Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Must try harder

I think some aspects of my presentation are starting to slip! It happens. You get complacent. In particular, my voice is not what it was.

Never having heard it, most of you won't be able to comment usefully on my vocal abilities, but believe me, this was something that I had spent a lot of time and money and practice on, and I think it showed.

So my pitch was well within the female range. It had smoothness and warmth. My words were clear and properly articulated - no slurring, no mumbling; each consonant properly and crisply enunciated. And I'd slowed my rate of speech down, to give the vowels a full, rounded sound.

I'd stopped being over-emphatic, or too loud, or too definite in my delivery. I'd eliminated croak and monotony, and a tendency to drop the pitch at the end of sentences.

I'd studied how women speak in a group, and how they do it with just one other woman; and how it is different again in male company. How women give each other a generous space of time to say what they wish, the lack of interruption and overtalking when they speak. I'd tried hard to emulate how they lean forward when speaking, or angle their heads and bodies; and I'd noticed the differences in posture between sitting and standing; and little ways in which the entire body says as much as the words themselves. I'd watched the facial expressions women use; the way they employ hands and eyes to assist the flow of words, and to punctuate the speech with gestures and significant pauses.

Well, you get the picture: I hadn't fooled around, I'd set myself a high standard, and I believed that I was doing rather well, and had achieved something important. Because this wasn't merely a social accomplishment, like learning to dance, or cook for dinner parties. This was a vital personal skill that I had to succeed with if I wanted to blend in with all other women, and enjoy a full life as one.

But in the last few days I've become less sure of my progress.

I'll give you two very recent examples. On Monday I went up to London by train, and on the way there it got stuck at Gatwick Airport station. A problem with the brakes. We were all first advised that it was minor and that we should best stay seated, and not switch trains. At that point, I fell into conversation with a 25 year old Brazilian girl. I didn't start it; we just caught each other's eye, and spoke, as you often do when caught up in a travel problem. Ten minutes later, it was 'all out and cross to another platform', and so, still speaking, we did as we were told, hung around a bit, and eventually joined another train. It was pretty full. There was a seat for me, but not for her. Without much thinking about it, I stayed standing with her, and we chatted all the way to London Victoria. She was easy and pleasant to talk to, and seemed to find me much the same.

Now while talking to her, I definitely noticed one or two glances in my direction, and I wondered why. I eventually narrowed it down to the voice. The background train noise made it hard to speak in a normal way, and, standing up, you had to hang on, so that a distinctly female body posture wasn't easy to maintain. There was nothing but my general appearance to counteract the overloud way I was forced to speak. To put it another way, if I had simply been standing there, swaying with the train movement, but otherwise silent, I don't think I would have attracted attention. As it was, this was one occasion when I didn't pass too well. Not that my companion showed the slightest sign of clocking me. But then she was a polite and intelligent young women from an obviously good family background, and perhaps there was no way that she was going to behave badly to me, or embarrass me. And, despite Brazil being a black spot for anti-trans hate crime, the social mix there must be very diverse, and I'd be prepared to believe that she didn't find me an especially odd person to share a casual conversation with. We parted in a very friendly fashion. To the last, she was warm and polite.

But I made a mental note to sharpen up my voice!

Then yesterday evening, I was in a Brighton coffee shop with a friend, and she said that while my facial and body movements when speaking were very natural, I tended to let my vocal pitch drop in prolonged conversation. We made videos of each other. Yes, it was true. Oh dear, back to school!

This morning I felt resolved to get on top of this slippage, and try even harder. I'd been so proud of acquiring a convincing voice. But it has now clearly deteriorated and must be repaired.


  1. Lucy, you lucky thing! The women I know don't give a micro second to get my words in and talk over each other quite often!

    Raising volume is a challenge and voice can fall apart. I never gave your voice much thought since it suited you and sounded right. Recording devices can be cruel and analytical like telephones!

  2. Oh how right Caroline is. I know a few women personally who talk so much I cannot get a word in. I meet some whilst at work too. Yesterday when on a job both the husband and the wife were the same but what made it worse was the fact that they both talked together as if the other wasn't there! I was stuck in the middle. I agree that recording machines don't reflect the voice in the same way as in life situations although much of that depends on the quality of the equipment, after all, most sounds we hear on television/movie/radio seem ok. Telephony is probably the worst.
    Lucy, you don't mention how long you have been training your voice, or rather, when you started. I didn't 'train' my voice in the sense that I was analysing what I was doing I simply spoke more softly and avoiding speaking from the diaphragm. The result is now that my voice is reasonably into the correct range but at first it took much practice and I let slip a few times before it became the natural way to speak for me. I tried reverting back once just to see if I could and I found it difficult and testing. I think it is all too easy to get complacent though and it is wise to keep checks now and then so that we don't fall into bad speaking habits. Engaging in long conversations with someone can lead us to be complacent as you say.
    Shirley Anne xxx

  3. Lucy as the older woman you should have taken that seat. They might have glanced at you because of that. Just my 2 cents worth.

  4. You were kind enough to compliment me on my voice when we last had a meal together. I've never had voice training but it seems to come out right most of the time - I just follow simple rules not unlike your own.

    However, a few nights ago I watched some video recordings of myself speaking to camera on our recent canal holiday. One was far too high and squeaky; the other sounded horribly masculine, to me at least.

    A while ago you chose a subject inspired by one posts. I think I'll reciprocate soon. As you say, it's a vital skill.


  5. @Shirley Anne:
    I undertook formal one-to-one training with Christella Antoni in London from December 2009 to October 2010. Before then, for the first year or more of my transition, no serious attempts to do more than 'speak softly'.

    I'll look forward to your post! We don't have to be original all the time. I rather like the idea of one person putting up an idea, then someone else taking it forward, then yet another person going off on a tangent, and so on. Collective exploration!

    Do you know, I wondered about that. Was in 'in role' to stand around with a woman young enough to be my daughter? But then these were seats especially designated for the infirm elderly, and pregnant mums, and people like that, and, well, I didn't really think I looked in that class. On the other hand, all but one of theses seats had been pinched by fit-looking people who were clearly younger than me, so it was illogical to heed the official notices!

    Besides which, it seemed a bit off to abandon my chatty companion. If there had been TWO such seats available, I wouldn't have had a qualm sitting with her.

    @All so far:
    So my impressions that women are scrupulously fair with 'talk time' are mistaken! I've certainly heard teenagers and ladetttes sound off like football hooligans - but not mature women nearly so much. Perhaps I don't go to the right places - or instinctively keep away from the wrong ones. As for husbands and wives, perhaps they're a special case!



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