I use different words for this new voice that I have, sometime I’ll let the clients that I work with, call it what they want to call it. Whether we call it the new voice, old voice, I let them kind of give a name to it or whatever they want it or want to call it. But even if it’s two minutes, if that’s a success for you, then that’s amazing. That’s what we’re going to work on, then. We’re going to work on two minutes. We don’t need to work on ordering coffee and sustaining a voice for 30 minutes. We’d work on all these skills under a two-minute period of time. And if that’s what’s going to make you more confident and—but not only just the confidence, the thing about feeling more secure and safe and bring less anxiety into your life, then the goal is reached. At least that particular goal for the phone.

Marianne Oakes:
Sounds like that will be a really good springboard as well. Cause I think most people, you know, two minutes doesn’t sound a long time, does it? You know, we’re going to talk for 45 minutes today, but how often do we talk for two minutes, non-stop? It’s not actually that often. And I think, you know, if you could get two minutes that could soon become multiples of two minutes, that eventually would become conversation as well.

Jordan Jakomin:
Definitely it’s creating new behavior patterns. So, I mean, typically we’ll start at just word level and then phrases and then sentences and then reading and then structured conversation. And then if someone’s confident enough to bring the voice outside of the sessions and go to coffee shops and they want to go to a bar—wherever they want to go, but to bring it outside of the therapy room. So, the voice is generalizing outside. If that’s what the client wants,

Marianne Oakes:
You’ve used coffee shop multiple times there. And I think that’s really important because you know, a lot of trans women in the early stages, we’ll just go out. And they’ll talk to very few people, but they may want to go and get a coffee. And just being able to order that coffee could be the difference between having a really good empowering experience of the whole day or it being just a really big ball of anxiety that spirals.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Yeah. This is so fascinating. So, I started off by saying that I’ve met lots of different types of dysphoria, whether it’s feet or nose or voice or height. And now we’re actually saying, okay, so there’s actually different types of voice dysphoria as well. Is it telephone voice dysphoria or coffee shop ordering voice dysphoria? Is it conversational dysphoria or is it singing or in a loud bar dysphoria? And you know, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? And Jordan, you’re obviously a clinician who does, I think, what Marianne has been advising clinicians to do since I ever first met her, which is I am this kind of clinician, how can I help you? So not come into my room and I will make your voice more feminine. Come into my room and let’s talk about how I can help you, what specifically I can do today to help you live your life more easily. And you know, that’s what we talk about a lot, isn’t it, Marianne? Really boiling it down. And this is so enlightening.

Marianne Oakes:
What I think is really impressing me, if I can say that, Jordan, at the risk of making you blush it is you’re saying what we say all the time is that there is no one trans person with single needs. That we are all individual. And the things that play out in our mind, or trigger our dysphoria are unique to us. And when we see any clinician, it’s really important that they take the time to understand what it is that is causing you distress and work with that, not say, oh, well, you need, this. You know, what would you like? That’s, you know, and it just doesn’t happen enough for me, but yeah, sit and listen. That, that, that would be the advice for all clinicians.

Dr Helen Webberley:
I’m going to say that, Marianne, I realise now why, if we’re ever on a video call, your good old Marianne, whenever I phone you, I receive for the first 30 seconds a different type of voice and I’ve just worked out why after all these years. I realised. Jordan, I love your nomenclature, you know, a different voice and new voice, softer, lighter, brighter, darker, deeper. So important, isn’t it, to move away from these gender stereotypes. And, and also, you know, when we talk about gender stereotypes, you know, a lot of the functions that I’ve been to recently, the nonbinary community is really rising up now and saying, hello, me too. Me too. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts and words on the nonbinary community and what kinds of things they might ask for your help with.

