The Relationship Between Pitch, Resonance, and Gender Perception
In today’s society, the way we perceive gender is influenced by various factors, including the pitch and resonance of a person’s voice. Gender-Affirming Voice Therapy is a specialized service that helps non-binary and transgender individuals improve their quality of life by modifying their voices to align with their gender identity. This therapy involves working with speech-language pathologists who are experts in voice rehabilitation and understand the elements of voice production.
Understanding Gender-Affirming Voice Therapy
Gender-Affirming Voice Therapy seeks to assist clients in sounding the way they desire to maintain their gender identity. While societal norms exist for feminine vs. masculine voice characteristics, this therapy focuses on addressing the unique needs of each individual.
The Role of Speech-Language Pathologists in Voice Rehabilitation
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are therapists who specialize in voice rehabilitation. They possess the expertise and knowledge required to guide individuals through the process of modifying their voices to match their gender identity. Working closely with clients, speech-language pathologists can tailor therapy sessions to address the specific challenges that an individual may face is trying to masculinize or feminize their voice.
Developing New Communication Patterns
Recognizing that gender identity and communication style are intertwined is an important part of gender-affirming voice therapy. As a result, addressing each individual’s communication style in addition to the sound of their voice is an important aspect of gender-affirming voice therapy.
An experienced Speech Language Pathologist can help clients understand and control the different characteristics of their voice that fall into traditionally gender-based norms in communication, which can help them find a style that feels more authentic and comfortable to them.
The Importance of Vocal Pitch in Gender Perception
Vocal pitch plays a significant role in gender perception and is one of the most salient cues used to distinguish a person’s voice. People are highly sensitive to pitch differences and research has shown that listeners “decide” an individual’s gender often based on the pitch alone. The actual pitch of an individual’s voice can vary widely depending on age, body size, and hormonal levels.
Challenges Faced by Transfeminine Speakers
While hormone replacement therapy can have a significant impact on the physical appearance of a trans individual, it does not undo the thickening that occurs to the vocal folds during puberty for persons assigned male at birth (AMAB).
Because of this thickening, transfeminine speakers will need to work towards finding a more feminine voice if that is their desire. As a result, they usually find that voice therapy is beneficial in helping them find an affirming vocal quality and doing so without causing vocal cord damage.
Resonance Modification for a Voice Feminization
Voice resonance refers to the quality of sound produced when a person speaks or sings, and is influenced by the way sound waves vibrate through the cavities of the head, neck, and chest. Resonant placement during speech can alter what pitch a listener thinks they hear even if the pitch is unchanged. This has to do with the way vibrations hit our ears depending on how they are resonated in the speaker’s body.
By working with a speech-language pathologist at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy, patients can learn how to shape their throat and mouth to create a more feminine sound. In this process, the position of the tongue, soft palate, and various elements inside the vocal tract are changed to create different vocal sounds.
Testosterone Therapy and Transmasculine Voice Changes
For transgender men, testosterone hormone therapy can significantly lower pitch and it might be enough to satisfy the speaker. However, voice therapy can still be beneficial in addressing other aspects of communication, such as intonation, resonance, articulation, non-verbal communication, and volume.
Voice Therapy for Non-Binary and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals
Non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals can also benefit from gender-affirming voice therapy.
Speech Language Pathologists can create treatment plans to help a client understand the many parts of traditional gender-based communication and to learn to pick what aspects of vocal quality they wish to have and what voice empowers and affirms them.
Telehealth Services for Gender-Affirming Voice Care
In recent years, telehealth services have become increasingly popular for providing gender-affirming voice care. These virtual sessions have proven to be just as successful as in-person therapy when performed in a safe and quiet environment.
The Advantages of Virtual Voice Therapy Sessions
Virtual voice therapy sessions offer several benefits over traditional in-person sessions. Clients can receive therapy from the comfort of their own homes, which can be particularly helpful for individuals who may not have access to transportation or live in rural areas. Additionally, telehealth services can provide greater flexibility in scheduling appointments, enabling clients to fit therapy sessions into their busy schedules.
Gender-Affirming Singing Voice Care and Customized Vocal Exercises
For many individuals, singing can be an important means of self-expression, but traditional singing techniques may not accommodate trans- or non-binary voices.
For individuals who wish to work on their singing voice, gender-affirming singing voice care can be an integral part of their voice therapy journey. Voice-specialized speech-language pathologists can evaluate speaking and singing voice quality and develop customized vocal exercises to help clients achieve their desired singing voice. This may involve vocal exercises to adjust pitch, resonance, and articulation, as well as strategies for reducing vocal strain and improving breath control.
Establishing a Healthy Singing Voice Routine
A healthy singing voice routine is essential for maintaining vocal health and achieving desired voice changes. This may include establishing a daily singing voice warm-up routine, decreasing body tension, coordinating vocal subsystems, understanding and training different vocal registers and modes, altering vocal tract shaping, and finding a comfortable pitch range and repertoire. By working with a speech-language pathologist, clients can develop a personalized singing voice routine that promotes vocal health and reflect their gender identity.