Us & Them: Femme Voice

Feb 29, 2016

  Back in the fall of 2014, I read an article in the Gazette about, Anne Kelly Skinner, a Charleston lawyer -- formerly Greg Skinner -- who was transitioning from male to female.  The story piqued my interest because having grown up as a son, nephew, brother and friend of many of Charleston’s attorneys, I knew with almost absolute certainty that this was new territory for many in that Kanawha Valley legal community.  I expected that I’d produce a story that would be about the tension of transitioning in a conservative “old boy” community, but we didn’t end up talking about any of that stuff. What we ended up talking about… was the way Anne talks.

We’d been introduced on Facebook and she called and left me the voicemail message.  Moments after recording that message, she nervously sent me a Facebook message apologizing for how her voice sounded on the phone. She thought she didn’t sound feminine enough.  She’d been using her feminine voice a lot and she’d gotten tired, too tired to sound right.

“The reality of folk's lives is typically that your voice is your voice is your voice. Right?” Anne explained.  “At least, it's your voice until all of a sudden it's all ‘wrong,’ and then it becomes something else entirely different altogether, and it becomes a something else that forever changes your perception of what your voice should be and how it needs to be. …Voice is generally a powerful gender marker and a tell-tale sign that can be difficult to overcome.”

I’ve heard many stories about transgender people and the challenges that they face, but Anne’s message caused me to consider, in a way I hadn’t before, just how emotionally important it is for a transwoman to sound like a woman.  What does it mean to sound and communicate like a woman?  If a transwoman gets her outfit and walk and hair right, but opens her mouth and sounds like a guy, can she truly feel like a woman?  And not just feel like a woman, but can this person actually BE a woman if she vocalizes like a man?

Apparently, it's hard to sound like a gal.  Even if you do hormone therapy and surgery, once you've gone through puberty as a guy, you've got a guy voice.

There is a huge industry of people hawking methods and techniques to help transwomen find their “Femme Voice.”  A quick Google search shows multiple links for voice coaches, hypnotherapists and surgeons promising to help transsexuals find a feminine voice that makes them feel like a woman.  On Youtube, there are many clips of experienced transwomen offering advice to transsexuals developing their new voice.  I found it interesting that several of these transwomen seemed very uncomfortable about demonstrating their old male voice.  Some speak about it emotionally as though the masculine sound is an unwelcome remnant from a painful chapter of their life.