Jordan Jakomin:
Yeah. One thing I think is that the non-binary community is awesome. The more I learn about it and know people that are non-binary the more I find it amazing, fascinating, brave. I think it’s awesome because it’s deconstructing gender in a way, that the gender that I thought, okay, what makes—and it makes me question things like, what makes me a man? What qualities is it, because I have facial hair? Is that what makes me a man? I don’t know. It’s making me question a lot, I think, of my own gender. And I think it’s amazing that people who identify as non-binary, and—so one thing is if somebody comes to me and they’re non-binary, I’ll, once again, I’m not going to say, okay, you need to be at a certain Hertz or pitch because this area is considered androgynous. But here’s where the research does help a little bit. So according to the data, around 140 to 180 Hertz is in this androgynous area perceived pitch. Now these numbers are guidelines. They’re not set in stone. So, I would never, say somebody has to be put in this spot. But if somebody, so for example, like the masculine range is 110 to 130 Hertz, which is how fast the vocal folds are vibrating. It’s what is perceived as pitch. And androgynous is 140 to 180. So, I might start by saying, okay, maybe this is a good area for us to start. Let’s see if you like it. And then I would introduce both areas. I would show them different techniques for getting lighter and brighter. And different techniques for getting deeper and darker. And then we would meet somewhere in the middle and they get to decide like what they like and try to make it very individualized to their needs.

Dr Helen Webberley:
That’s awesome. Marianne, you’re bursting to say something.

Marianne Oakes:
I think this is a, I want to say a missed area, that for trans men and for nonbinary people. A lot of trans men will go on to testosterone. And the first one we say, you know what you’re most looking forward to by starting treatment? I would say overwhelmingly, they all put voice. And actually, I sometimes think, you know, they could probably have voice therapy to masculinize the voice. And I think that’s where is a crossover? I wonder sometimes if some people would be happy in a nonbinary identity, but because they feel they won’t get access to treatment to lower the voice and, you know, they want a lower voice, but you won’t get access to treatment if they admit that they are nonbinary. And I always think it’s quite sad that if they feel they’ve got to prove themselves to get the testosterone purely to lower the voice when actually maybe voice therapy would be a lot cheaper in the long run you know, would just be enough for them.

Jordan Jakomin:
Working with a non-binary transmasculine clients has been kind of overlooked. Now there’s more research coming on it, which is, which is amazing. Testosterone is shown to, you know, thicken the vocal folds and decreased pitch by about an octave. But my friend and colleague, Aaron Ziegler, just recently did a study with a few other clinicians in which they kind of analyzed all these different research studies on the effectiveness of testosterone. And I’m pretty sure it was about 20% of the people in the study out of these, I believe it was 19 studies, they didn’t reach like cis-normative data for cis men. So, it’s showing that testosterone isn’t necessarily working for everyone who is using it. And some people don’t want to be on testosterone. They don’t want it. So, you could teach them different techniques on how to lower pitch safely. And also, something to work on is resonance with them. So, changing like the shape of the mouth and the teeth, the lips and the throat in order for the sound to come out as darker versus brighter.

Marianne Oakes:
I like that description, darker versus lighter.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Marianne, you’re a fan, aren’t you? The other thing I’m hearing a lot, which is one of my hobby horses, is education here. And you know, Jordan, I don’t want to keep picking you up, but you know, the fact that you’re talking about getting your education both from the research, so from the science and from the published research, on those pictures, on the numbers, you know, you’ll also keep talking about the trans-led education. And we’ve talked about this so much, you know, where are you, you’re a cisgender person? How are you going to learn what the trans population, the trans and nonbinary community need, where are we going to learn it? From the trans community themselves, so important that education. And I’m really pleased that you do that.

Jordan Jakomin:
Absolutely. And even, thank you for mentioning that, even on my case history forms, I thought they were very culturally competent before they were looked over by anyone. And then I actually had two transmasculine speech pathologists look over my case history forms. And they helped me a lot. And I didn’t realize some of the questions I was asking. Okay. Here’s one example like preferred pronouns. Pronouns are not preferred. And that was one, one thing I noticed another thing was talking about, and was, I asked how long do you plan to like complete or what’s your timeline for complete transition, but what, what the hell even is complete transition? And why am I even asking this? So, there were some questions on there that I didn’t think were triggering or offensive, but once I had consultation services that were led by trans people, it really helps to open my eyes to things that I wasn’t paying attention to.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Well, I’m going to admit now that an early version of my website said, talks about transgenders. You know, when referring to people. And I, you know, I can’t believe that that’s where my education level started. You know, I shake my head at the thought,

Jordan Jakomin:
It’s good to bring it up though, because I think, I mean, whoever it may be, I mean, the community is listening to this or a therapist is listening to this and they might think, okay, well maybe I need to get some consultation services as well. And, you know, my website, I put the training, not just that I’ve done speech pathology related, but also the training that I’ve done for the consultation services, the name of the company for that was Q Inclusion. And they went over my case history and they were so nice about it too, because I wasn’t embarrassed a little bit that I was like, wow, I thought, and the way they treat it, it was so respectful of how they educated me. And they opened my eyes and I want to spread awareness about that to clinicians in my field and clinicians in other areas as well.

