The Importance of Voice Therapy for Transgender Individuals
Voice therapy empowers individuals to take an active role in shaping their vocal identity. Gender-affirming voice therapy can help non-binary and transgender individuals utilize their voices in ways that are authentic to them while still maintaining vocal health.
Understanding Gender-Affirming Voice Therapy
Gender-affirming voice therapy is specifically designed to help trans and non-binary individuals modify their voice and communication style in a way that is most desirable to them. This process involves working with a speech-language pathologist who specializes in voice habilitation and rehabilitation and has a deep understanding of how voice is produced.
Role of Speech-Language Pathologists in Voice Therapy
Speech-language pathologists play a critical role in the success of transgender voice therapy. Their expertise in voice production and vocal health allows them to develop personalized treatment plans that address the unique needs and goals of each individual.
A skilled speech-language pathologist can help individuals modify their resonance, articulation, intonation, volume, body language, word choice, and facial expression according to their chosen voice and communication goals.
Hormone Therapy and Pitch Range
Transgender people may face various challenges during their voice therapy journey. For many of these speakers, adjusting vocal pitch range is a critical component of achieving a more gendered-affirming voice. Unfortunately, hormone therapy typically does not change pitch in transwomen. In transmen, testosterone almost always leads to a deepening of the vocal pitch. However, the speech-language pathologists at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy work successfully with all of their patients to modify voice pitch as well as other aspects of voice modification through vocal exercises and learning about vocal muscle dominance
Transfeminine Voice Therapy: Pitch
While voice pitch is important for transgender voice therapy, hormone replacement therapy does not affect the transfeminine voice. Gender-affirming voice therapy can teach people how to control their muscles to adjust to a higher pitch and also work on other aspects of voice and communication to contribute to a more feminine-sounding voice.
Transmasculine Voice Therapy: Effects of Testosterone
For transmasculine speakers, testosterone hormone therapy often results in a lower pitch by about an octave within the first 6-12 months. This change is permanent, but transgender voice therapy can still be beneficial. Voice therapy can help transmasculine patients modify their intonation, resonance, articulation, nonverbal communication patterns, and volume if wanted.
Beyond Pitch: Other Components of Voice and Communication
Achieving a voice that mirrors one’s gender identity involves addressing various components of voice and communication style. While societal norms exist for feminine vs. masculine voice characteristics, it is important to remember that they are guides and not rules. The goal of vocal therapy is to help individuals find a voice that feels congruent with their own gender identity, regardless of societal expectations.
Vocal Health and Gender Identity
It is important to prioritize voice health in order to avoid injury or damage to the vocal cords during the voice modification process. Speech-language pathologists work with patients to ensure that they are using their voices in a healthy and sustainable way, preventing potential voice problems such as vocal fatigue or strain.
Addressing Voice Resonance
Voice resonance results from the way sound waves vibrate in a person’s chest, neck, and head, creating a unique tone or quality to one’s voice. With voice therapy, people can learn how to manage the muscles of their throat, face, and mouth to shift the reverberation, changing the resonance.
Nonverbal Communication and Facial Expressions in Gender Perception
Nonverbal communication and facial expressions can play a role in gender perception. Trained voice therapists can help individuals develop body language, gestures, and facial expressions to help create expressions that feel most authentic to them.
Non-binary and Gender Non-conforming Voice Modification
For non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals, understanding aspects of traditionally gender-based norms can be the most effective way to find a voice that feels congruent with their gender identity. Speech-language pathologists offer guidance in exploring and experimenting with diverse vocal traits, ultimately helping to cultivate a voice that authentically reflects their individual identity.
Telehealth Services for Gender-Affirming Voice Care
Telehealth services are increasingly being offered for gender-affirming voice care. This approach provides numerous advantages, including eliminating the need for travel, cost-effectiveness, time-saving, and improving access to care.
Advantages of Telehealth in Voice Therapy
Telehealth services can allow for flexibility and convenience in accessing voice therapy. Acoustic measurements can be measured accurately via a telehealth interface, ensuring that patients receive the same quality of care as they would in person. For those who prefer voice therapy from home, Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy finds a synchronous or hybrid approach very effective.
Environment for Telehealth Sessions
When participating in telehealth sessions, it is important to conduct them in a safe, quiet, well-lit private space with a stable internet connection. This ensures that patients can fully engage in the session and receive the most benefit.
Gender-Affirming Singing Voice Care
Voice-specialized Speech Language Pathologists evaluate speaking and singing voice quality and develop customized vocal exercises to address each individual’s unique needs and goals.
Customized Vocal Exercises and Techniques
Voice training goals may include establishing a daily singing voice warm-up routine, decreasing body tension, coordinating vocal subsystems, understanding, and training different registers or modes, altering vocal tract shaping, and finding a comfortable pitch range. These exercises and techniques can help individuals achieve their desired singing voice while maintaining good vocal health.
Voice Therapy Can Improve Overall Quality of Life
Voice therapy can be an important aspect of improving the overall quality of life for trans individuals. Modifying one’s voice to better align with gender identity can have a significant impact on emotional well-being, interpersonal relationships, and overall sense of self.
A qualified Speech Language Pathologist can help trans-feminine and trans-masculine individuals gain a new voice to experience greater self-confidence, increased authenticity, and a reduced risk of discrimination or stigma, all of which will improve their lives.