by Lucy Rose.
A few words before we start…
Firstly, I want to thank you for taking the time to read the latest entry of my series, Transgendered Substantiation. The series has been adapted from blogs I wrote for my website during my transition, based on my thoughts and feelings at the time. They almost represent, then, a time capsule for that period of my life. I have done my best to edit and update them for this publication, but some areas may be out of the date, especially regarding the administrative side, as some parts of the process may have changed since I went through it myself.
My ultimate aim with this series is to help people by shedding a light on the transition process. While everyone’s experiences are different, and this is but one person’s perspective, if this is something you are going through yourself, it is my hope that it helps you know that though it may be a daunting process, it is not insurmountable and there is nothing that cannot overcome. Or, if you are a friend or loved one of someone going through the process, it helps you understand what they may be thinking or feeling or the challenges they are facing.
With everything said, please enjoy this week’s entry.
Volume 6: the hair & the walk
Over these last few entries, we’ve gone over how dressing, presenting and make-up aid in feeling comfortable in your own skin, but now the two final elements that help complete the ensemble is the interaction with the outside world. This is through movement and speech. I’ll begin with speech.
The first thing to note is that the best way to achieve a feminine-sounding voice is to gain advice from a professional vocal coach. As with hair removal, this can be done through your own time and money but may be expensive or hard to locate within your area. At least in the UK, the NHS gender transition program does include a vocal coach portion that you’re able to sign onto once you’ve reached the Gender Identity Clinic. These include individual sessions and group courses for phone-work and public speaking tips. There are also, as with most things, tutorial videos on YouTube with good advice. The only warning I have is that they often speak of using falsetto to train your voice to rest at a consistently higher pitch. This I’ve never found useful and actually makes it harder to achieve; it also strains your voice and the forced nature doesn’t sound convincing to me.
Having been in the theatre my entire life and recently learning to sing, I’ve always had control over my voice and have such made good progress under my own steam. I do this by imagining the point of origin for the sound when I speak. Before I began, I was quite a noticeable bass, so when I spoke the resonance would come from my chest, just behind the sternum. My goal then, instead of shooting off into head-voice, was to pitch my voice so the sound came the roof of the throat and the back of the mouth. This is a noticeably higher pitch than before but not so high as to sound forced, and over time my voice has adapted to this new level so that I’m more a tenor now.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the range of pitches can change drastically from person to person, and a cis male may have naturally high, soft voice, where a cis female may have something lower and more resonant. I’ve also found that putting my voice to this level has also changed my tone, timbre and intonation pattern. Typically, women speak in softer tones with a more lilting pattern to their speech, whereas men are quite direct and perfunctory. My advice would be not to try and emulate someone, a celebrity say, but to discover the natural place where your voices likes to rest and leave it there; that’ll be the most comfortable and convincing to your own ears.
I know I hate the dissonance of slipping into my old voice, just as I hate any step backward or any such dichotomy. It reminds me I’ve still got a way to go, that my life can yet be influenced, at least in part, by that old me. It was my voice that let me down when I had my gender questioned. I remember the feeling well. I could barely walk, my mind whirled, and everything went quiet, as though the lights of the world were on me, stripping me bare and revealing all my games for an act. Of course, I know this isn’t true; I’m doing this to gain a form in which I can give myself to life, but when someone can so accurately plunge a knife into a gap in your armour, it’s hard not believe that this is all for naught, that you’re really guarding something fragile – that you’re still dependent upon an illusion that must remain intact, and can never escape the ‘real’ you.
Ultimately, there’s no overnight change; it’ll take months of training to obtain a voice that can be used in everyday conversation without drawing attention to itself. For me, it’s been about two and a half years of constant use. I do find myself slipping somewhat when I’m relaxed with my friends, as it’s a place where I don’t feel the need to present so drastically; I know I’ll be accepted there whatever, but when I’m meeting strangers, shop-keeps, pizza-delivery guys, etc ,I always seem to put it on a bit more. But then I guess that’s what it’s like with everyone; we speak differently depending on to whom we’re speaking.
However you decide to approach this part of the transition, I wish you the best of luck. The end-result can be quite surprising.
Onto movement. Facial expressions do differ slightly between genders. From my experience, women have more expressive features, especially around the eyes and eyebrows. You may have also heard the phrase: ‘talk with your hands’. This is true, to some extent. In the broadest possible terms, where men like to make direct motions to reinforce points they make, women make more sweeping gestures to almost dramatise the story they speak. For this, I find it useful to keep my elbows into my chest and my wrists slightly limp so that my hands and fingers gain a greater fluidity. Of course, there are situations, such as business handshakes, where a limp wrist isn’t ideal, but this should help in the more day-to-day scenarios.
The walk is ones of the more important aspects of presenting. When it comes to cis-members of a gender, there is a very definite way of walking. Again, there are unique variations from person to person, so I’m speaking here in terms of the stereotypical image. Men move with the shoulders, each one rocking back and forth, maybe even turning in circles depending on an individual’s propensity to swagger. Their knees are normally slightly bent and apart and their feet pointing outward as they walk. It’s quite a rigid movement, all told. Women are mostly the complete opposite. Instead of their shoulders, it’s their hips that move the most, due to a naturally wider pelvis. Also, their legs are kept together more, arms held closer to the chest, and feet pointed forward.
Shoulders, not hips
The temptation here might be to go hail-Mary with the hips, but this can be a little obvious and over the top. The secret I’ve found is to completely ignore the hips and instead focus on the shoulders – on keeping them still. If you hold your shoulders still when you walk, your hips with work naturally in order to keep your balance. Couple that with a narrower stance and a gliding motion, and it all falls into place quite nicely. I did spend a few nights pacing around my room trying to get it right, only managing about three steps at a time because I didn’t have that much space. But it worked out in the end.
The last point I want to make is to do with heels. These are a stereotypically feminine item of clothing and may be the cherry on top in some situations. Aside from over-doing the height, as I’m sometimes guilty of, block-heeled boots or sandals can be helpful for aiding the walk. I’m not sure if it’s the heels themselves that change how I walk, or whether I change how I walk to suit the heels, but having 1-2-inch blocks heels for everyday wear really does the trick in this regard. Stilettos, such as for more formal occasions and evenings out, are trickier to use effectively but if you manage to keep your balance they can really get the hips working, as well as shaping your posture to throw back your shoulders and accentuate your chest. Heel-toe. Heel-toe. This is what I tell myself when I’m walking in stilettos. You just have to trust your balance and go for it. It’s like riding a bike. If you slow down, the more likely you are to fall.
And that, as succinctly as I can manage it, is the basics of speech and movement when presenting as female. This covers the logistics portion of the series, which I hope has been helpful and informative. Next time we’ll follow some more of the inter-personal challenges in Sex, Exercise & Relationships.