Marianne Oakes:
The language is really important. But it’s evolving at such a speed as well, because it’s interesting what you said there, Helen. I think the more visible with trans people and gender diversity is integrating into the wider society, then the language is going to evolve. And you, you know, we did use to say preferred pronouns because we were asking people to respect, you know, I would prefer if, you know, it was almost an apology. I would prefer if you use these pronouns and became part of the language. But we’ve evolved beyond that but at a rapid rate you know, I think the last five years, it’s just accelerating. So yeah, really important. Anybody working in the field is at least trying to keep up with that. We were talking about, you know, having, you know, even a dual voice, you know, we could have a phone voice, or, but one of the reasons I struggled as well as anybody that knows me, we recognize part of my identity is I sing and play guitar. Changing my voice would have just not worked, you know, because how I sing is an equal part of my identity that I’ve worked with some nonbinary people that won’t go on T because they are a singer and they don’t want to lose their voice. And I suppose the challenge or the question I would put to you is can people maintain their singing voice, change their talking voice, if that makes sense?

Jordan Jakomin:
Absolutely. But that’s when I would probably refer out to a singing voice specialist that specializes in the singing voice as well. So, I love to sing, I am a trained professional singer. But there are clinicians out there that I do believe are singing voice specialists, as well as voice therapists. And so, I think it’s definitely possible with T. I think the dosing has to be maybe, could be, a little bit different or monitored. I’m not sure exactly what the dosing of it wouldn’t need to be, but it needs to be taken into consideration. And then to definitely consult with a—I mean, it gets hard because there’s not a lot of us already voice therapists who specialize in gender-affirming voice. There’s even less that’s specialized in the singing voice. Now this is where maybe you could go outside just looking for a speech and language pathologist, because there are like voice coaches or singing specialists that are doing this work as, as well. There’s one lady outside of Chicago named Liz Jackson and she’s a singing specialist. She has a book that I’ve read and it’s a lot of techniques that you take from singing. And she’s great. And my friend and colleague Heather is singing specialist as well. And so, there’s people out there. They just might be harder to find.

Dr Helen Webberley:
It brings you back to one of my favorite topics, which is the education. And you know, there’s too few people working in the field, never mind the subspecialties of the fields, but actually I’m interested in 10 minutes ago, we were talking about education and actually it’s education of the client, the patient, the service user as well, isn’t its Marianne? I’m really interested in what you say, the fact that some nonbinary or transmasculine people, if they only feel that the way that they can properly or enough for them lower their pitch of their voices from testosterone, then that’s the way they’ll go, or even just to validate their gender when that might not be what is right for them. And actually, some work on the voice, some education on their voice. I don’t want to call it voice therapy because it apologizes it, but you know, some voice education might be just enough. So, this is news to me today. So, it seems to me, and I’m a doctor and I’ve lived with it in the community for a long time. It’s going to be news to a lot of people, lots of transmasculine or nonbinary people. Really important that education, isn’t it?

Jordan Jakomin:
A huge part of a huge piece. So usually the first session is spent on education, of kind of like the anatomy and physiology and learning about the different components of speech production. So, respiration, the importance of breathing, how our vocal folds vibrate and come together, how sound is modified and shaped. So, the resonance of the sound, it’s why we all sound unique. And how the sounds are articulated. All important components to understand if you’re wanting to modify your voice and then a huge education on vocal health. So how much water should you be drinking? Becoming aware of allergies or managing allergies. Not drinking too much caffeine or alcohol because it’s drying for the vocal folds, also known as the vocal cords, both names. And so definitely a lot of education and usually in my first sessions, I’m sorry, I’m saying, I usually say, okay, it’s a little bit lecture-y this time. I promise we’ll get into more exercises as we go on, but it’s really important for you to kind of understand the basics before we go on into jumping right into exercises.

