My familial house had an upstairs bedroom, just one large room with a closet. It had four windows one facing North, two facing East, and one facing South. It was the only room in the house that one would have some level of privacy. You could hear someone walking up the stairs so you had time to stall them, cover up or stop whatever it was that you were doing. The room was designated the boys bedroom. My parent’s had twelve children I was number eleven and born a boy. By the time I was old enough to sleep upstairs one of my three brothers had already moved out. By the time I was eight I was the only brother left, the other two had moved out. Privacy was one thing everyone craved and we all learned hard lessons on touching what was not ours to touch. Whether it was my father’s belt, my mother’s scolding, my sisters’ pinching or my brothers’ boot I learned. There was a built-in bookcase that was always filled with books and other stuff that I was never allowed to touch. As each of my brothers moved out so did his books and other stuff. The bookcase was left almost empty when my third brother moved out. What were left were a few books I didn’t care to look at, actually I did open them there were no photos just words. There was a ceramic hollow skull with a cork, which I kept and took it with me when I moved out. There was also something I had never noticed before, it was small tape recorder. One of my brothers must have left it behind when they moved out. It had a black base with a handle on one end and a white removable cover that had yellowed with age on the other end. It was a reel-to-reel recorder with a microphone that had to be plugged in like headphones. It was easy enough to figure out how to record even though I had never seen or used one before. It was battery operated and the batteries still had life.
I grew up with three sisters, two older numbers nine and ten one younger number twelve the baby. I am three years younger and was three grades behind number nine. Number twelve is three years younger than me but was four grades behind me. My two older sisters and I were a gang of three. My two sisters and I would record our voices and play it back for amusement. I remember listening to the recording and hearing my voice for the first time. I had a high pitch and was very close to how my sisters’ voices sounded. I remember feeling self conscious about my voice. We would all make fun of each other’s voices but I was teased about mine. You sound like a girrlll you sound like a girrlll, I hated the teasing. We would tease each other until we cried, that’s what we did.
I didn’t want my voice to sound like a girl, so I remember focusing on trying to lower the pitch of my voice. I wanted my voice to be as deep as my cousins’ only a couple of years older. I would record myself trying to talk in a lower pitch. I remember watching an episode of the Brady Bunch when Peter was having a tough time singing due to his voice cracking. He was going through puberty, something I knew nothing about but figured it would also happen to me. When I hit puberty my voice did get deeper. I made it a point to when I spoke on the phone I would lower and deepen my voice. I find it ironic that almost 50 years later I want to have that high pitch voice again. I want to sound like a girrll!
Two years into my transitions I still have not decided what to do with my voice. One of the reasons is that I want people I interact with to know they are speaking with a trans woman. I have learned that people in general do not like surprises and/or feel that they are being fooled. I believe if they know from the beginning I have a better chance of being treated with some level of respect. Some people don’t skip a beat and carry on with our conversation. Others hesitate for a second or two, take a closer look then continue on with the conversation.
When I am ready, I can either hire a speech therapist to learn how to soften my tone and change the pitch or have surgery on my vocal chords. The first would take hundreds of dollars and lots of practice the latter would take thousands of dollars and risk to my vocal chords. It would have been wonderful had the hormones helped by raising my pitch, they did not.
Talking on the phone is the worst; the people on the other end only hear my voice. It’s a constant barrage of “sir’s”, I don’t blame them they hear what sounds to them like a man’s voice. If I think the conversation will be long I will correct them because I get tired of hearing “sir”. It would be great if they address me by my name. I know sir and ma’am is the formal and appropriate way to address people. In my opinion it would be better not to assume gender by voice and use their name in place of sir or ma’am. Ordering at a drive-thru window is just as annoying. It took me years to muster enough courage to order at a drive-thru. I remember back in the early ’80 when I was a manager at a burger franchise and working those late shifts on Friday and Saturday nights. We would get a rush after the bars would close and cars with drag queens would drive up to the window to pay and get their order. We would all try to walk up to window very nonchalantly and look out to get a glimpse. Once they drove off we would laugh and talk shit about them. Even though I was so in the closet about my cross dressing I knew I wasn’t like them, or was I?
Some acquaintances have remarked saying that my voice is not that masculine, I think they are being nice, but like their kindness it’s sweet. I work for a chain hair salon. As a hairdresser I interacted with customers, I have not had a bad experience as of yet. I am professional in both appearance and chair side manner. People see me working and as soon as they hear my voice I can tell they react. Some very noticeably others are very subtle. There are those that are curious and want to carry on a conversation and try to find an opening to ask questions. Some only answer the questions I ask them and stay quiet throughout the service. Last week a boy probably not older than seven or eight looked at me and asked why I sounded like a man. I said I don’t know, I had always sounded like this. He said OK and walked back to his mother.
I find that children tend to figure me out before the adults or at least stare at me long enough to access that something is different. I wonder sometimes what parents tell their small children in the car or at home after they say something so innocent as in “is that a girl? or “that’s not a girl..”
If you listen closely to someone speak, their voice, pitch, tone, cadence and accent can reveal many things. For the most part you can assume gender, nationality, ethnicity, race and culture. I have been living in New Hampshire for almost three years and have been told I have an accent, a non-New England accent. It’s when I disclose that I was born and raised in Texas that they say they can hear the southern draw or Texas twang. Granted I lived in South (Georgia and South Carolina) for fifteen years. I am practicing dropping my “R’s”, as in “where did you paak the caa”.
My voice is what my voice is and maybe one day I will make a decision on what to do or decide to do nothing. I do have a second voice, a voice I have yet to find but I know is there waiting in the wings. It’s my voice for trans advocacy.
I have been visible as a trans person being out in public since 2001 but only living full time as a trans-woman for two years. I participated in Pride in Albuquerque and attended Pride in Concord and Portsmouth NH. Other than being visible by living, working and talking to people who had questions I have not done anything to advocate for trans rights. I feel very fortunate that I have housing, I have a job, I have family and friends, I have medical insurance and a primary that I can make an appointment to see. I have no issues in restrooms and as of yet not been denied services or been harassed.
There are trans folks that are not so fortunate, that are discriminated against for just being their true selves. I know I have a voice, I use it everyday and I should start using it to advocate for our human rights. The same rights Cis-Americans have and sometimes take for granted. I don’t understand the motivation behind the president’s agenda to erase the trans community. We will not be erased and it’s about time I start using my voice and join the cause.