Here's a report on my fourth voice lesson. As you will see, this was more of a debate/discussion than a lesson! I have been working hard and thinking hard about all of this, and I have become convinced that this is not the way to get a feminine voice. Or at least, not the best way. I want to make it clear that I still have the highest regard for the woman I am working with. As I've said, she is one of the top voice/actors coaches in the world and she deserves this reputation! She has done work with gender-fluids, transgenders and others, but that is not the biggest portion of her clientele. And I will also add that everything she has taught me is considered state-of-the-art by her profession. But, as often happens in my life, it turns out I am listening to a different drummer.
I've successfully completed all the assignments, and I can sound a bit more girlish, but I feel it is still very artificial sounding. What's more, I have concluded that this is inevitable with these methods. I brought this up at the start of the lesson, and the discussion (including a possible solution) took up the whole time.
Here is my problem with using these methods to feminize your voice. These methods are basically borrowed from the singing profession. If you start with the premise that pitch is the biggest difference between a male and female voice, then this makes sense. Where else do you find people focused on pitch and vocal quality? All of the work to get a "head voice", where your face vibrates more than your chest, getting good pitch control and all the rest are standard singing exercises. There is no difference in these techniques between male and female singers. This should clue you into the problem right there. Male singers still sound like men. If a male opera singer users a "head-voice" he still sounds like a man, and vice-versa. So really, the only thing that is being treated in this standard approach to voice feminizing is pitch, quality is largely untreated (other than the slightly lighter sound you get from using a 'head voice'.) Of course, I am leaving out other things she has taught me, such as word selection, emphasis, vocal inflection. But if you employed all these things with your usual voice, at best, you would sound like the archetypical "gay speaker". No one would think you are a woman.
Going over my notes and reading more about voice physiology, it seems clear that in order to get a girly voice, you need a girly resonating chamber. If you look at the tube model from the last lesson:
this is what we need. And this is the crux of my problem with current speech therapists approach to voice feminization: none of what they are teaching actually affects this model. Pitching your voice higher or lower only changes the amount of air going through the vocal cords, which are at the start of the tube (widening them as they go higher), but doesn't change the size of the chamber. This is why a male singer who uses a 'head voice' for certain passage or notes still sounds like a male singer, just using a more delicate color. In fact, I will go out on a limb here and just say that I have come to the conclusion that pitch is the least important factor in voice feminization. If you listen to Dom de Luxury's voice, or Scarlet Johansson's voice (as well as many other beautiful and sexy women), their voices are actually pitched lower than many men's voices. But the last thing you would ever do with either of these women is to mistake them for a man! That's because, as far as gender identification goes, the actual pitch of the voice is very much secondary to the voice quality. And voice quality is primarily dependent on the resonating chamber as shown in the tube model (above), and secondarily on the resonating cavities in the face.
She actually agreed with all of this, but then sort of shrugged and said, "What else can you do?".
The (Tentative) Solution.
I told her I had a crazy solution. At which point she looked at me in the way you might look at those crazy people with big signs and white robes on the street. I was expecting this and I have to say, she might be right. So far, this is a very tentative solution.
Here's what happened: A couple of days ago, frustrated by the sound of my voice and slowly coming to the realization that nothing I had been taught was actually changing the tube model of my voice, I started fiddling around with ways to actually change it. I had been reading my old physiology book and watching stuff on the web about how the voice works, more because I have become interested in it than for any practical, voice affecting reasons. But it actually may have helped, so you see, knowledge is never a bad idea. To see what I'm talking about, here's a picture of the larynx:
Quick review: The thyroid cartilage, which is the largest part of the larynx (also called the "voice box") has a little 'tip' on it which you can feel and is called the "Adam's apple". The anterior ends of the vocal cords are attached to the inside of this cartilage. And remember that the vocal cords are where the sound is produced, and therefore the 'start' of the vocal tube mechanism. This means you can tell where the vocal cords are from the position of your Adam's apple. The larynx is suspended from the hyoid bone, and the hyoid bone/larynx are suspended with muscles that (1) pull the larynx down, (2) pull the larynx up, (3) pull the larynx back.See the ligaments above and below the thyroid cartilage? Those raise and lower the cartilage (what you can feel in your throat as your "Adam's apple"). The entire larynx is basically "hanging" from the hyoid bone, Now here's the thing: If you raise the thyroid cartilage, the vocal folds go with it, obviously. And, perhaps not so obvious, that shortens the resonating chamber, moving your masculine tube model closer to that of a females.
Thinking about this, I got excited by the possibility of actually modifying the vocal tube. After all, the thyroid cartilage naturally moves up and down when you swallow, right? Really excited now, I tried positioning my Adam's apple higher by swallowing, and seeing if I could keep it there after the actual swallowing had concluded. I was successful at this, only to discover another problem: I couldn't breathe! Obviously, this is not going to work out for a speech program, especially if I want to continue living. And actually, this is part of swallowing: if you've had any physiology you know that elevating the larynx causes the epiglottis to move down and form a lid on top of the glottis, which effectively closes it off. This is generally good because it keeps you from aspirating, but it does get in the way of your mission to sound like a girl.
However, if you look at the diagram, you can see there are muscles which also move the larynx backward. I found I could actually do this by tightening the back of my neck, and it turns out it also happens when you suck on things like cough drops or a straw. If you try this, you can, gently, place your fingers on your Adam's apple to see where it is. When you get it up and back, your throat will look and feel smoother also. I don't recommend actually moving it around with your fingers!
And here is where it actually gets interesting: I managed to actually speak a few words while keeping the larynx positioned up and back (it took several minutes of experimentation to get it there) and found a stunning transformation of my voice. I instantly sounded like a girl. Impressive as hell.
I was able to manage this at the office and enjoyed seeing her eyes grow as big as saucers when I succeeded in talking for a moment like that. She was amazed! Needless to say, she is quite intrigued and is willing to work with me over a longer period to see if this whole thing is practical and doable. Will I actually be able to do this for an extended period without destroying my voice? We shall see. One interesting thing is that this might explain why some people develop convincing voices and others, in spite of much hard work, do not. Those that do might actually, unconsciously, learn how to do this physical change.
She told me there is actually a surgery that some people have where the thyroid is raised by surgically shortening the muscle. The success rate is low and the list of dangers high. But the idea behind this surgery is the same one I am talking about it, basically shortening the length of the resonating 'tube'.
If you want to try this new voice technique, my advice is to go easy. You'll need lots of water and patience. I also found that, occasionally, my larynx would get 'stuck' in the upper position. This encourages me to think that this might actually be a solution to the problem, but when it first happened, caused me a bit of panic. After all, I do still need to sound like a guy on occasion. However, once I relaxed and just enjoyed it, it eventually slid back down.
I've been amazed by the response to these articles. Clearly, I'm not the only gender-fluid person out there interested in a complete transformation. I hope today's article will spur you to some investigation of your own. Let me know what you discover. A WORD OF WARNING: Let me just repeat that messing around like this requires some care. It is quite possible to completely screw-up your voice, so make sure you drink a lot of water, and rest it properly, and don't get carried away. Needless to say, if you do this, you do it at your own risk. As always, feel free to message me on Twitter