Why is speech therapy so important for the transgender population?

The daily struggles faced by the transgender community are wide ranging; from stigma to physical abuse, these individuals often feel unable to express themselves as they truly are. This is due to the difficulty of living in a body that you don’t resonate with, having a voice that doesn’t sound like you, and being treated like your true gender by people you meet and interact with.

 

Those who are not transgender, also known as cisgender individuals, rarely think about the voices that they were born with. But our voice is an important component of who we are and how we reveal ourselves to the world. Not only is it the way we are able to communicate our thoughts and feelings, but it is also a fundamental aspect of how we establish our personalities and unique identities.

 

So what happens if you associate yourself as female, but your voice is deep and masculine? Daily tasks like answering the phone will involve your gender being assumed. This is likely to make you feel annoyed or upset, but ultimately will leave you feeling very misunderstood. In fact, one study found that one of the most common struggles reported by the transgender community is their voice not corresponding with their gender identity, leading to anxiety and depression[1].

 

Despite this struggle, the transgender community is growing with nearly 1.4 billion people identifying as transgender and 1.4 million of these residing in the US according to recent statistics[2]. Alongside the other physical changes necessary to complete a transition, the voice must also change to reflect the true gender of the individual.

Transgender voice modification therapy dates back to the early 1980s, but has become increasingly common amongst the transgender population as transgender rights become more solidified in today’s society. However, speech therapists that specialize in transgender voice modification still makes up a very small percentage of the total. One study found that less than half of all speech therapists have completed some form of study on transgender voice therapy[3].

 

So why is speech therapy so important?

 

Speech therapy is just as important as hormone therapy and other physical interventions but can be overlooked. Individuals who try to push out sounds that their natural voice can’t make can actually cause permanent damage to their vocal folds, so it is critical that individuals seek professional help to adjust their voices.

 

When you work with a speech therapist that specializes in transgender voice modification, they will help you with a range of the verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication including articulation, volume and intensity, pitch, intonation and stress patterns, eye contact and facial expressions.

 

Ultimately, vocalization and communication are paramount to gender identity and your voice is the main indicator that you may be transitioning, which may make you feel self conscious, embarrassed or frustrated. To avoid these negative feelings, work with a speech therapist who will guide you through the process, leaving you with increased self confidence and assurance in your identity.

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0892199707000033 [2] https://www.glaad.org/vote/topics/transgender-people [3] https://www.speechpathologygraduateprograms.org/transgender-voice-modification-therapy/