Weds Jun 14 2023

This is the Voice I Want to Use

by e(Liz)abeth (Mars)ton

There are few activities that are as terrifying to a Trans woman as singing.

YouTube is awash with beautiful Trans women who teach voice-changing techniques, repping seemingly impossible results. There are surgeons who will perform delicate, nearly impossible surgeries, advertising “singable” results. And yet, for most of us, singing, like swimming, remains one of the most vulnerable acts we can undertake.

For while casual speech permits a wide range of techniques for translating one’s presentation through genderspace, including pitch shifting, intonation repatterning, attack softening, and vocabulary choice, singing confronts us with the possibility that we can do all those things and sound worse. This is because singing is inherently about performance; moving the apparatus of the throat into its best possible configuration for the task at hand. You are, in a sense, competing with every cis singer, whose throat and body —whose instrument — is perfectly suited to sing parts written by cis songwriters for cis singers. So-called ‘falsetto’, or head voice, is often (but not always) aesthetically unsatisfactory. Some of this has to do with cis-centric aural beauty standards, but I do believe part of it is just hard reality: there is something about a liquid, mellifluous alto, or a crystalline soprano, that is challenging to reproduce with virilized vocal folds.

Trans women who transitioned after puberty then, generally have the choice between singing in whatever octave they achieved before transition, or not as beautifully as their hypothetical cis counterpart. Trans men arguably have it worse: for testosterone can change the vocal folds in ways that can effectively light on fire all the prior singing experience he might have had. And as ever with physical transformation, whether it be by surgery or medication, there is no guarantee of a euphonious result.

The good news is that it is possible for all of us to improve through singing lessons. What one loses one can regain through hard practice. And the even better news is that, like all singers, our range increases dramatically with practice. So if transition motivated you to pursue deliberate practice, you can count the motivation, at least, as a blessing, even if it is occasioned by a sort of curse.

Even better news is the psychological power of song. Whether you choose to sing in your natural range or instead attempt to master head voice, the act of showing up at choir, at band practice, and at your singing lessons expresses a tenacity and a dedication that sparkles like a jewel in its own right. You can find freedom here, is what I’m saying.

So, go forth and sing, my siblings.

Image is Creative Commons 2.5 ShareAlike by Jan Mehlich.

Calligraphic embellishment of the name 'Liz'