Speech Therapy Helps Transgender People Find Their Voice
For transgender people, dressing in a way that represents their gender is an important form of expression. And sounding right is important, too. Voice affirmation therapy can help and it's growing in Texas.
Kaycee Mitre loves The Little Mermaid.
"I always identified with her because Ariel's a mermaid who wants to be a girl, but to be a girl she's got to give up her voice," she said.
Ariel gave up her voice through a magic spell, but Mitre had a little more work to do.
Mitre is a 39-year-old transgender woman in El Paso. She enrolled in voice affirmation therapy at the University of Texas El Paso's speech, language and hearing clinic after coming out in 2019. Speech therapy helps trans people find a voice that matches who they are on the inside.
Before speech therapy, Mitre had a deep voice. Now, people tell Mitre her voice is bubbly and flirty.
This type of speech therapy starts with a warm-up.
"Some people go down. I like to just go up because if I'm working with voice feminization, their goal is to increase their pitch range, and that's what that warm-up does," said Marcia Campagna, a speech therapist at Best Speech Therapy in Dallas.
Next, it’s time to work on resonance — that's where the voice vibrates in your body. It's more forward for women.
"So they'll hum and then feel the vibration at the front of their mouth," she said.
Then, it's onto some pretend scenarios to work on conversational style. Simple things like ordering a meal in a drive-through.
"It's really just a bunch of random conversations that we have to try to generalize everything that we've been working on," said Bailey Matthews, a graduate speech pathology student at UTEP who works with patients via Zoom.
One of Matthews’ patients is a 17-year-old boy working on lowering his voice. On his recorded voice journal are everyday thoughts.
"It's Tuesday, February 16th. It's 12 in the morning. I'm about to go to sleep. I'm a little bit tired..."
He and Matthews listen to the journal and rate how masculine or feminine it sounds using a modified Kinsey scale. A zero is fully masculine; a six is fully feminine.
Campagna says it takes practice to make this therapy work.
"You can buy somebody a guitar or a violin, and you can show them how to string it and to make some sounds, but if they don't practice using the instrument, then they can't play a song," she said.
Mitre kept practicing even after she finished speech therapy. The El Paso police sergeant still uses her vocal techniques …. even when she pulls someone over.
"Like, I'm walking up to the car going [hums]."
At first, Mitre was sad to lose her voice, calling it her security blanket. But now, her voice is even more special to her.
"So now it's like even more, I guess, than before, like a part of who I am, because this is a voice that I worked for," she said.
Just like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Mitre found her voice.
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