I should be writing a paper right now — well, I should probably be sleeping right now, but I can’t sleep; I can’t write about what I should be writing about until I write about what I need to write about (I apologize for the excessive use of the word “about,” but, in my defense, it is 4 AM). It’s late, and I’m pretty scattered, so this will be kind of a rambly post, so bear with me.
As I said before, I am now four weeks on testosterone, and I’m having trouble believing it’s real. When I listened to my new voice clip this morning, I certainly did not believe it was real (and, therefore, made my roommates listen to all of my voice clips and assure me that my voice actually sounds like that — sorry, roommates). I have watched countless “X weeks on testosterone” youtube videos, and listened to countless voice clips, but even once I knew I would, too, be on testosterone, recording those voice clips, experiencing those changes, it seemed so distant. Sometimes, it still does — other than some acne, I don’t notice much in terms of changes on a daily basis. When I listen to my voice clips, I can hear the difference, but my voice doesn’t sound different to me on its own. It doesn’t even sound particularly masculine to me, but on the other hand, I do notice people reading me as male more often (relatively speaking). This semester, as one of my sisters pointed out, was the first semester I began as “Gareth,” the first time in my life that my professors read out the right name taking attendance. I switched in the middle of the last semester — and, admittedly, got a few awkward looks from classmates and peers who had known me as my other name — but, for the most part, my college community has handled the beginning of my transition kindly and respectfully, a fact for which I am endlessly thankful.
But, as much of a relief as it was to hear my classmates begin to call out “Gareth” when they wanted to talk to me, it was still hard to know they had known me by my other name, to hear that hesitation or momentary falter in their voices as they stumbled to use the correct name. This semester, I began the phase of my life where no one has to know about that other person, that former self, that shadow that lingers around me; they won’t know unless I tell them. I’m not saying some — if not many — don’t realize I’m trans, but they only have one name for me in their minds. When I have to answer a call from my doctor or sign my credit card receipts using my other name, it comforts me to know there are already people out there who will never know me as that name. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, “Gareth” will be not only my real name, but also my legal name.
My memory of the beginning of my awareness of trans issues is, unfortunately, rather blurry. There are moments that stand out more than others, but I don’t remember the first time I thought, “Huh, I might be trans” (though I have written about some of the experiences that solidified that thought for me). I do, however, remember the first time I heard a trans guy’s voice clips. I stumbled across the website FTM Transition (which I have added to my blogroll, even though it’s not technically a blog, but a great site nonetheless) and began to sift around it. The little information I had at that point, almost entirely from Wikipedia, was confusing and overwhelming. Nineteen years old, gay-identifying, overweight, lonely, confused, scared, I was stymied by the Wikipedia description of “Gender Identity Disorder,” focusing too hard on the requirement of having had “those feelings” for a certain amount of time, as well as the general emphasis on having had them over the span of a lifetime. Now, later, I can look at the entirety of my life (albeit short) and see where my dysphoric feelings came through, even if I didn’t have the language or the will to express them. But at the time of my first coming out (I came out to some of my friends/family as “maybe trans” a couple of years ago, then basically turned around and said, “Just kidding!” and proceeded to try to suppress it for a while), what I saw as a lack of continuity was a great source of anxiety for me.
Anyway, I found this website, and read through it for a while, until I reached the section on testosterone therapy. It was the first I’d seen of a plan of action, a “cure” for what I was feeling. I heard his voice begin to drop month by month, and my heart started racing, I could barely contain my excitement. “This could be me,” I thought. “This could be the answer.”
My voice has always been a sore point for me, though I don’t recall expressing that aspect of my insecurities any time before college (it occurs to me, actually, that this post may be the first time I acknowledge it at all outside of my own mind). In 3rd grade, I remember, we had to do an oral presentation in Spanish class, and my teacher recorded everyone, then made us watch the presentations later in the week. I can still remember thinking, while listening, about how crazy it was that the video camera was able to capture my classmates’ voices so accurately. But when my oral presentation came up, I remember thinking, “This can’t be right. It doesn’t sound right. This can’t be me.” I know, I know, no one can recognize their own voice recorded, but my reaction was truly visceral. I can still recall the anxiety swelling up inside of me, the knot in the pit of my stomach, the sweat on my hands. I wanted to cry, to run out of the room, to rush up and stop the recording. I can still remember wondering why my classmates didn’t seem as shocked as me, how they didn’t notice that my voice sounded so weird, so wrong.
Even at a young age, my voice has always been on the low side. Playing World of Warcraft (yes, I know, I’m a dork), people assumed I was a pre-pubescent boy (an assumption I was not quick to correct) up until even last year (they probably would still assume that, but I stopped playing). But it never sounded right, nevertheless. Ever since that day in Spanish class, I have hated hearing the sound of my own voice. I try not to speak in situations involving video cameras, I hate leaving voice mail messages – and, I should mention, recording my own voice mail message actually causes me severe anxiety – I don’t even like reading or reciting out loud. When I was assigned to the alto voice part in choir, I was fiercely and obsessively proud of having a low singing voice, always striving to be assigned the lowest part in any piece of music. For most of my life after 3rd grade, I spoke very quietly, even around my close friends (except if I was very excited or agitated about something, at which point I tended to get almost too loud). When I hear recordings of myself, that nearly paralyzing anxiety floods back into the pit of my stomach, along with an acute embarrassment. Even recording my transition voice clips has been stressful for me, though this latest clip will, I believe, go a long way toward alleviating that embarrassment.
It hasn’t even been 24 hours since I recorded my latest voice clip, but I’ve already listened to it more times than I care to admit. My voice certainly has a long way to go before it has dropped as much as it will, eventually, drop, or as much as I would like it to drop. But, for the first time in my life, I can listen to my voice without that twinge of anxiety, that rush of fear. I hear the recording, and I can believe that it’s me saying my name. My own name, my own voice, right there. One of my roommates put it well that, the obvious drop aside, there is a significant change in my voice that has nothing to do with tone. She remarked that there was a different quality to my voice, that the feminine edge to it, which got me into trouble even with a lower to begin with voice, had been replaced by a decidedly more masculine one. Years from now, looking back, my recording from today will, most likely, sound hyper-feminine to me. I’ll have that, “Oh god, I can’t believe I used to sound like that,” moment, I’m sure. But now, sitting here, I can listen to my pre-T voice clip without that involuntary fight-or-flight response, because I know it’s not me, I know that’s not how I sound, that’s not who I am.
“An extended musing on changes in my voice” by growingupgareth.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at growingupgareth.wordpress.com.