Transsexuals work to find feminine voice
Transsexual individuals who choose to embark on the long and sometimes painful process of altering their biological and behavioral characteristics are increasingly working with professionals such as communications science professor Reinhardt J. Heuer to alter the pitch, loudness, quality and resonance of their voices.
Heuer and his colleagues at Temple’s Speech Language Hearing Center are part of a growing number of speech pathology clinics and programs around the country helping gender-reassignment patients develop their feminine voices.
Transsexuals generally feel that they are trapped in the wrong body and want to eliminate certain sexual characteristics. Male-to-female transsexualism is more common, according to one study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, occurring in one out of every 37,000 births.
Heuer emphasizes in his writings on the subject that the goal for most transsexual males is sexual reassignment surgery, where primary sexual characteristics can be modified. One of the criteria for eligibility for sexual reassignment surgery is the ability to live and work for a full year as a female. To assist in meeting this goal, many male-to-female transsexuals seek help in producing a more feminine speech/communication pattern.
Having worked with more than 400 male-to-female transsexuals in a variety of settings, Heuer finds that 95 percent of these individuals complain of excessively low pitch.
“The goal of pitch modification [in male-to-female transsexuals] is to develop a speaking fundamental frequency high enough to allow down-glides that remain above the masculine/feminine cutoff,” Heuer said.
A 2000 article in the Journal of Voice holds that speech frequencies above 155 Hz are more likely to be perceived as feminine. Most male voices are centered around 110 Hz.
Heuer stressed that the development of vocal flexibility, breath support and relaxation does not happen overnight and requires practice. Heuer utilizes glide exercises and drills with his clients. He is currently developing the application of melodic intonation drills at the clinic, which, in the future, may go a long way toward creating a more feminine vocalization pattern for transsexual males.
In addition to the vocal training, Heuer and his staff, which includes communications science graduate students, counsel male-to-female transsexuals on language choices, gesture patterns, eye contact and body language.
“For example, most masculine individuals tend to take up all the available space with their bodies, whereas more feminine individuals tend to compact themselves with more upright posture, crossed legs or ankles and arms held close to the body,” Heuer said.
Overall, the staff at the Speech Language Hearing Center tries to help the transsexuals gain “comfort and a feeling of confidence” in their femininity. Once this confidence is gained, the transsexual individual has a better chance of being at “ease with whatever level of feminine voice and speech they are capable of reaching.”
The Speech Language Hearing Center is one clinical component of the graduate program in Speech/Language Pathology in the College of Health Professions. A wide range of services are provided to people of all ages with a variety of communication disorders. The clinic is located at 13th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
- By Tory Harris