Know what? Ever since I got back from Minneapolis last weekend, I haven’t worked on my voice at all.
I don’t want to. I feel like I have to (in order to pass, in order to feel safer, in order to access the privileges afforded cis women). Feeling like I have to makes me not want to do it.
I don’t want to feel like my transness is some kind of performance, like performance is an innate part of it. I don’t want it to feel forced, I don’t want it to feel like something I can fuck up. If it feels forced and tenuous, it stops being fun, it stops feeling…something like authentic, whatever that means.
I don’t want my appearance, or my manner, to feel like something I do, especially something I do to appease anyone, something for anyone besides myself.
So I don’t know where I’m at with my voice anymore.
A friend told me years ago that the most radical thing (or one of them) an oppressed person can do is to live as if ze is not oppressed. Meaning to afford oppressive forces no quarter on shaping one’s existence, or to disregard those forces and demand to be treated fairly when they arise.
I’d like to live in a world where no matter what kind of body you have, or voice you speak with, or clothes you wear or can afford, people treat you with dignity. I do not think this world is that world. I think it wants to be there though.
I see trans people on facebook, on twitter, and often I see images of trans people who look super natural and at ease in bodies that aren’t easily categorized. They look like they can touch something vital and good and fulfilling that way. I am assuming of course. I am assuming they are not-passing intentionally. I assume if they wanted to, they could pass, though I know this is wrong of me, to make an assumption about someone, and to assume passing is possible where perhaps it is not.
I want to be one of those badasses who lives as if ze doesn’t waste any time caring about passing. I used to know what that was like, before I started transitioning. It was infinitely easier. OF course, then, I didn’t have to try. I didn’t even know what passing was.
I want to be radical and let my body act as a message, as confounding evidence against the gender binary, as evidence of the value of femininity, as evidence of gender equality, of gender fluidity, against biological determinism, yatta yatta. But I don’t actively encourage those messages in my appearance. Maybe they’re there whether I want them to be or not. I would like to be IN YOUR FACE trans. For now, I am not. I am afraid, anxious, somewhere on the spectrum between reasonably and unreasonably fearful/anxious. Maybe that’s the anxiety disorder doing the thinking. Maybe that’s the transphobia I internalized when I was growing up in a transphobic home.
Considering I am trans, I would like to unlearn that very pointed and particular fear. I would like to reach into my skull and pluck out the bad circuits, the ones that get caught in paralyzing feedback loops and keep me indoors and afraid of nothing more than phantoms I invent and situations I recreate in my mind’s eye.
No good comes from this fear of and disdain for myself that keep me from celebrating myself. I would unlearn them as swiftly as possible.
I have been thinking about fear a lot recently. How it shapes me and my decisions. I am learning fear is a significant dimension of my transition so far, larger after the PULSE massacre, larger when examining possible futures after the presidential election (i have not decided how to vote yet). I would like it to be a smaller part of my life. More useful, less of a barrier.
Recently, the leader of my guild (a loose group of gamers who share a chat box and help each other out in-game) said some transphobic stuff. This was a tremendous surprise, because this was the nicest, most welcoming, and most helpful group of gamers I had ever met online. I probably jumped between twenty or so guilds before I stopped playing World of Warcraft this spring. I left them all because of insensitive and hateful language that nobody seemed to care about. I don’t play games to invite more hate and judgment into my life.
She wanted me to not post about anything related to my trans experience in guild chat. I had mentioned something about trying to change my voice in guild chat, since I was out to the guild already, but some people were curious. Many players thought I was male. Some said it was because of how I write. I guess I don’t pass even when my body isn’t a factor.
When I pressed the guild leader for why, she invoked religion. To her, trans people are violating our bodies–given to us by god under some sort of unspoken contract–by changing them, because god makes everyone perfect and so undergoing a gender transition is sacrilege and *gasp* offensive. I told her that made me feel silenced and hurt. My attempts to educate her (I was trans all my life before I started transitioning, you don’t need to change your body to be trans, what about puberty, what about illness, what about healing, what about medicine, doesn’t Jesus’ apparent message of love apply to everyone, lepers, sinners, prostitutes, the ill, thieves, etc) of course failed. I expected them to. Her mind was made up before we started typing at each other. And if the Trump nomination means anything, it means that in some circles, information, facts, and truths no longer change people’s minds. At one point, she said something like, “I don’t hate you, I just think you’re defying the will of god.” I told her I would probably leave the guild, and did.
I felt awful. Existentially disappointed. This was the best guild I had been in ever. It felt like a family. I’d been in it for three months but I felt like I knew people enough to be open with them, to be out with them, vulnerable.
I spoke to some other guildies who were on, because I needed help figuring out how to leave, and they expressed surprise and mild outrage, said they wanted to have words with her.
I learned from a friend a few days later that there was a voice chat (like a conference call through a separate communication client) between the guild leader, a bunch of officers, and other members about what had gone down. Some officers (high-ranking members of the guild with responsibilities like recruitment, raid organizing, managing the guild bank, etc) stood up for me, called her on her hate, and left.
