Helping trans people find their authentic voices

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Dawn Ennis

Christie Block is a speech therapist in New York City profiled by Fusion as a resource for transgender women and men.

More and more trans people are turning to her and others like her to change the way they sound, in hopes they can learn to train their voices to avoid being misgendered, or to adjust their voice to fit better with their gender identity.

Block, a cisgender (non-trans) woman who’s been a speech therapist for 14 years, practices her craft at the New York Speech and Voice Lab. One of the perceptions she must confront, according to Fusion, is that her work perpetuates gender stereotypes.

“I don’t see it that way,” she told the network. “It’s about showing people what the norms are or what we all think it means to act feminine or masculine and finding a set of skills that fit along that continuum with that person’s personality.”

As the debate rages about the need to “pass” or conform to binary genders, Block argues her job is teach vocal skills to trans as well as cisgender clients that suit their individual needs. No matter their gender identity, she works to help them find a voice that sounds right to their ears.

Of the 20 to 30 patients a week that seek Block’s help, half of those clients are trans men and women, most of them women. In their first 90-minute session, Block’s clients speak into a microphone that feeds audio to a computer program that tracks a person’s pitch.

According to Block, the target zones for feminine-sounding voices is 220 hertz, masculine-sounding voices are at 120 hertz, with gender-ambiguous voices in between at 155 to 187 hertz.

Over the next several months, the clients work with her to develop what Fusion identified as the three most important areas of speech: pitch, intonation, and resonance. Pitch and intonation refer to how high or low a person’s voice sounds, their speaking range and how they use that range. Resonance is how a person uses their mouth, tongue, and throat to shape the sound they’re projecting.

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