Marianne Oakes:
I was going to say, we talking about education as well. And one of the things that’s kind of blowing me away today is that how far have we come in this area. I’m just imagining probably 10 years ago, it was just purely about pitch and intonation. And, you know, that somebody take you on, and if you practice starting off, you’d get something that resembled a feminine voice, but actually the way your approach in this is far more person-centered, basically.

Jordan Jakomin:
Thanks. And it wouldn’t have been for the speech pathologists who have come before me. I mean Richard Adler, Sandy Hirsch, the ones who wrote the book. Aaron Ziegler, my mentor. Christie Block, (unclear 32:52). These are all researchers in the field that I remember I would—and Adrian Hancock. These are people that are celebrities to me. I mean, I admire them so much and they’ve written books and made material like that accessible for students like myself at the time when there was only one book at the time when I was in grad school. Now there’s three or four that are out. And it’s amazing. And I think I am shaped, I am the way I am because of them, I’m so grateful for them. And they’ve all known me since I was 19 or 20, because I would follow them at the conferences. And I would be the person that went up to them after and say, I really want to do this. How can I do this? And, and I’ve kept in touch with all of them throughout the years. It might not be some, some might be on a monthly basis, others might be once a year, but I’ll send them a message because I want them to know I’m literally living out my dream and my life purpose because of all of you. If it wasn’t for, if it wasn’t for all of you, I wouldn’t be doing this, this work. So, I want to give credit where it’s due.

Dr Helen Webberley:
I’m going to also, Jordan, I’m going to give a little bit of credit to mum and dad as well, because you’ve described the non-binary community, what little short while ago as amazing, fascinating, and brave. And it just reminded me of your dad telling you that trans is beautiful. So, you know, that role model that you had both professionally and at home has really, you know, set it, set you up to live your dream which is, which is really, really lovely. One of the things you mentioned there, a couple of things actually, always, you talked about vocal health and you mentioned lowering pitch safely. So that implies that there might be unhealthy ways or non-safe ways. So, I’m interested in that.

Jordan Jakomin:
Yeah. So, lowering or increasing pitch safely. We use muscles, you know, to make our voices go higher or go lower. And so, we need to work out those muscles, like we do our biceps in the gym, you know, and so it’s going bit by bit. And really, it’s important to kind of start in like a safe zone. So, these numbers are set in guidelines. So, they’re not exactly where everybody should start, but somebody is wanting to maybe go up in pitch and increase their pitch depending on where they are at the beginning. A 64 Hertz is usually a good place to start, which is equivalent to E3 on a piano. Pianos are helpful because it’s more perceptually salient. If I said, okay, I want you to speak at 164 Hertz. People would look at me and said, what the hell are you talking about? But if I hit the note on a keyboard and say, this note right here, this is a good place to start. Same thing for if you’re wanting to go down and pitch, E3, that 164 Hertz falls in the middle. So, we would either work on working our way up a little bit or working our way down bit by bit, but pitch is only, just one component of voice and communication therapy. There are so many other components. And I think there’s this myth out there that if I just work on increasing or decreasing my pitch, that I’ll, you know, I that’s it, but there’s some couple of other key components. One of them being something called resonance.

Dr Helen Webberley:
So, the safety and the health bit mean really going gently and slowly. So not going from, from that pitch to that pitch straight away all the time, but maybe just going slowly.

Jordan Jakomin:
Also making sure you’re relaxed because sometimes we’ll, you know, use the muscles in the neck, incorrect breathing patterns, which are straining for the voice and can cause actual voice disorders already because sometimes—there are, I’m sure there are awesome YouTube videos out there that have been helpful for a lot of people in the community, but there are some videos that you have to be careful with that are, you know, hold your larynx up tight and squeeze it really hard. Like that’s going to give you muscle tension and that’s not sustainable. It’s not healthy for your voice. If somebody wants to do that, I will educate them, but I will not say, how could you do that? Don’t do that. Maybe that’s what they want to do as well. So once again, I try to come from a place of education but understanding as well of why somebody might have done that to sound more, you know, in this case, squeezing your larynx up and holding it very tight, shortens the vocal tracts, but that’s not the way I work on shortening the vocal tracts. I do a couple different exercises. So, every clinician is going to have different techniques and strategies. But just to be careful with the YouTube videos, because sometimes the videos out there, they’re not licensed clinicians. You know, they’re just kind of giving you advice that may be very helpful, but it also could be harming for your vocal folds. So just be careful.