A few of us banded together (classic RPG lingo) and formed our own guild, to make an lgbtq-safe space. I’m still friends with the folks who went a separate way after they left, and we chat on occasion, help each other with in-game stuff, run dungeons together. You know. Normal gamer stuff
I did not expect people to stand up for me. It was really refreshing to learn they did. Gamer culture is notoriously awful at inclusivity, at sexism, at queer-bashing. Women are basically invisible in gamer spaces. Trans women and other lgbtq folks might as well not exist outside of the epithets players insult each other with. To be a part of a space where I don’t have to fear that is a big deal.
Words hurt. They have consequences. As a writer, my existence is a consequence of words.
I spent the better part of three months deciding when would be a good time to tell the guild I was trans. I asked for female pronouns a few weeks in, but I worried about outing myself, though I wanted to be out, to have more authentic, whatever that means, relationships, to not have to erase parts of my history or mark them as unshareable.
Visibility matters. The more visible trans people are, the more acceptance we create, the more normal we seem, the more immediate trans issues and lives can become to people who don’t otherwise know or encounter any of us. It’s a very, very small way to help the movement for equality, but it’s there and it’s real.
I don’t want to worry about being out any more. Yet I feel I have to. The trans people I admire don’t appear to.
Now that I’m in a safe space in-game, where most of my social interaction occurs these days, that’s that much less worrying to undergo. That fewer things to fear.
I need to go shopping for clothes tomorrow for an interview. Though I would like the clerks to treat me a certain way and to call me certain things and not others, I will try not to care.
So I couldn’t sleep again tonight, which led me to Youtubing transition stuff.
My transition has been stalled–beyond buying clothes, finding a doc in StL to run labs and renew my meds in April, and that one laser appointment I had when I visited Corvallis in May–since I lost health insurance over a year ago. It has since become mountingly frustrating to do, well, almost anything that involves interacting with people who aren’t trans, friends, on the other side of a computer, or allies (read: 99% of the public, from pizza guys [almost always guys] to baristas to bus drivers to librarians to clerks to servers to people sitting next to me and not doing anything in coffee shops to nice folks striking up conversation in passing at the grocery store or at a wedding or really everywhere).
Thing is, I’m a social creature, or at least I used to be, and I don’t want to let that go (I’ve tried and I can’t get it off me). I’m still trying to figuring out what I’m doing with makeup (almost nothing), which can get expensive and bring its own set of frustrations (why won’t my eyelids stop trembling and just ACCEPT the eyeliner?!). So I’m trying some new stuff with my voice, because it’s free.
I don’t have the deepest voice, but my natural voice is firmly in the male register. It used to be deeper. I used to WANT it to be deeper, so I could hide better in the maleness I encouraged people to read onto me. Smoking made it way deep when I was an undergrad (eight years smoke-free this month yaaaaay!). It’s better now, but I still feel it outs me perhaps more than any other gender cue (which produces more anxiety than it should, but that’s a separate project). I have felt there was little I could do about my voice. I mean, even on days I shave my face and my pits and my legs, I can’t shave my voice. I can’t tweeze my voice into a better shape, or take pills to alter the shape and feel and proportion and chemistry of my voice.
Youtube sez it takes months for a new voice to feel natural, but I found some vids with some tips, and in just a night now I can speak in a less masculine register (I had already been paying attention to inflection and pitch variations, which are FUN) and sound way closer to what feels good
….for a few minutes. Folks, talking is HARD. My throat muscles get sore. Not my throat. My throat is amazing (well I think it is), but it’s the muscles that shape my voice that are getting sore. Fast. So while I might have found a place close to the WHERE of my voice (above my Adam’s apple, but closer to it than to my jaw, for now), the HOW will take some time.
I’m writing this for myself, to have a record of how my transition went, and so it can maybe be a resource for allies and other trans folks in a similar position(s) as myself. But I’m also writing this particular post for my friends and fam and other people in my life I see often.
I may sound different for a bit.
In the past, I probably would want feedback on something like this. I asked some of my MFA cohort for feedback on my outfits and my use of makeup when I started transitioning two summers ago. While that was tremendously useful then, and I totally appreciate their help, transition-related feedback has become less useful.
This is partly me wanting to resist something I’ve noticed people do (people here means “folks who aren’t in my MFA cohort,” since I don’t see y’all except, well, almost never, because the reality of geography D:). People comment on my appearance way more often than they did before I was transitioning, and think they’re helping.
I know that’s something American culture does to women–teaches us our appearance is the most important part of us. Fuck that and I hate it. It’s objectifying, degrading, insulting, damaging, and expensive. However, my appearance IS an important part of my life right now, for safety reasons. It can also be fun. I would like it to be more fun.
So in a way, that sort of attention is helping, and in a way, it isn’t. Though appearance comments might be intended as confidence-boosters, the attention they draw to how I look recently makes me feel more uncomfortable than before we started talking about my appearance, which is something I frequently feel I have less control over than I probably do, and is something that matters more than it ever did (though it shouldn’t).
