You Don't Sound Like a Girlfriend

My voice is something that feels like it no longer belongs or applies to me. Like something left behind an apartment by a previous tenant. My voice is an old broom, functional but lacking. Or, to one-up my own analogy, better yet: my voice is a half dead plant. Something the person in there before me couldn’t be bothered to deal with but figured the next tenant would be better suited for it, if they can only be bothered to look after it every day. A spider plant of vocal chords. But now it requires upkeep, it yearns to be looked after, fed, watered, sung to, spoken with. It will only become its fully realized self if it is looked after everyday, if it is given the love and attention it needs to grow beyond the limits of what the previous owner had bothered to allow.

Today as I walked by the full-length mirror in the loft I’m currently staying in, I caught myself in the reflection and thought on the fact that I no longer see any remains of my former self. That former self is a 35-year-old bearded white dude moving through the world with no real direction or goal. Basically, the thesis statement of 35-year old straight bearded white dudes everywhere. Eventually the world will find you, in one way or another. That person no longer exists, but their spider plant is still here half-dead and overgrown as untended spider plants and voices are wont to do. I don’t register myself when I open my voice to speak, but there it is all the same. And to fix it requires work. It requires me to wake up every day and work on it, to flex muscles and to exercise it and to raise my larynx and to know what my larynx even is. I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I have gotten far with my hair, and my face, and my new breasts that are kind of not there but also kind of there in interesting ways. My waist is slimmer than it’s ever been, and my butt is becoming a whole thing. Essentially, I just described a generic woman in long form. And yet, when I open my mouth to order an almond milk misto, like a fancy 36-year-old Trans of distinction deserves, the old dead growth of the spider plant makes itself known. All dead brown leaves and deep bass tones. And then my cover is blown, the curtain is drawn back. A “sure thing, dude” is right around the corner. I try, on occasion, to speak in a higher octave. Like I’ve just recently been punched in an unpleasant place to be punched and my voice is comically high. I have work to do on my larynx. I have an equal amount of work to do on discovering what and where my larynx is.

My primary issue with it is wrapped up in a lot of trauma and self doubt. As a younger person, I played the part of a male, for quite a few years. As a younger person of the male persuasion I understood the core concepts of what was considered masculine and feminine. I was never what you would consider to be an overly male child. I think I leaned androgynous with a twinge of what most kids would call “weird and maybe gay”. I was also so afraid of being different, and as a loner and introvert, I longed for a sense of assimilation. As I grew older, and as male puberty took hold, I understood that part of my job as male was to have a voice that announced to everyone around me that I was indeed a dude. My voice has always been an affectation. It has never belonged to me but has been used by me to signal boost my own identity. Or at least it did while I was playing that role. Bear in mind for almost 35 years I lived in that space, and only now am I starting to walk away from all these things. But my voice is not something I’m allowed to just abandon as I leave this place. As my body changes, my style and my posture and my politics and my identity will all shift and move fluidly with me as I allow myself to be the person I always locked up, but my voice is not so easy.

You see, your voice takes work. Imagine if you will, an accent. British, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Scotch-Irish, these are things that come with your specific territory. But you can also teach yourself to do these things. You can train your voice to sound different, to take on these characteristics you desire. There’s not a lot you get to change in this life, but you should know that your voice is actually one of those things you can. You just have to train it to do so. You can also train a tiger to balance on a ball, and here I am not doing either of those things. I have no strong desire to do any large feline training, but I do wish that my voice would stop giving me away as much as it does. I was recently told by a child that I don’t “sound like a girlfriend” when I was introduced as such. And it’s true. I have the deep and distinct voice of someone who is not exactly the kind of butchy goth girlfriend that I am. I am in the middle stages of having the kind of outward appearance that people might think is either male or female or maybe one of those in-between types, but my voice is distinctly on one side of that equation.

And I must ask myself why I am allowing it to be so one-sided. Why resist something that will work towards people not clocking me as the person I have ceased to be? I realize as time goes on that this is a process. That as I move along, I shed layers of myself, and each time I have to say goodbye to how I’ve known myself for so long. See before where I spoke about being insular and withdrawn. That longing for a place in society creates within you this grand desire to be liked, and through that a crafted identity based on societal norms. This is not to say that I was never a genuine person, but I was never a genuine person all the same. Part of me was always a lie and keeping up a lie takes time and energy. I invested a lot in my identity over the years, and something I have come to realize, to my own surprise, is that my voice is one thing that I invested so much in, that I have a hard time letting go of. It’s the beard of the internal workings of my body.

You see, I liked my male voice. I liked the sort of half-asleep surfer drawl that would happen every now and then, through my deep and rumbling voice. It was the part of me that screamed the loudest “everyone, come and marvel at how male I am”. You know when you make a Halloween costume that you’re particularly fond of? Make that your identity for 35 years and eventually you’ll take too much pride in how clever and convincing your whole thing is. And somewhere deep in my mind, I’m still holding onto the fingertips of that identity, still afraid to let the last of it fall away. But I hear it in my head, the way we all hear ourselves. But now all I hear is bass and rumble, I don’t hear parts of it I like anymore. I hear my masculinity yelling still, but now I hear it as the way people perceive me. It’s what gives me away the most these days, the very few times I have male failed on visuals alone, the minute I open my mouth I give myself away.

And part of me wishes this wasn’t so too. Part of me wants to just keep my voice where it is, to not have to do any work on it. What I told the child that informed me I don’t sound like a girlfriend was very simple: “sometimes girlfriends have deep voices”. Which is a very true statement. But the interesting thing about transitioning, especially as an adult, is figuring out what you have dysphoria about that you never really knew. It turns out my own voice is a trigger for me. It’s a thing I don’t like, that I don’t even really associate with myself, and thus when I hear it, I cringe, it causes me to worry. I use my voice less, which is hard when one of the things you do is use your voice specifically. But now it’s become an impediment. I want to speak more, and I get paid to speak on occasion. So then to hear myself talk causes distress, but also a sense of urgency. If there was a get femme quick scheme I would be so on board.

But there’s not. The downside to transition is it teaches you about patience, and time. And time is what is required of me to fix this specific problem. Time and patience and care and training and upkeep and eventually, just like the surfer drawl before it, I’ll have a voice that has always belonged to me but has just been locked away in my quest to belong to something. And really, that is an exciting process. That this thing that I’ve always known isn’t truly mine like I thought it was. That it could be multi-dimensional and nuanced and varied in ways I never imagined. That with the right training I can bring my true voice to the surface, and for the first time, I can let myself be heard and known.

I can be the tenant that brings the spider plant back to life, I just need to remember to water it.