Dr Helen Webberley:
It just reminds me from the medical point of view of people who are self-medicating and yes, people self-medicate, and there are people who give advice on the internet which, you know, might seem like very good advice. It comes from a base of really wanting to help people and wanting people to achieve and attain what their goals and what they want. But, you know, you can’t get away from the education that clinicians do go through Jordan, whether it’s a clinician like you or a clinician like me or a counselor like Marianne in learning from everywhere. So, learning the research, learning the science behind it, and then having the trans-led education to top it all off. So really important. It just reminds me of people who are self-medicating and why do people do that? People do that because there isn’t the option freely available for them to do whatever to achieve their goals safely. And so, they have to achieve their goals in some way. So therefore, they will do it, self-medicating, self-learning via YouTube, from very helpful people who want to help, but, you know, I agree with you. It makes me want to keep these people safe, really.

Marianne Oakes:
I’ve come across a lot of people that have been trying to train their voice, whether it’s up or down. And they will complain of a sore throat and that it gets tiring as the day goes on, you know, trying to maintain. So, they’ve found what they want to do, but actually, because they’re not doing the right exercises, then that becomes wearing and against sore throat and, you know, muscle strain in the neck. So good advice, good exercise, and an understanding what it is that you’re actually doing is really important. The other thing that I was kind of was just going to raise as well, because when we—I think this is across the board for transgender health care, I don’t know whether you both agree with me, but one of the things we have to, I want to say battle against, as clinicians is people come in and they’ve seen a snapshot of what somebody is achieved on the internet without any backstory. And they think that’s what I want. And then we’re having to kind of say, well, you know, let’s step back a bit because you don’t know what that person’s gone through. And somebody made a really good point to me once, they said, do you want to sound like a woman? Or do you want to mimic a woman? Because there’s a big difference. And I think a lot of what what’s on the internet is trying to mimic somebody else or mimic, what it is to be a woman or what it is to be a man, whether it’s with the voice or whether it’s with other things. It’s really important that actually what we’re doing is genuine and is unique to us. I say, I don’t want to lose my voice. It would just be nicer if it didn’t give me away so much, if that makes sense.

Jordan Jakomin:
Totally makes sense.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Well, Marianne, don’t get me started. Didn’t give you a way. It’s just like, oh my goodness, Marianne, and I have this, we’ve put you out of business, Jordan, because I keep saying to Marianne, look at that, that is you, that you are Marianne, you are a woman. Never mind what a woman’s voice is supposed to sound like, you know, and those words actually, Marianne, that you’re saying, are you’re mimicking a woman or sounding like a woman. What does a woman sound like? You know, a woman sounds like you and me Marianne, because we’re both women, you know?

Marianne Oakes:
I was just going to say though, as well, I think another really important thing is as well, I’m really fortunate. I seem to be surrounded by people that are really affirmative and have never made me feel awkward. I mean, okay, I feel awkward on the phone and maybe there is some awkwardness, but not with the people in my day-to-day life or with the fantastic team at GenderGP, my family are really good. Nobody ever raises an issue with my voice. You know, there’s never a flicker of confusion. I think for people that are dealing with it in a different way, you know, that are getting it, maybe it would be a different experience. But, you know, I went to voice therapy to learn that there was nothing wrong with my voice.

Marianne Oakes:
But Marianne, isn’t that—so, actually what we need to change is society? You know you live in a comfortable world where people affirm you in your workplace, in your home and in your community that surrounds you. You are affirmed. And therefore, you are able to accept your voice as being you, part of you. And if only everybody had that and that’s surely what we need, we need as society need to work on, isn’t it? Is everybody having that, that warm, gentle place to live in and exist?

