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A VOICE workshop with Maggi Stratford

Somewhere in a redundant cake factory Mr Cake of Yorkshire writes....

Shortly after ringing in the New Year I was invited to a VOICE Training workshop at the Leeds Gender Identity Clinic. I liked the idea of being around other Trans People.  Being reminded I am not the only “one” often makes me feel good.

In the early days of taking T, I didn’t thoroughly consider the potential changes to my voice. I would wake up with far more pressing thoughts like “Crikey how will I cope with a pair of hairy jugs” and “how much do I have to beg the NHS to get my chest altered to match how it looks in my head?” or “for heavens sake when will the old **** who lives on the corner stop referring to me as “the sex change over the road” and “where’s my beard!” and …. and …. and…. well most of us know similar stories….. The VOICE never really got much thought. I assumed and took it for granted that taking T would just make it a bit deeper, like when teenage boys grow up. Then I heard a few Transmen speak on the phone and I was slightly worried, some of them sounded  like they’d been sucking air out of balloons. I really didn’t want to sound like that. Other Transmen had commented on my voice being good and that was before I started T, I assumed its “non - femaleness” was down to being a northerner and 30 years of fags

After a couple weeks of T I noticed a change, I sounded a bit “throaty”….then nothing much happened for a while. One morning I went and said “Hello Anne” to my neighbour and she jumped out of her skin and so did I because it really did seem extremely deep that day. I was quite proud of my almost Pavorotti - like “Hello Anne” and wondered if I would soon be singing along with Barry White.  Unfortunately it never seemed to get back to that point. Sometimes it would go squeaky, then kind of empty, then a little lower, then squeaky again. It seemed to settle down after about eight months, I was quite happy with it, I didn’t sound or feel female when I spoke, but then again I never had.

After a year of T I realised I could no longer camp it up at home and sing along to Celine Dion, my voice just couldn’t reach that high any more. Note to pre medical transition readers …. If you are doing similar things don’t worry about it, pretending to be a woman and camping it up are all part of a Trans Persons Rich T Biscuit, but I would advise that you don’t ever, NEVER, under any circumstances, no matter how safe you might feel, at any time, reveal that you like singing girly songs to a gender specialist…. And I don’t mean performing for your specialist or attempting to serenade them… I know some of us will go to any lengths to be pushed up the list but…….anyway back to the point….VOICE coaching.

Some of the Trans women I know had been to Maggi Stratfords’ VOICE workshops and the difference she helped them make to their voices is amazing. One friend rarely spoke before Maggis’ magic and now I have problems telling her to be quiet. If that could happen to her what might happen to my voice?

Seven of us sat in a circle and Maggi explained how the day would run. We each introduced ourselves and people relaxed a little. We were shown how to sit and began with breathing exercises. As we got used to breathing in this new fashion with our “Diaphragms “(not a contraceptive but a piece of membrane which lies behind your cake shelf), Maggi explained how the voice worked and compared our physical states to that of a teenage boy. Medical transition and puberty are similar but not exactly the same when it comes to your vocal chords. There are some very significant differences which Maggi explained. It was quite difficult to take all this in even with my CSE Grade 5 in Biology. Whenever I’m in a group of Trans People I really have to try not to get too distracted by the thought, “Am I in a TV documentary? Is David Attenborough going to appear at any moment and introduce us as 7 examples of a rare species found hanging out in a Northern hospital and interview the everybodys’ favourite psychiatrist Dr Beano? Also I was sat in a circle, this is sometimes quite difficult. Circles’ mean that it’s quite likely that there will always be someone looking at you. Or you can’t look anywhere without looking at someone. Managing to listen and understand and carry out the breathing technique and trying to work out whether “Larynx” was a telly tubby or the lead singer of Kajagoogoo was quite a lot to cope with at 1030 in the morning at a psychiatric hospital. What did she mean by Voice Box, is this an Ap? Or something that comes with your Tesosterone prescription? It would have been good to have a picture of these things, Maggi assures me she is on the case to put this right for those of us with just a touch of ADHD. 

Once we got the hang of the breathing Maggi had us introduce soft sounds, this sounds harder than it is. It was very relaxing and I started to yawn, I was a little embarrassed, I could not leave and go home to bed. Apparently the yawning meant my voice was “warming up”. It was great being able to yawn in class, I did a lot of that at school and got told off for it and here was Maggi encouraging it. Fantastic. There was no room for nerves or embarrassment.  Soon we were making all sorts of noises, all of us gave it our best shot. We were put at ease very quickly. Maggi has a friend who is a Trans Man and she explained that she ran VOICE workshops for Trans Women and that the LGIC wanted to experiment with Trans Men VOICE workshops. I wouldn’t go into a room as a bio woman (obviously!) with a room full or Trans People without a bit of a shiver. Maggi cruised through the day without a twitch or a slip and was very relaxed with us. Also it was very refreshing that someone was finally being honest and admitting that we were all part of an experiment! (:  

We listened to a recording of a biological female singer whose range was quite unbelievable and this made us realise the possibilities of our own voices. After lunch we got to lie down on the floor so we could really pay attention to how our bodies and voices are connected. It was difficult for those of us wearing binders and one brave chap was sensible enough to take his off. We learnt more breathing exercises and made a variety of noises which would have had David Attenborough rather confused.

The day passed very quickly, it was enjoyable and different. I felt re-energised afterwards. Apparently working your voice can raise your spirits and I certainly felt this. The bonus to these exercises is that we relax our bodies when we do them, considering the stress we put our bodies through with hormone therapy and surgery this is really important. Maggi was spot on, she’s brilliant at what she does and I couldn’t give any criticism other than there weren’t any cakes. I’d definitely recommend it as a day of doing something completely different regardless of what might happen to your voice. BUT it did make a difference to my voice, a big difference. The next day I noticed how much stronger my voice felt and a week later it’s still there. I’ve continued with Maggi’s exercises and my voice sounds deeper and feels stronger. My cat is still getting used to some of the noises I make when I do the exercises and I’m hoping an expensive trip to the vet won’t be necessary just as long as I can get the cotton wool out of her ears myself. My neighbours have relaxed now they’ve found out that there isn’t a bee hive in the loft or that Pavarotti isn’t my lodger.

Seriously though if you do get the opportunity to have a VOICE coaching session then grab it. Get down to your GIC and ask them to get Maggi or someone local to your area to run a workshop. Voice coaching is just as relevant to us as it is to Trans Women. With more control over our voices we can feel more confident and that’s always a good thing

Mr Cake Copywrong 2012