Tuesday, 12 May 2015

That female voice - here are some thoughts of my own, with some tips

T-Central (see my Blog List in the right margin of this page) are featuring a post on the female voice written by a woman called Michelle. My own post here is essentially a reproduction of the comment I made on her post. I intended to be brief, but my comment became post-sized, and it seemed worth presenting it as such.

As you know, the female voice is something I am very passionate about. Transitioners frequently neglect to sort out their voice. I don't get that. Why spoil the effect, giving yourself away as soon as you open your mouth? And yet the voice can be fixed. It can be trained.

But it isn't easy. Getting a good female voice is the hardest thing. And yet, apart from how you look, move, and behave, the voice is the key to successful female living, and truly the passport to a female life.

If you want to come across as a woman, if you want to create an instant impression that - despite quirks in your appearance - you are nevertheless a woman and nothing else, you must sound right.

If you want other women to be chatty with you, and trust you as one of them, to the extent of sharing very personal matters with you, then you must sound right.

If you want to take issue with anyone, and argue with them as a woman would, perhaps when taking something back to a shop, or making a complaint, or just defending your rights in some way, then to be taken seriously you must sound right.

As for dealings with men, if you want them to be intrigued and interested, and treat you with respect, and - even if they do actually read you - to admire you for a magnificent personal achievement, then you need an impressively good female voice. And although it's not guaranteed, such a voice might stop transphobic men noticing you. The voice therefore becomes a form of front-line self-defence.

A voice to what standard? You must be able to pass not only the 'telephone test' every time, but also the 'scream test', and the 'sneeze test', and the 'cough test' - and be able to sing in a female voice too. For example at birthday parties, or when hymns are sung in a church service, at a funeral maybe. It absolutely can be done.

I have a good female voice, but it's taken money and effort. This is what I'd recommend, based on my own experience:

# Get on the right lines from the start. Don't acquire bad habits. Buy a full year of intense one-to-one professional tuition from a natal woman. I went with Christella Antoni in London.

# Watch, listen and try to imitate women in actual street situations, and of course women talking on television. See how, when sitting, they use their whole upper body to talk with. How, when standing, they use their posture. How they use their eyes, the expression on their face, their hands, and their hair. And how their basically weak voices can be reinforced or nuanced with nods, wriggles, and shakes of the head and shoulders.

# Women characteristically articulate their vocal sounds with precision, tending to speak slowly and deliberately, and very clearly. They use crispness, full vowels, and distinctly-spoken consonants. They also vary the rhythm, tone and stress of their speech all the time. This is quite different from ordinary male speech, which is often kept at one level, and may be drawled or slurred or otherwise indistinct, with many final consonant sounds omitted.

# When speaking as a woman does, it feels as if all the sounds are being formed inside the mouth, and not anywhere lower down. And if needing to be loud, the trick is to make the voice go nasal, so that it gains force and power. In other words, using the nose as the amplifier.

# In friendly social situations, women do not interrupt or overtalk someone else. They wait for a natural break. A man can't do this, but it's very characteristic of women, at least in polite situations in Western culture. Unfortunately a pompous man intent on getting his boring point of view across will tend to monopolise the conversation, and it becomes desperately hard to get a chance to speak. But - unless driven by pressing need - social conditioning, habitual politeness, possibly even ingrained deference, forbid women to be rude and butt in. It's the way it is. It needs to be remembered.

# Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice... Every waking moment. Reading long passages - stories, magazine articles, favourite poems, these all help. But the main purpose of learning a female voice is to speak to people. So concentrate on actual conversation. You don't need to find a conversation group. Talk to yourself. At home, strike up imaginary conversations with your fluffy toys, or your own reflection in a mirror. Practice explaining your need to transition, and what you expect to get from it, or indeed explain any subject you like, to an imaginary companion. Imagine you are presenting your own radio programme, and must talk non-stop for half and hour, scripted or not. Talk to yourself when driving. Take every opportunity to ask questions when out and about, and make friendly remarks at every shop check-out. It's so important to use your female voice in real speech as much as possible.

# Don't have a 'part-time' female voice. Once you successfully train your vocal apparatus to speak in a particular way, never revert. You can't make progress that way. This is difficult advice to follow, especially if you are still trying to play multiple roles, or you mix a lot with trans friends who aren't paying attention to their voices. But reverting to the old gruff voice will simply drag you backwards all the time.

I hope all that doesn't seem too prescriptive! Basically, everyone has to find the way that best suits themselves. But speaking is a complicated and difficult subject, and I hope you don't mind my offering some tips that I think are worthwhile and could assist.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, a very timely one for me Lucy. Some things I'd not thought of here. You are absolutely right that speaking properly only part-time is not an option. It is a matter of making new good habits.
    Really not sure how one practices sneezes and coughs so as to not give oneself away, but it has to be done, so it will.

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    1. Yes, sneezes and coughs and when we have a cold. It takes constant practice and maintenance.
      And singing too ... OMG!

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  2. This is a great post, Lucy. It reflects my own experiences. I started to train my female voice prior to transition, and it helped so much when I started full time.
    Very good advice to everyone.

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  3. Actually, proper singing helps to extend your upper vocal range. You can't physically alter your voicebox, but you can make use of every last but of capacity that it has. It's a wonderful gain if you can turn your highest wobbly unstable half-octave into something completely reliable, and you can sing pure notes every time!

    Lucy

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  4. As you know, Lucy, I take voice techniques very seriously and agree with all you've written. I would add, though, that it becomes still more challenging if you still have to live part of your life in male mode. I've developed a few techniques to cope, that may more properly form a post on my own blog, though I've completely given up trying to sound masculine on the phone. Rather than being a part-time female voice, mine has become a part-time male one.

    I'm intrigued by what you write about singing. I'm blessed with a naturally highish (tenor) voice, but I think I'm only convincing if I choose the key. Many songs and hymns are centred around middle C to F, which is unconvincingly masculine if I sing on the note and too high for me to sing an octave up in a female range. I'm trying to develop an 'ear' to sing alto, but it's not easy. An alternative is to give up on pitch and sing contralto (equivalent to male tenor) yet sound feminine, but I only manage that by singing softly and (as you suggest) not forming the sounds from 'deep down'. Either way, it's quite a challenge.

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  5. Great advice - thank you very much Lucy! I have so much work to do...

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