Body language and our looks are not enough to help us navigate in this vocal society. We will have to speak. Our voices will express our confidence, impart our emotions, convey feelings, and information. There is a very clear gender identity associated to female and male voices. Mismatched vocal gender can cause embarrassment, confusion, derision, and worse.
When I had started to transition, I listened to female pop musicians. Singing along with them, trying to match my voice in their vocal range. I tended to have a higher range male voice to begin with, which helped my public interactions. Though, even that wasn’t perfect, as we found out last week, and my early misidentified voice gender gave me away on the phone.
You will make missteps and learn from them. Accept that as reality. It is a natural extension of learning. Here are some things to avoid along the way.
What to avoid
- speaking in falsetto
- ending every sentence in an ‘upswing’(sounding like a question)
- false melodic quality
- deep sneezes, laughter, coughs
not speaking(as in avoiding basic social interactions like “thank yous,” “excuse mes,” “pleases” et cetera)
FALSETTO IS A TELL-TALE MALE TRAIT TO RAISE THE VOICE INTO THE FEMALE RANGE
Falsetto is a tell-tale male trait to raise the voice into the female range. That just makes your voice strained and sounds fake. Attempting a false melodic quality can make you sound silly and for sure will stand out. Ending all your sentences in an ‘upswing’ makes you sound like the traditional “valley girl.”
Whispering only makes yourself hard to hear, then you’ll just have to repeat yourself. Not speaking is by far the worse accommodation you can make to “fit in” as a female. This decision will be interpreted as rude and crude, and can lead to a confrontation. Exactly what we want to avoid.
It is inevitable that you will sneeze, cough and laugh (hopefully quite often) in public. Males are boastful, so their coughs, laughs and sneezes emanate from the chest and lungs. Females are more timid (easy now, I’m not judging) so they lean toward the articulators for sneezing, coughing and laughing. The former two almost sound apologetic, at least to me, when I hear them.
BOTH FEMALE AND MALE VOCAL STRUCTURES ARE IDENTICAL, BEFORE PUBERTY
The lungs, the vocal folds within the larynx, and the articulators(parts of the vocal tract after the larynx; lips, tongue, palate, sinuses, et cetera) comprise the mechanics of the human voice. Both female and male vocal structures are identical, before puberty. Pubescent changes affect the pitch, timbre, tone, and resonance of the human voice. When a boy enters puberty, the release of testosterone enlarges and drops the larynx, widens and thickens the vocal cords. Those inherent factors transfemales have to compensate for.
- Female voices: fundamental frequency (Fo) for females range 165 – 255 Hz (rose pink bar)
- Male voices: fundamental frequency (Fo) for males range 85 – 180 Hz (hyacinth blue bar)
- Middle “C”: range where female & male (Fo) overlap (gladiolus green bar)
- Post-operative range: post-operative results typically increase vocal range from between 6 notes (1/2 octave) up to 12-14 notes (1 octave +)(lilac purple bar)
Things you’ll want to pay attention to are tone, resonance, prosody, timbre, prosody and pitch.
Females sound “breathier” due to the incomplete closure of the vocal cords.
Pitch - is affected by the shape of the vocal folds(cords). Narrower cords produce higher notes and conversely, wider cords produce lower notes.
- Females sound “breathier” due to the incomplete closure of the vocal cords. There is a minute space that allows air to escape while speaking, giving the voice a more airy, or breathy quality. Thinner, more elongated vocal cords produce higher pitch notes.
- Males have thicker vocal folds produce lower notes, hence sounding deeper, huskier, effecting the pitch. The reason is that thicker cords are heavier and take longer to close and vibrate. This in turn slows the air reflection through the larynx.
Timbre - is affected by the length of the voice box, or larynx. The longer the larynx, the deeper the voice will be.
- Females have a thinner, shorter larynx. This shortens the amplitude of the, creating higher notes, affecting the timbre of her voice. These higher notes are characteristic of the female voice.
- Males have a more descended larynx, which creates the tell-tale Adam’s Apple. This added length effects the timbre of the voice. This longer vocal tract causes the wavelengths to be longer, or increases amplitude. This lowers the octave of the notes to what is recognized as a male voice.
Prosody - the qualities of speech including, rhythm, loudness, intonation, word or phrase stresses, that affect the overall content of what we are trying to say.
Tone - controlled by the diaphragm, the intercostal muscles, and the muscles of the larynx. Typically, tone represents mood and emotion.
Resonance -shape of the head, mouth chamber, nasal passages all contribute to reflecting the sound of the human voice. These features tend to be smaller and narrower in cis-females, further aiding the feminine qualities of her voice.
THERE IS WORK INVOLVED IN EVERY STEP ALONG OUR JOURNEY
Many vocal transition DVDs, CDs, and videos promise easy or quick results. That is simply not so. There is work involved in every step along our journey. Anything worth doing is worth the effort in doing it. You will get there, if you keep at it and don’t get discouraged. What may also take some time is you physically getting used to your new voice. How many years have you heard yourself one way, and now are learning to speak another way?
Finding female voice
Eva MtF is a mobile app from the iTunes app store. The initial download is free and comes with a pitch designer tool and a free lesson. Additional lessons are currently $4.99 each. I recently downloaded it and am working with the free version now.
I have used the above three and all have contributed to me feminizing my voice. There are dozens more, of which one may be the breakthrough application for you. If after trying your chosen resource(s) and you do not hear satisfactory results, there is always vocal feminizing surgery. Incidentally, with the passable success I’ve gained through various vocal exercises, I am leaning towards vocal surgery. Having to consciously think about keeping my voice in range, is tiring for me. That is my path and my not be for everyone.
mir, irini, peace, amn,