For a lot of transgender people, their voice is a major source of gender dysphoria, which is a feeling of significant distress or impairment that stems from a strong desire to be another gender. As such, many trans men and women opt to seek out voice training, which helps them achieve the kind of voice that feels closer to how they identify and eventually relieves some of that distress that they experience.
If you’ve ever been interested in voice training, keep reading. Here, we cover everything you need to know about trans voice training, from how it works to which apps and sites you should visit to get started.
What Is Trans Voice Training?
Trans voice training, also known as vocal therapy, is a series of guided vocal exercises most often led by a speech pathologist or a voice coach. These voice exercises help transgender people find the right techniques to modulate their voices and adjust their speaking patterns to better reflect their gender identity.
While both trans men and trans women can undergo vocal training, trans women and transfeminine people are more likely to seek it out. This is because when trans men take testosterone via hormone replacement therapy (HRT), their body goes through something close to typical male puberty.
Their vocal cords or vocal folds will thicken, making their voice sound deeper. Some trans men can and do elect for voice training to better practice how to sound like a guy, but generally speaking, they need less help masculinizing their voices.
Unfortunately, the same process of male puberty that helps trans men develop a deeper voice is what leads trans women to have difficulties with their own voices. For trans women, HRT won’t affect their voice, and how their voice sounds pre-HRT is how it will sound after they go on hormones. So if you’re a trans woman who has developed a particularly deep voice after puberty, you will need to either work with a vocal coach to learn how to practice speaking in a higher pitch or you can elect for vocal surgery.
With all that being said, for this guide, we’ll be focusing primarily on voice feminization training.
Why Do Trans People Undergo Voice Training?
Everyone has their own unique relationship with their natural voice. Some trans women are comfortable having a naturally lower pitch and strong voice, while for others, it can be a source of discomfort and even shame. Here are three reasons why some people elect for voice training:
Vocal Training Can Help Ease Gender Dysphoria
Have you ever played back a recording of yourself, only to find that your normal voice is not exactly what you expected it to sound like? For trans people, that feeling is a hundred times worse. Voice dysphoria can, at times, make trans people feel like they don’t belong in their own bodies, and that can lead to a lot of self-hate and shame. Because of this, some trans people even go so far as to avoid speaking on the phone.
Vocal Training Can Help Trans People Feel Safer In Uncertain Situations
Trans people, trans women especially, face a disproportionate amount of discrimination for their gender identity. In 2020 alone, 50 trans women were reportedly killed in violent incidents. As such, “passing”, or having the ability to be perceived as cisgender, is important to a lot of trans people. And with a higher-pitched voice, trans women can feel better prepared to handle potentially dangerous situations without the looming threat of being “found out”.
Vocal Surgery Success Is Not Guaranteed
If you want to make your voice sound more feminine, you can opt for voice feminization surgery, which involves shortening the vocal cords for a more high-pitched voice. It also narrows the airway to help you produce a breathier sound that is more commonly associated with women.
Meanwhile, voice masculinization surgery involves a range of procedures, from thickening the vocal folds with silicone implants to decreasing tension in the vocal cords by creating a small incision on the sides of the thyroid cartilage. Trans men can also opt for vocal folds injection, which involves thickening the vocal cords with an injection of hyaluronic acid filler or collagen.
Unfortunately, voice surgery comes with a lot of drawbacks, especially for trans women. For one, it can be incredibly expensive, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 in the US.
On top of this, vocal surgery is a risky procedure with a variable success rate. Some patients may not feel satisfied with the voice they are left with, while others may even experience difficulty breathing and swallowing, as well as persistent infections and sore throats.
Finally, vocal surgery will only make a trans woman’s voice higher in pitch. However, it doesn’t change other vocal behaviors such as intonation or pacing.
How Does Feminizing Trans Voice Training Work?
Trans voice training is usually done over a series of weekly sessions held over a few months or even years. You’ll want to get the help of speech pathologists or vocal coaches, as these people have scientifically-backed techniques on how to make your voice higher, how to make your voice deeper, or simply find the voice that feels like “you”.
Sometimes, your speech coach will encourage you to join a group session so you can practice your techniques in a conversational setting. Some lessons also combine singing, psychotherapy, and physical therapy.
Trans voice training typically focuses on the following elements:
Pitch is what makes your voice sound deeper or higher. Most people who are assigned female at birth have a pitch somewhere in the realm of 160 to 300 hertz, while those who are assigned male at birth will have a range of 60 to 180 hertz. Variations occur depending on the person’s height, age, and other factors.
This is a voice quality that describes the brightness or darkness of a voice. In other terms, it is the difference between a chest voice and a head voice. Resonance can be changed with minute adjustments to the way one uses their neck muscles.
There are four types of resonance:
- Head resonance: Head resonance causes vibrations in the face and head, and delivers a brighter color and higher pitch.
- Mouth resonance: This is more commonly used for a more conversational vocal color.
- Chest resonance: Chest resonance is richer, deeper, and commands power.
- Nasal resonance: Nasal resonance happens when sound and airflow are passed into the nose through the soft palate.
This is a general term that covers things like articulation, pacing, breath control, and phrasing.
Articulation is how you form sounds when you speak. Men and women tend to articulate differently, with women articulating vowels and consonants more clearly.
Intonation is the rise and fall of your voice as you speak. In other terms, it’s the musicality of your speaking voice. Women tend to speak in a more sing-songy way, while men tend to speak in a more monotonous way.