If I want to talk about my voice, or how my clothes fit, or my hair, I will. And I have! And what I’ve learned so far has been useful and awesome.
But not now. This is gonna take a while, and probably suck for a bit. I don’t need to know you know my voice sucks when I already know it.
HOWEVER: people I spend a lot of time with will know how I talk, will probably hear ticks I’m not aware of. My last therapist once told me my voice drops especially lower when I’m thinking aloud or contemplating something. So I realize some people may be in a better position to tell me how I sound than me.
I am using a voice recorder. I’m reading my poems aloud in femme-voice and playing them back, so the exercise becomes useful for my writing too, and so I’ll want to do it more. I also really like my reading voice (I have no shame in saying I love the sound of my own voice…I’m a writer, a poet of all things, and this is a blog. Writer clichés, fulfilled!). My current reading voice took years to develop, and I can’t replicate the type of fluidity and…precision of tone with my femme voice that I can produce with my male voice, so I’m entertaining keeping male-voice around for reading events until femme-voice is ready for something as demanding as that.
Voice recorder is helping me learn how high/low in my throat the pitches live, and being able to locate them physically on my body has helped a lot already, on day one of the voice project. Knowing where they live can also be a good way to gauge my progress: as I push into higher registers, I’ll be able to feel them.
But would I ever have noticed that my voice gets low when I’m thinking aloud or contemplating something, by using voice recorder? Never.
So maybe some feedback here could be useful. Maybe it’s best to just say I’ll ask for feedback if I want it, so please withhold any critiques unless the subject is there already. Yeah.
(But if you want to lavish me with compliments, tbh, it’s been a shit month and my self-esteem could use a boost)
Voice Feminizing Links!
From Queer Voices. http://queer-voices.com/2015/10/dysphoria-bodily-mentally-socially/
The article categorizes three forms of gender dysphoria: Social, Mental, and Physical. Before hormones, I would get a lot of Physical dysphoria. Treating that is the reason I take hormones, which help immensely but not completely. Mental dysphoria I used to deal with more pre-transition as well, but it’s easier now that forces beyond myself (friends and sometimes family) are helping validate my gender (and that my physical form and my inner narratives are now more validating of it too).
Social dysphoria I still get all the time. I don’t pass as female as often as I pass as male, so people misgender me lots still, which causes its own sort of pain beyond social awkwardness.
I was in a bowling alley a few weeks ago watching two high-school-age women in the seats across from my team. They were being…I think the appropriate phrase is “TOTES ADORBS.” Sitting in each other’s laps. Hugging. Giggling and fawning at cute things on their phones. It was a display of proto-femininity I found difficult to ignore, partly because I have always wanted to express my femininity so easily in public, partly because I was envious of the acceptance and invisibility they received from their friends and passersby while behaving like…like themselves. Partly because I envied it so much it hurt to watch.
Watching the girls ended up killing the evening for me. My mood plummeted, I noticed I was tearing up when I gutterballed, I withdrew from conversation with the friends I was bowling with, and I started to despair, to feel lethargic, to want skip my turns or leave the alley completely.
But I didn’t say anything, because my friends were enjoying themselves, catching lucky strikes and telling Star Trek jokes. Later on, David spoke in the car: “That was fun.” Ben said, “AGREED,” doing his best Picard. I was sitting in the front passenger seat, nexus of car conversation, so I had to respond. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, or like I was sad because my scores were bad, or like I didn’t enjoy socializing (though that’s becoming increasingly true) since we hadn’t gone out much in the past few weeks. So I said yeah, it was fun, which was a lie, and therefore disrespectful of my friends.
Had I said it wasn’t, would that have seemed disrespectful too? I didn’t want to talk about why. I had told Ben earlier about my mood and the women. He said he could understand why social situations were hard for me. As much as I appreciated his words, I knew he couldn’t mean them fully.
Does the Buddha say Desire is the source of all suffering? Am I wrong to desire the type of easy outward public femininity the high schoolers were displaying? Am I a coward for avoiding the scorn such a display would invite? Whose lap would I sit in? Who would I take to http://www.cuteoverload.com to gush over images of baby polar bears and hedgehogs and hedgehogs again? To be honest, so much of these feels feel so instinctual it feels wrong to resist or interrogate or question them. How can one not desire what one is drawn to?
I bring this up to illustrate social dysphoria. Something as simple as encountering femininity in the world can trigger it.
I suppose I am lucky that I do have respite from the dysphorias. Hormones mitigate the physical dysphoria to the point of restoring function to my life. When I say “my life,” I mean the whole thing. Being alone is the easiest way I’ve encountered for mitigating the social dysphoria–the job I just received lets me work from home, and I love that. The mental dysphoria, feeling “trapped by gender confines,” interplays with all the others, but I don’t have to go through the crippling self-doubt that kept me from transitioning until two years ago anymore, at least.
Anyway, there is that. Thanks for reading.