Vocal therapy helps some transgender people find their voice

This story is a part of WHYY’s The Pulse podcast episode, Our Bodies, Our Gender.

It was a winter day in New York City when Alice Gorelick stepped into a sandwich shop on Wall Street.

“The guy called me miss as I walked up to the counter,” Gorelick says. “But when he was making my sandwich and I had to tell him what I wanted, he started calling me sir.” As a transgender woman, this wasn’t the first time Gorelick had been misgendered because of her low voice.

“It’s kind of like the world doesn’t see you the way you want to be seen,” she says. “You feel speechless.”

Gorelick is 23 and has thick rimmed glasses and brown hair. She’s always disliked her voice, but that feeling grew more intense after coming out as transgender. In January, she decided she was going to do something about it.

The science of vocal therapy

Vocal therapist Christie Block’s office is on the 8th floor of a high-rise in Manhattan. It’s a cozy space with a wall of books and, above her desk, an anatomical poster of the mouth and throat. This is where she sees her clients who come to New York Speech and Voice Lab for vocal therapy.

Today, more than half of her clients are transgender — mostly women like Gorelick.

That’s because people who transition to male have the option of taking testosterone, which lowers their voices permanently. But people who transition to female typically have thicker vocal folds and deeper voices, and hormones like estradiol don’t change that.

Block looks at the voice the way many look at gender: It’s a spectrum. There’s no one “male voice” or “female voice.” Instead, she helps her clients make their voices “more feminine” or “more masculine,” depending on which end of the spectrum they want to move toward. She does so by adjusting their pitch, intonation, and resonance. Read more via The Lilly