Debunking Gender Voice Training Myths
TL;DR There are many myths about gender affirming voice training. Below each myth about gender voice training is debunked. Example voice myths are that fry and falsetto must be avoided, there is one true voice you're working towards, goals must include certain things like a healthy voice, surgery is better, voice training isn't for trans men, and that voice change is required for transition. Example teacher myths are that you should give up if one try didn't work, that you have to work with a professional, voice training takes forever, and certain ways of referring to the work tell you who you should work with. Example language myths are that it's bad to use gendered words, and voice gender is a more accurate descriptor than voice sex.
Vocal fry and falsetto are bad for my voice, and should be avoided
Myth! Vocal fry use is common in some dialects, and is even used in some languages to differentiate word meaning. Vocal fry is just an asynchronous wave pattern, where the vocal folds come together in an irregular way. Healthy voices can have fry- in fact, most people use some amount of creak in their voices. Fry can be useful in gender voice work because it isn't a gendered quality. That said, if the creaky sound is painful, triggering, or otherwise undesirable to you, you certainly can avoid it.
Falsetto is a particular attractor state we tend towards when our voices go above a certain pitch, but can also be achieved within your full voice range with vocal training. Falsetto isn't unhealthy, or necessary to avoid. That said, since falsetto does tend to occur at the upper end of your pitch range, untrained voices are more likely to have an unsteady, effortful, or even strained vocal quality in falsetto. So you might be happier with your voice if you stay don't use pitches above 300 hz. Whether or not you want to speak in falsetto, having good control at the top end of your range can help you have a steadier voice overall. After all, we only have one set of true vocal folds, not different sets for different pitch ranges.
Explore your voice and what's it's capable of!
There is one "twue" voice we train towards
Myth! Whether your goal is voice feminization, masculinization, androgenization, to remove gendered markers from your voice, or to find a fluid voice that can shift between different voice recipes, or something entirely different. There is no universal path for where you're headed with your voice. Voice specialists serve as guides who help you find the voice recipe that works best for you and teach you the tools to achieve it, they do not set the destination. Only you know what your goal voice sounds like.
One of the primary goals of gender voice work is acquiring a healthy voice
Myth! You don't need to have a healthy voice to change your voice gender expression, just a desire to change your voice, and a commitment to doing the practice to get there. There are no required goals for gender voice work, you determine your goals. If your voice issues are caused by health or physical coordination issues in reaction to the trauma and marginalization trans people systemically face, waiting won't make those issues go away. Given that you're likely to use your voice whether or not it's healthy, you might as well benefit from having gender voice work help you deal with the voice dysphoria so you have one less barrier to communication. Side note to other professionals approached by clients with voice disorders- please don't endlessly pass clients around. If someone comes to you asking for help and you know how, help them. If you don't know how, direct them to someone who does. To do otherwise is gatekeeping.
Gender voice training will teach me xyz
Myth! what your voice specialist teaches you is totally dependent on what your goals are!
Voice training isn't as good as voice surgery
Myth! voice training can accomplish so much more than pitch floor raising surgery can, without harming your voice or restricting access to certain pitches. Maybe someday voice surgeries will be at the point where we can recommend them, but at the moment the available gender affirming surgical procedures are neither adequately safe nor targeted enough to recommend them. Even in the best case scenario you're still left with scarring after the surgeons sew part of your vocal folds together and lose access to some of your pitch range. Successful surgeries raise your pitch floor, which raises itself when you effectively modify your resonance and vocal weight. Pitch alone doesn't change the gender or sex of your voice- we all can do that easily, if it changed your voice sex or gender people would be shifting between them all the time.
Trans men / trans masculine people don't need voice training because testosterone changes their voice
It depends. There are many reasons trans men / trans masc people might want voice training:
They don't take testosterone, whether by choice or because they're too young.
They do take testosterone (T), but aren't happy with the voice changes, or haven't had any voice changes at all, even if they've been on T a long time. Maybe their voice is too overfull, or soft.
Pre-T they are having trouble with voice fatigue due to unhealthy breathing patterns or voicing habits.
On-T they're having trouble controlling their newly deeper voice.
They want to change things that T doesn't affect, like resonance or speaking patterns.
Their pitch is too high, unsteady, or they're having unpredictable pitch breaks.
They're facing difficulty using their voice with people who know their old voice recipe, or new people they're not yet comfortable speaking to.
They're experiencing undesired sound quality changes as they speak, especially at the end of sentences. Or as they use their voice, such as noticing a difference in how they sound at the beginning and end of their Twitch stream.
