Voices are really interesting things. For me, my voice was actually the one part of myself related to my body that I wasn't ashamed of. I liked the range of my voice. That I could go surprisingly deep when I wanted to, usually for comedic effect. That I had pretty good control over it, and could affect quite a few accents pretty easily. I realise this isn't a physical thing as much as a mental thing, but either way: I liked my voice.
That changed when I began to transition. Like most trans women I know, my voice is a cause of self-consciousness.
I'm incredibly lucky. My voice, despite me being able to go quite deep when I want to, is mid-range. The pitch puts it somewhere bang in the middle, and actually higher than some of my female cis friends' voices. Or, at least, a lot less gruff. In fact, I often artificially spoke deeper when I was uncomfortable in social situations. My dysphoria would hit, and out of paranoia that someone would "find out" or "realise I wasn't a guy" I'd subconsciously begin talking a bit more loudly and deeply. (Boy, how embarrassing in retrospect...)
In fact, when that bit of behaviour vanished I had a few people say, "Wow, your voice sounds different already!" prompting me to have to explain that oestrogen doesn't change your voice in the same way T changes the voices of trans men. It's one of the unique problems that we trans women have to deal with - potentially having very masculine-sounding voices, depending on the luck of our genetics.
A few other people suggested vocal coaches, but honestly, I was so insecure and terrified of leaving the house much of the time that the idea of seeing ANOTHER specialist, even if I could afford it, made it something I flat out ignored.
So I became more quiet in public - a common occurrence. I was less likely to talk around strangers, and avoided interacting vocally with random people in any way I could. Taxis VS Uber? No brainer. I was less likely to be forced into conversation with an Uber, and didn't even have to tell the driver where I was going.
It felt safer.
So I had begun to settle into feeling half-mute in public, and it depressed the hell out of me. Several times I considered 'feminising' my voice in some way, even if just practicing with youtube videos but... just acknowledging the problem AS the big issue it had become was too much. So I just kept on. I'd talk around friends, but keep quiet around strangers unless it felt like a genuinely safe space.
There was a certain irony to it. The "silencing of trans voices" had become in my case (as in many others) very literal.
So I was quite surprised when, a while back, a friend drunkenly admitted to me, "I had a bit of difficulty around you early on." I thought he meant when I was at that early point in transition when I looked kinda feminine but still had stubble, etc. But no, "It was your voice," he said. "Now you sound feminine."
I began to pay attention to how I was talking.
Firstly, I began to notice that my accent had shifted slightly. For those who haven't heard me speak, I have what I'm told is a "cultivated Australian" accent - one of the three broad categories of Australian accent. In short, the Aussie version of British received pronunciation. It's a slightly less common accent here, which means I sometimes get people furrowing their brow and asking, "Are you English?"
Personally, I love this. My associations with Aussie accents tends to be misogynistic, gross homophobic culture from where I grew up, so people taking me for English isn't something I ever took offence to.
I'd noticed that was a little more obvious. But more than that, when I asked friends "how I sounded different now", the answer I got more than once was, "Uhm... you sound more melodic."
Melodic? Huh. I began to look up the kind of speech patterns that are generally considered "feminine". And sure enough, I'd begun to affect some of them, even without meaning to.
It wasn't until I had a conversation with a friend of mine who's cis, female and works in the corporate world that I began to unpack it a bit more.
"Oh, I do that intentionally all the time."
"Rising inflections at the end of sentences, slight shifts in tone at that point in a sentence, avoiding saying precise statements and instead make them more of a question... it makes men more comfortable with me. I get accused of being bitchy otherwise."
This kinda blew my mind. I had begun to feminise my speech patterns without intending to, and in a way that made me seem 'less offensive' to men. And that this was something many, many women do - sometimes intentionally.
Beyond how fucked this is, I'm left trying to figure out how I managed to begin doing this subconsciously.
I began to pay attention when ordering drinks at a bar, when paying for things at a store, etc. My friends were certainly right - I had begun to sound more lyrical, and it resulted in me being gendered correctly - even on the phone most of the time.
I'm torn between feeling slightly more secure now I feel comfortable talking in public and knowing there's still a reasonable change I will be gendered correctly, and feeling like the fundamental aspects of these vocal changes... just plain suck.
I can't help but escape the feeling that so many "feminine" traits are defence mechanisms in a hostile environment.
Even though I used to love my voice, I have seemingly begun to camouflage myself in every way I can, to avoid transphobia. Even if that meant compromising the way I might otherwise communicate with others.