Ask Aunt Fran: The voice

Welcome back to Ask Aunt Fran, the column that asks: What the hell are you and why are you doing this?

Well, I’m trying to explain to friends, family and strangers alike just what the hell my gender dysphoria is all about — and maybe clear up any misconceptions or ignorance about the subject.

I’m not a doctor or a mental healthcare pro, but I do have years of experience dealing with the transgender thing firsthand, so I must know at least some of what I’m talking about.

Anyway, if you have a question, please email it to (or if you know my personal email, that works fine, too). Remember that all questions will be answered anonymously unless you want the credit/attention.

So, this week’s question:

“Are the hormones gonna change your voice?”

As DJ Kool once said, let me clear my throat


Regard the story of Kim Petras, a German who began her life as Tim and, with the incredible support of her very accepting family, started living as a girl at an extremely early age. And a couple years ago, at 16, she became the world’s youngest transsexual to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. (German law said she has to be 18, but with the approval of her parents and a battery of psychiatrists, the government relented.)

And shortly after the surgery, the blonde cutie embarked on a pop singing career. She looks like she’s always been a girl and her voice sounds just as if she’s always been a girl.

But unfortunately, this is not my story. Nor is it the story of most transgirls. Kim has been an incredible exception on so many levels, and the voice is one of them.

The reason her voice is so naturally girly is that she began her hormone therapy at age 12 — before the testosterone of male puberty could kick in and deepen her voice. It’s also why her features remained so feminine all this time.

The truth is that testosterone rules. It’s what defines our bodies from puberty on — the voice, the features, the facial hair, sometimes the hair loss. And my body did get its share of testosterone over 35 years.

And once the voice deepens, there’s no way to reverse it. Testosterone will deepen a transman’s voice to something more male-sounding, but estrogen, which I started taking in April, doesn’t work the same wonders in reverse for transwomen. Well, actually there iiiiis a way to reverse the process — vocal chord surgery — but it’s painful and not always successful.

So there’s always the cheaper, safer alternative — talking in a dark brown voice, like Lola.

Just kidding.

But being silly does set up a serious point. My voice does, indeed, need to pass as well as my looks. When I’m in a strange place, the last thing I want to do is bring the wrong kind of attention to myself by sounding like a man. I need to pass all the way around. I’ve said this before, but passing might even save my life.

And the only way for me to sound like the woman I’ve always been inside is to train my voice.

My therapist has been kind enough to lend me a vocal training DVD by someone who’s been through the whole thing, actress and trans activist Calpernia Addams. Some of it’s been taking hold, but I’m still having a tough time with it.

But hey, it can’t be rocket surgery, can it? There are plenty of transgirls who’ve trained their male voices into very workable, alluring, feminine ones. And it warmed my heart to read about one extreme case over the winter: a gorgeous Italian opera singer named Emily DeSalvo, who was once a baritone named Stefano. She undertook three years of vocal training to work her falsetto into such a strong soprano that she was accepted into a prestigious opera school. (And BTW: It pisses me off that the right-wing pricks at the Daily Mail kept referring to her as “he” in the story.)

I do know what’s been holding me back. It’s a mental block — and a contradiction that confounds me.

I have no trouble (OK, maybe a little sometimes) looking like the beautiful babe I always felt I am. I have no problem throwing on war paint, donning a head of fake hair and slipping in a couple of Baggies full of birdseed that pass for boobs and passing it all off as real. It feels real. It’s all second nature now. But when I try to talk to friends — people I’ve known for a long time in my previous gender — I have a hard time talking in my femme voice.

Why? Because it’s not real? As if the hair and the tits are real?

Jeez — sometimes I even exasperate myself.

But I think I’m finally, after over a year of this wrangling, getting past it. I’ve been talking generally in a softer, slightly higher register as of late. I’ve expressed the above concern to a few of my friends, and they’ve told me my voice sounds fine. A couple of them said, “Well, you don’t want to sound too high.” True — I don’t want to sound like a Barbie cheerleader on helium.

But thanks to practice, I do feel not only more comfortable talking softer and in a slightly higher range, but I feel my femme voice getting stronger. I have a pretty strong male voice; when I do radio back at WPKN, I have to turn the mic volume down a notch or two lower than recommended because I project so strongly. And my female voice isn’t nearly near as strong, but I do feel a strength to it that I hadn’t felt before. And maybe I’ll develop a little bit of breathiness as well. Maybe not too breathy, but just enough to be sexy in time …

Still, I can do my usual slew of male voices,. There is definitely a comedy routine or two in here somewhere — me doing a one-woman show, looking dazzling, and then opening my mouth and out comes Rodney Dangerfield: “I’m gorgeous now, but I was an ugly child …”

And one unintended side effect of talking in a more feminine voice: Not only do I talk softer in general, but a shade slower. Meaning I don’t stutter or stammer over words the way I did as a boy, my mouth racing ahead of my mind. I like that.

So, I keep sitting at the laptop back at the house, listening to Calpernia, doing the vocal exercises, strengthening my higher range. And I damn well better finish getting it down soon because I audition for “Jeopardy!” in just over two weeks (Nov. 5). That, unto itself, will be an experience.

And to answer your question: Hormones won’t change my voice — but sitting at a laptop, watching a DVD and making silly sounds will.


One Response to “Ask Aunt Fran: The voice”

  1. Meg Campbell Says:

    Hey Fran!your the best-so glad Drew shared this w/ me
    -your old pal,Meg

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