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Recently there’s been a lot of wonderful writing by trans people on this site — if you’ve not seen the Trans* Scribe series, please check out everything my fellow contributors have done! As a kind of follow-up to my own piece on the trans voice in punk rock, Rebel Yell: This Voice Isn’t Gendered, It’s Punk, I want to give some attention to a survey Stefanie Hays from LSU is doing to explore assumptions about trans people’s experiences with our voices.
Stefanie is a queer cis woman currently working on her master’s thesis in speech-language pathology, and this survey is part of her work to study assumptions about trans voice. A longer description of the survey by her and its purpose is below. It’s open to anyone who identifies as trans*, is over 18, and uses voice to communicate.
click here to take the survey
I’ve taken the survey — it’s not too long and asks a lot of general questions about how you experience your voice, how you think others experience your voice, what you want from your voice, if you are interested in voice therapy and why or why not. Many of the questions ask you to rate things like “My voice makes me feel less like the gender I really am” or “I use a great deal of effort to speak” on a scale from 1 to 5, which can be a bit tough, but at the end you’ll have a chance to write in any additional comments or complexities about your experience with voice — I know I had a few!
I’m very happy to hear Stefanie is doing this kind of work to challenge assumptions about what trans people feel about voice. As I said in my previous piece, I haven’t personally chosen to do any sort of voice therapy, but I do feel the daily pressures of preconceived notions of voice. It feels important for those of us who aren’t totally sure that we want to sound like “what a person of x gender sounds like” to be able to communicate our experience, whether or not we choose voice therapy. It’s also important that those trans people who do choose to have voice therapy will have therapists who don’t bring in (perhaps false) assumptions about trans voices.
So take the survey and share! I wish Stefanie the best of luck in her work. Her statement about the survey is below.
click here to take the survey
I’m a queer cis woman who got into speech-language pathology because of my interest in voice, and I encountered some assumptions about trans voice when I started my studies. Some of those assumptions are that trans men don’t have any voice problems after onset of hormones (and that all trans men will take hormones), that most women experience difficulty, that most women change their voices behaviorally, and that a “passing” voice is important to everyone. And I’ve never seen anything in the field that even acknowledges that some people don’t identify as “male” or “female.” My friends and acquaintances in the community who were trans, however, had a range of feelings about their voices, some of which didn’t fit what I read at all. The overall goal of my study is to find out what is important to trans people about trans voice and treatment. It’s part of my master’s thesis and will hopefully be published elsewhere, as well. Hopefully this will hope speech-language pathologists improve the way we conduct research, evaluate and treat trans voices if they seek treatment, and evaluate our preconceived notions.
The survey is aimed at people who identify as trans*, are over 18, and use their voices to communicate. (Please don’t do this survey if you’re cis or you identify as genderqueer but not trans! While I would love to hear about your voice-related feelings, I’m focusing on trans* voices right now.) It takes about 10-15 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. It asks 33 questions about your voice, your feelings about your voice, and your feelings about a few treatment options. If you have a question about the survey, are uncomfortable with an aspect of it, or feel like there’s something important that the survey didn’t capture, please feel free to email me at shays2 [at] lsu [dot] edu.
About the author: Audrey Zee Whitesides is a poet, musician, and queer trans woman living in Brooklyn. She divides her days buried in books and writing about intimacy, or listening to pop punk and playing in the band Little Waist. She’s originally from Kentucky, and is a proud Southerner for life.
just a quick point that i thought might be valid to point out, not all people who would be or are labelled as trans* by society identify as such. but they still nonetheless experience the same issues with and around voice. an “other” option for people who fit the label of trans* but don’t identify with it might be a good option to add into the survey?
That is a really good point– I’m not sure if Stefanie is reading these Autostraddle comments, so if you want you could email her at email@example.com to see if she wants to add that option in!
That is an excellent idea and I will definitely implement it, thank you for the suggestion! I’m just working on finding a wording that still discourages cis people from doing the survey…
(I am now reading the comments, after several hours of being too nervous to do so and fina1lly making another Autostraddler basically read the comments to me.)
how about listing it as “do not identify as the sex assigned at birth”?
I did the survey but I wasn’t especially encouraged by it. It seems to have a pretty limited idea of the mechanics of reconfiguring your voice. There is no mention of placement, breath control (“breathiness” or “how you move your mouth” aren’t the same things) or any of the physical manifestations of altering voice. I wish there were comment areas for most of the questions because a lot of the options weren’t especially applicable.
That said, working on my voice was a very important part of my transition, as much as any aspect of it. To me there’s something extremely emotional and even spiritual about how we communicate and I needed what I felt was a woman’s voice (and yes, we all have differing experiences of what that would sound like, but I felt I needed to “pass” while on the phone 100%.) I went to a speech pathologist who was a real pioneer on this subject and had been doing it (along with her other practice) since the 1980s. I worked with her for more than 18 months doing hundreds of hours of practice and exercises—like learning a foreign language or musical instrument. Is my voice “perfect”… I don’t know, I’m too neurotic, (Jewish?) and self-critical to even think like that. It’s been years since I’ve been passing on the phone all the time but, meh, who knows? It’s the part of my transition I’m most proud of and maybe the most self-affirming… I wish the survey had asked questions like that.
I made the options about mechanics really vague and am definitely regretting it, sorry about that! If you’d be comfortable giving more detail about it, I would absolutely love to have the information via email, even if it’s just telling me what the survey didn’t get right (shays2 at lsu dot edu). A few people have done this, and I’ve include their suggestions in my data about that section of the study, as well as the section talking about all limitations and problems with this study. If you’re not comfortable doing that, though, I totally understand.
Problem is, we already know most of the answers to the questions S is asking. I think it’s fine to re-elicit data but perhaps she could go beyond administering the simplest, non trans*-friendly or evcen trans*-specific Voice Handicap Index. Which, by the by, assumes you have a handicap. Way to think of trans*-voices…
My study isn’t nearly wide enough, doesn’t gather information, and cannot come close to capturing an experience, unfortunately. It also relies heavily on the TSEQ, which is literally the only research-backed voice evaluation for trans* people in existence. I will be writing about the limitations of the study in my thesis and any/all subsequent publications – as well as limitations in the evaluating tool itself. It’s a very preliminary study, and I very sincerely hope that someday we can do a more in-depth one.
Again, if you have anything you’d like to say about what this survey/I did wrong and would be comfortable with me quoting you in the research, I will definitely be including the criticism in the limitations section. (And if there’s more you’d like to add about the limitations, I would really like to hear it.) Thank you very much for your comment.
This survey rather assumes I’m in the middle of changing my voice. “Haven’t yet started” is not exactly provided as an option.
That’s interesting! I also haven’t taken any steps to change my voice and don’t really have any plans to, so it felt important to me to take the survey to record that fact– to say, “Hey, I’m here and I’m not changing my voice.”