Pacing, on the other hand, is how fast or how slow people speak. Women tend to speak faster than men. While voice surgery can potentially change one’s pitch and resonance, it is only through vocal therapy that you can change your speech patterns and learn how to sound like a girl.
How Does Masculinizing Voice Training Work?
Voice masculinization training works quite similarly to voice feminization training, only the objective is to teach trans men how to get a deeper voice. Here are some of the things that are tackled in voice masculinization training exercises:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: To make your voice sound more masculine, you will have to practice breathing from your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a muscle found under your lungs that flattens and contracts as you inhale, then relaxes as you push air out of your lungs. When you can take deep breaths from your diaphragm, you can project a more masculine tone of voice.
- Posture: It may sound simplistic, but changing your posture can make your voice deeper. For example, lowering your head closer to your chin will naturally bring the tone of your voice lower. Standing up straight also allows you to produce a stronger and louder voice, as hunching over can limit the function of your vocal folds.
- Projection: This aspect of vocal training focuses on vocal strength when you yell, sing, or attempt to make your voice stronger over loud music. When trans men take HRT, their voice changes from a more head tone to a chest tone. Sometimes, trans men can have trouble modulating the volume of their voices because they are not used to speaking this way.
- Speech patterns: Just as trans women learn how to add more articulation and upward inflection when they speak, trans men can learn how to have a more neutral inflection – mimicking the natural speaking voice of cisgender men.
What Other Sounds Are Tackled In Trans Voice Training?
Aside from all the speech and vocal elements mentioned above, a vocal or speech coach can also help you change the way you make certain sounds, including:
- Sneezes and coughs: When you undergo vocal training, you’re essentially relearning how to produce sounds with your mouth and lungs. Though we don’t sneeze and cough as often as we speak, these are things that we cannot necessarily control. What we can control is the sound that comes out though. With some practice, you can anticipate an oncoming sneeze or cough and make minute adjustments to produce the sound that feels right.
- Laughter: Feminizing or masculinizing laughter can also be rather tough, especially if you have a very distinct laugh. But you can practice this. For a more feminine laugh, you have to practice laughing at a higher pitch, with a lower volume, and with a wider smile to make the sound smaller. For a masculine laugh, you have to focus on laughing with a lower pitch, emitting a louder sound that comes more from the belly or the chest.
Is Voice Training Covered By Insurance?
In the United States, voice training and vocal surgery are NOT covered by medical insurance. This is because the two procedures are considered “elective processes” and are not deemed medically necessary.
3 Feminizing Trans Voice Training Apps And Sites You Can Try
Because voice training and vocal surgery aren’t covered by insurance, they can be out of reach for a lot of low-income trans folk. Thankfully, there are a handful of vocal training apps that are available either for free or for a much lower rate than most face-to-face training sessions.
The Exceptional Voice App, or Eva, is perhaps the most well-known vocal training app on the market. Developed by a speech pathologist named Kathe Perez, who has over 20 years of experience working with transgender voices, Eva is designed specifically for transgender people.
With Eva, users can watch instructional videos and participate in structure exercises with real-time visual feedback. With clearly-defined objectives and a reward system, Eva operates somewhat closely to a game, thus easing some of the stress and anxiety associated with vocal training.
Eva also offers vocal training for trans men with the EvaM voice-training mobile app. The interactive coaching program works similarly to the voice feminization training program and comes with a specialized pitch-tuner tool that helps users evaluate their voice in real time.
The Christella VoiceUp app is a vocal feminization app developed by leading transgender speech and language therapist, Christella Antoni. The app offers “bite-sized lessons” spread over three courses, resulting in over two hours of therapy. The lessons will teach you how to make your voice sound more feminine by focusing on areas like pitch, resonance, intonation, and vowel length.
According to the site, Christella’s technique focuses directly on modifying aspects of voice and speech based on “vocal tract physiology”, which allows clients to maintain more vocal consistency and develop stamina.
TransVoiceLessons is the brainchild of trans woman, audio engineer, and voice expert Zheanna Erose. Zheanna offers free educational materials through her YouTube channel and website and is known for her detailed and rigorous lessons on vocal training.
Criticisms Against Vocal Training
Not everyone is a fan of voice training. One of the most common criticisms about the exercise is that it has the potential to reinforce certain stereotypes about how women speak and act. To some critics, vocal training can promote this notion of an “ideal” feminine voice, whereas, among cisgender women, there is a ton of vocal range variations.
There are also critiques that vocal feminization therapy promotes the idea that, in order to feel complete with one’s gender identity, a trans woman must “pass” in all aspects, including her voice. This harmful notion can lead many trans women to feel that if they can’t change their deep voices or develop a more high-pitched voice and resemble that of a cisgender woman, it invalidates their womanhood.
However, a lot of pathologists make an effort to remind their students that passing does not necessarily have to be the end goal. For many, the goal is simply to relieve one’s dysphoria and to help patients find the voice that feels like “them”.
The Bottom Line
While transition is different for everyone, for many trans people, vocal training can help reduce the distress brought upon by gender dysphoria and bring them one step closer to feeling at peace in their bodies. Voice training does have its drawbacks, and the criticism against it is understandable. But for those who simply want to feel closer to the person that they envision themselves to be, voice training can be an incredibly empowering and freeing tool.