It was the night that I was over at V---'s, when K--- and I (with the help of V--- and her son B---, and a lively little dog called Co-Co who was eager to rest on my lap) had a practice run at making an audio podcast. The position there, by the way, is that K--- is editing the idiotic stuff we came up with to produce a smooth and sophisticated version, complete with sound manipulations and - who knows - a menacing gangsta rap beat and monologue going on in the background, to give it an edge.
Anyway, at one point, V--- exclaimed to me, 'Lucy, cherie, you have a lisp!' (She is French) A lisp? Me? I denied it, but in the days since I have been listening to myself carefully and, my goodness, I think she is right.
What I'm talking about here is a slight speech defect, where your sibilants - your S sounds - become indistinct, slurred or disappear entirely through incorrect articulation. The possible causes are many, and include physical impairment and of course being drunk. Looking at the Wikipedia article (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisp) I think I have developed a mild form of dentalised lisping, where for some reason my tongue is slightly touching my teeth as I articulate S. And tho, jutht a little, it theemth ath if I am thpeaking like thith. I'd say that the very definite (and admittedly rather hissy) S sounds I've deliberately cultivated in order to feminise my speech have now slipped into lisping. It'll have to be corrected. I can do it.
On the other hand, should I? I may have acquired a positive speech asset here. I mean, no man ever speaks with a girly lisp does he? So my way of speaking as Lucy, already pretty good I'd say, may now have developed a little extra female authenticity.
That said, I don't want it to go further. It wouldn't do to sound like a winsome child. Nor do I want my speech to become hard to understand. It's there to get me through any possible situation. My voice is a communication tool as well as my best female badge. It's got to be clear and effective, and any affectation or imperfection that spoils that aim must be controlled, and if necessary ruthlessly discarded.
After all, I'm constantly up on my hobbyhorse about the top importance of a good speaking voice. In fact, I would say that clear, correct articulation is the key to finding a credible female voice that will get taken seriously and listened to attentively. I'm all for Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (or the film musical My Fair Lady) insisting that former Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle practices the following until she can't go on:
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain
In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly happen
How nice of you to let me come
Or indeed more traditional phrases and tongue-twisters that require perfect articulation to succeed:
How now, brown cow
She sells sea shells on the sea shore
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?
But then, by Jove, Eliza gets it! And can be passed off at Ascot as a duchess. And so can you be, if you really try hard. Of course, you'll have to brush up on your grammar and deportment skills...
I'm not saying forget your pitch-raising exercises, but I do say open your mouth, stop murmuring and mumbling, as men do, and make those consonants crisp and distinct, and your vowels full and round. This kind of control automatically helps to maintain pitch and eliminate croak. It also makes it easier to say the same thing with heat or coolness, with a different tone, or with a subtler nuance, so the same words can be a desperately urgent order, a coy remark, a gentle question, or a lover's whisper. It'll slow your speech down at first, and might make it seem staccato, until you get the knack. Then you can start to speed up again, adding elisions, so that your words flow into each other naturally.
Well, this is what I've been doing for a long time, and my extensive testing in the field, all over Britain, suggests that I'm onto something. But all the time I take my hat off to Christella Antoni, the London Speech Therapist who did so much for me. A few lucky people have voices that need no special tuition. But for most of us, sadly, a really good voice needs professional help, and it costs. You also have to dedicate your life to voice practice, not just an hour or two each week, but right through your waking hours, 24/7 if you can, and with as much conversation with natal women as you can contrive. If your job or personal situation makes that difficult, then watch chat shows for women on television, and pretend you are taking part, or doing a voiceover for the rest of the audience. Butt in on the studio chat. Don't be shy. Don't be put off if they seem to ignore you! Study how they use body posture, their eyes, and their hands, when they speak, when they exclaim and laugh. Learn how to giggle, wail, boo, snarl, sneeze, cough and cry as these girls do.
But don't go too far - and learn to lisp. Bad.