“Your stories, ” Performance Guy told me, “are horribly beautiful. I really mean that. They are both horrible and beautiful.”
Voice is a tricky thing for everyone in the world, but especially for trans women. Our larynges went through male puberty with the rest of us, so our vocal range is lowered and deepened, which gives us a diminished vocal range to start with.
The construction of a voice is a very complex thing, though, usually created without much conscious thought. We mix our family, our town, our loves and our fears and end up with us.
For transwomen, though, the creation of voice has to be a very considered thing, done with deliberate effort. We get videos and tapes to practice with, go to programmes like the one Jack Pickering runs at The College of St. Rose, get help wherever we can to stop getting that raised eyebrow in person, or that “Yes, sir,” on the telephone.
No matter how much we end up following the rules, like upmodulating our tones, ending phrases on a high note in a sing song fashion, slowing down our speech, adding breathiness, making statements sound like questions, right?, and all the other techniques we can find, the simplest solution is just to not speak unless we have to.
Women live in a world of chat, so if you don’t trust your voice enough to use it easily, you quickly become cut off from that experience of womanhood. I know that for myself, I have often avoided speaking at a cash till, just to try to avoid any possible moment that my voice might betray my carefully constructed expression.
Just cutting off what sticks up and identifies your differences can seem like a simple idea until you understand that it requires throwing away your story too, all those years of experiences that mark you as trans and different, that real truth that shaped your life. I even know of transwomen who worked with their therapists to create a new life story for themselves, one sanitized and safe, severed of all the nasty man bits.
Note that this passing behaviour works both ways. When we are trying to pass as men in the world, which may be somewhat easier because we have the stereotypical body for that role, we also end up having to avoid any choices that might reveal our feminine hearts. Men without gender issues have no problem wearing shorts, for example, but as a child, I hated shorts because exposing my legs felt like exposing my femininity.
Playing it safe by playing it small can be a real dead end for transwomen like me. It takes the power we have and hides it away, leaving us living in denial rather than in freedom, joy and happiness. If I have to think about editing myself before I say anything, mental constipation quickly ensues and I never get the joy of having someone respond positively to an authentic and vulnerable expression.
I know, though, that my view of the world can be difficult for others to handle, especially those people who haven’t had to work through both their own fears and the fears that others dumped on them. I am often seen as too high voltage, too fast, too intense, too revealing, too intellectual and just too scary.
All this has lead to the creation of my Callan voice, which is measured, thoughtful, appropriate, considerate and enlightened. It is a clerical voice, gracious, safe and somewhat pedantic, a voice that works both in person and in writing, where the wit, whimsey and nuance of the spoken voice is suppressed.
The Callan voice is comfortable to me, but it is also well considered and very polished. That process can take the vitality out of a voice, and Sebastian Faulks reminds us that in the novel, it is vitality and not virtue that creates connection with readers.
With my Jonathan Winters energy, I certainly have many voices, but the demands of being judged as a woman in the world almost always leads me to suppress them. I use that energy sparingly, just a touch, so as to avoid being seen as overwhelming.
It was when I started to rant that Performance Guy really encouraged me to store those expressions. “Do you have any idea who I am?” I imagined saying to those who chose to put me down. “I am here to remind you of our continuous common humanity! Your fears are your fears, and they don’t just hold people like me back, they hold you back, too!”
The rant is a very vital expression, but it is also a very verbal one, depending on cadences, tones and expressions that rarely translate well when removed for placement in text. That works both ways, it both being hard to capture a rant in text and being hard to create a rant on a keyboard.
The challenge of trusting the energy of a horribly beautiful voice in the world is a real gutbuster. But it’s the only true voice that I have.