“While I felt like I looked great and that the gown looked fabulous, I still have a voice issue,” Caitlyn Jenner has said of her on-stage acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. (Photo: Getty Images/Kevin Mazur)
Caitlyn Jenner says she’s thrilled to finally embrace the gender that she’s always identified with. But there’s one insecurity she’s repeatedly brought up: Her voice.
Jenner mentioned the insecurity earlier this month after accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. “While I felt like I looked great and that the gown looked fabulous, I still have a voice issue,“ she wrote in a blog post. “It’s not quite right compared to my feminine appearance. That bothers me a little bit. However, I hope that people don’t listen to the pitch of my voice, but listen to what I have to say.”
Now, in a new clip from an upcoming episode of E!’s I Am Cait, Jenner talks about how she’s practiced ordering room service at hotels, hoping the person answering the phone would call her “ma’am.”
“I’d be sitting there in my little room, all by my lonesome, and I’d think, OK! I’m going to try to get my best feminine voice and call down so they say, ‘Yes, ma'am,’” she said. “I could never do it.”
Jenner later says in the clip that women can’t relate to her struggle: “They don’t see it as being that important when it is that important, not only for you to speak and order and do all that kind of stuff, but very important for your soul that you’re feeling good about that.”
Experts say this is a common concern among transgender men and women.
“People who are trans-feminine often want to sound more feminine and trans-masculine people want to sound more masculine,” transgender voice expert Christie Block, a speech language pathologist and owner of New York Speech & Voice Lab, tells Yahoo Health.
Many transgender people seek out transgender voice training during their transition — often scheduling it around specific events like coming out at work or facial feminization surgery, says Block. However, she says some people will undergo therapy before they have any other transgender treatments or surgeries to explore gender identity.
Typical treatments consist of about three months of weekly training sessions, as well as daily practice and using their new skills in real-life settings (like ordering at a deli). The training sessions typically take less than an hour, and mostly consist of exercises such as humming and doing scales, as well as reading and talking.
For transgender women like Jenner, pitch is the most important part of achieving a feminine-sounding voice, says Block. The average male pitch is about an octave lower than the average female pitch, so Block works with transfeminine clients to raise their pitch by about that much, starting with a target pitch slightly lower than the average female pitch (220 Hz or A3 in musical notes).
To hit a target pitch, Block will have clients hum the note, then vocalize sounds at that pitch like “mmm” or “molm.” They will then graduate to single sentences and more, all the while trying to maintain that pitch. “It’s almost a cross between a singing and speech therapy lesson,” says Block.
Intonation is also important, Block says. A feminine voice is typically more expressive than a masculine voice, so transgender women often work to move their pitch more during conversation. Block works with clients on resonance, i.e. the reverberation of sound in a space, as well. Masculine voices typically sound fuller or larger than feminine voices, she explains, so transgender women must work to use less of their vocal space.
Block works with clients on resonance, i.e. the reverberation of sound in a space, as well. Male voices typically sound fuller or larger than female voices, she explains, so transgender women must work to use less of their vocal space.
The vocal changes are something transgender people need to remember to do when they speak. Block says people typically will undergo the three-month training and then have check-ins every month or more afterward. But after about a year, the vocal changes typically feel more natural and automatic, assuming a person practices and uses what they learn.
And transgender patients are often glad about their progress, even if it isn’t perfect. “Small changes make very big differences,” says Block. “I’ve never had somebody not be happier with their voice.”
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