Jordan Jakomin:
I completely agree. I think about that all the time. Like what if my job my job doesn’t exist in the future, because people are just more accepting and loving and where we all are human.

Dr Helen Webberley:
But that’s the aim actually, Jordan, is to put people like you and me out of business. We shouldn’t be needed anymore. But we’ve got a little way to go there, I think. I mean, it’s interesting, you both talked freely about the fact that you can both sing and you have that quality that you’re able to do. I have to say, I cannot sing, and I don’t think that there’s any education or any trans-led or research or anything that would ever help me be able to sing. So, you know, we’re all different in that way.

Marianne Oakes:
I suppose one of the questions I had, Jordan, I don’t know if this is a fair question or not, but for any listeners coming in, (unclear 44:20) say GenderGP is, you know, tell us what your expectations are and I’m not going to say we can meet them, but what we will do is give you best advice and we will do what we can to help you meet your expectations within the bounds of good practice. That means—what I’m inferring there, is there may be limitations to what anybody can do to help you. You know, if you want to look like the Kardashians, I don’t know why I thought them, but if you want to look like that, it’s just, you know, your expectations (unclear 44:53). What are the limitations with voice therapy, do you think?

Jordan Jakomin:
One limitation could be the inability to practice. So maybe they aren’t comfortable using their voice outside of the session. And so, they want to have a completely different voice, but then they’re not using it. It’s a lot of psychology involved in this, you know which is why I think our fields need to be collaborating a lot more, or I need to go back to school and get my master’s or doctorate in counseling or clinical psychology, because there’s a lot of, you know, counseling and psychology involved. It really is unique for everyone. Some clients I work with progress very fast and just get it and are able to, you know, create a new behavior with their voices, while for others it’s difficult and it’s more challenging. It really depends on the client now. In terms of the shape and the size of a person. So, if somebody has bigger spaces in their neck and mouth, the sound is going to come out deeper or darker. I like to think about it like a—there’s a speech pathologist, I mentioned her before, but her name’s Christie Block and she’s in New York. And I remember being on her website and reading about this comparison has always stuck with me, but it’s comparing a violin and cello. So, violin is smaller. So, the sound that comes up is going to be brighter. And a cello is bigger so the sound that comes out of the cello is going to be darker so we can manipulate the spaces in our mouth and in our throat to sound more like a violin or more like a cello. And so, it’s really interesting, some of those different resonance exercises and how we can literally change the energy of the sound. And that’s where it doesn’t just go into pitch, but literally changing the color of the sound, which is very—it can be a little complicated, but when somebody gets it, it’s pretty cool.

Marianne Oakes:
What a great way to visualize actually what’s happening with the voice, the violin and the cello.

Jordan Jakomin:
Yeah, it’s really helpful. And yeah, it like it was an analogy that stuck to me when I was learning about this field. So, it’s really fun for me to use it when, you know, agitating—

Marianne Oakes:
Just dawned on me that as well, maybe that’s, you know—I said to you what are the limitations? You said about practice. And interestingly enough, you know, when you hear a 10-year-old trying to learn the violin, sounds awful and the family go, oh, for God’s sakes, shut the door, you know, go in the garage. And actually, we have to go through that part of our process if we’re going to change our voice, where it may be great on people that it’s jumping in and out and going all over the place, and we will be told to stop. But actually, if we want to become a violinist, we’ve got to keep practicing. It must be the same.

Jordan Jakomin:
Exactly. And speaking of practice, at home practice, that’s the most important key, actually. I can give you all the skills and different strategies and worksheets, but if you’re not practicing at home, then there’s not going to be an improvement because that’s a behavior. You have to do something over and over and over again in order for that, you know, for there to be change.

Marianne Oakes:
Would it be fair to say that, really, there’s a good entry point if you’re going to change your voice, if you were trying to change your voice before you actually start transitioning, or certainly socially transitioning, that you’re going to have limitations, because you’re not going to be able to use it. You know, you can do all the practice, but if you’re not going to be able to go out there and try it, that it’s going to be really difficult motivation.

Jordan Jakomin:
There definitely could be limitations, but I would still never say no to somebody just because they were at the very beginning of their transition. It would make it more difficult in terms of practicing outside of, you know, outside of just the one-on-one time we have together.

 

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