They want to be able to keep the same voice recipe, or have their voice be more reliable, when they get louder.
They want to be able to sing in a wider pitch range.
Voice training helps you reach your voice goals, guiding you from wherever you are to wherever you want to be. We don't even have to know whether or not you're on HRT- in fact, for the protection of our trans teens we no longer ask. We're happy to guide you from point a to point b, wherever those points are.
I have to change my voice to transition my gender
Myth! while everyone can change their voice, no one has to. Think about what your voice goals are- if you're content with your voice and it's not serving as a barrier to you, direct your attention to other things. If you're avoiding communicating, your voice makes you uncomfortable, or you're having issues because your voice gets you clocked, gender voice training is a lovely option.
If I didn't achieve my goal voice on my own or with one voice professional's help, I'm never going to :(
Myth! This is one of my least favorite ones. Please don't give up if what you've done so far hasn't worked, or you still have more voice progress you want to make. I've been training people to change their voice gender long enough that I can predict what voices are going to sound like based on who someone has already worked with. The type of professional background they have is an indicator of what their knowledge is if they haven't done further study. It might not even be anything about you, just your teacher's finite knowledge bank. Regardless who provided your help thus far, if you're still not happy with your voice, don't stop trying. You might just need a little help from a specialist.
If I try to change my voice without professional help I will lose or harm my voice
Mostly myth! I chalk these types of warnings down to scare tactics, see them all too often, and am not a fan. This was the primary motivator behind my efforts to revise ASHA's resource on gender voice work. While it is possible to harm your voice, strain, fatigue, and undesired sound changes are perceivable and typically very treatable, especially if caught early. If your goal is to avoid harming your voice in the process of modifying it, seeing a professional first can absolutely help, or you can wait and see one if you start noticing issues pop up later on. Seeing a professional isn't always a guarantee that a voice disorder won't occur- how you use your voice matters. Other things besides voice training can also effect your voice- I've seen the stress reduction after bottom surgery resolve voice disorders. Regardless, I have never seen someone "lose" the ability to speak from voice work. You can start with community resources, like our free community group and two YouTube channels, or find a professional to guide you so you can more efficiently change your voice. Please don't feel you have to avoid working on your voice when you don't have access to professional services- it's not nearly so black and white as this myth proposes.
Changing your voice takes forever
It's complicated! As much as I would like to be able to give a precise answer or range, there is no accurate way to predict how long this work takes, as you are your own judge for when you're done. Sometimes it's only one session that's needed, and sometimes it takes a long time to work through a voice disorder or a lot of dysphoria. But for most of my clients, it takes weeks to months. If you're happy, I'm happy. In general, I find that gender voice works take less time than however long you expect it to take, and that amount of time is directly related to your initial expectation.
If you've been working with the same person for longer than you would like, or spent semester after semester with grad students and still haven't found a voice you're comfortable using, please find a specialist. If you're struggling, connecting with other people going through a similar experience who can practice with you can help.
It's better to see someone for "transgender voice therapy" than "gender affirming voice training" or whatever term of the day is most popular.
Myth! what term someone uses to describe their work or what professional background they have is not directly mappable to how well they can help you in this rapidly developing field. Want to know how good they are at gender voice modification? Ask them to demonstrate the skills they want to teach you. While it doesn't have to be a passing voice, the best gender voice specialists can all produce a range of voice gender recipes. See if their teaching style works for you as well, as one's ability to change their own voice is only part of the equation.
It's bad to say I want a more feminine/masculine voice
Myth! Use whatever words you want, it's your voice. I say we're changing the amount of first puberty testosterone exposure it sounds like you've had. I also use gendered words, since most of my clients do, and they are accurate as well. There is certainly an amount of voice gender change that happens here in addition to voice sex change.
Gender voice modification changes voice gender
It's complicated! I can certainly understand why it's called that, but *technically* we're changing how much first puberty testosterone exposure it sounds like someone has had, aka changing voice sex. So a more accurate description is that when done well, our work changes the sex of the voice. If the client prefers, we can also teach how to change the gender of the voice, or the differences in two pre-pubescent children raised as different genders, before sex hormone exposure.
Looking to change your voice, or want to grow your skills at helping others change their voices? I'd love to help. Reach out to schedule a free phone consultation to see if we're a good fit.
-Tallulah Breslin, MS, CCC/SLP
Gender & Identity Affirming Behavioral Voice Modification @Harmonic Speech Therapy