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Introducing Doll, Racked's first transgender guest blogger. Always secretly wishing he'd been born a Barbie, Doll was a young army brat who grew up and became a citizen of the world. After landing in Manhattan, he became a New York fashion insider, working in a high-powered industry position, living a life worthy of a feature film.
After mysteriously vanishing from the scene, Doll recently resurfaced and has embarked on a new roller-coaster ride of a journey. Follow his transformation, week by week, right here on Racked.
Phoebe Dinsmore: [giving Lina diction lessons] No, no, no Miss Lamont, Round tones, round tones. Now, let me hear you read your line.
Lina Lamont: [with a voice to peel paint] And I cayn't stand'im.
Phoebe Dinsmore: And I CAA-HN'T stand him. —Singin' in the Rain
Doll: I was watching a documentary about Jackie O with Gwyneth the other day, and it mentioned that Jackie O used a different voice whenever she was being filmed on camera. Apparently, her voice became completely monotone and she lacked any type of facial expressions—Think: an elegant femme bot. It was even suggested that when she spoke on camera she came across as somewhat less than her intelligent self. Interesting, non? She was known in her social circles as being extremely intelligent, She spoke fluently in several languages and ALSO had a photographic memory. Yet, on camera she became a Stepford wife.
Voices are individual characteristics. Comparable to fingerprints, each person's voice has its own unique features, including pitch level, resonance, enunciation, diction and accent. There’s no bigger turn-off than a voice that doesn't match one’s appearance – prime example? David Beckham.
Many transgendered women can dress impeccably and look like models; some are able to pass as a woman visually until they open their mouths. Clothes may make the man, but it is voice that makes the woman. Ergo, developing a truly feminine sounding voice is of paramount concern. I have learned that there are plenty of ways which a person can change the depths and heights of the sounds they make sans surgical intervention.
When I began my transition, I was actually already able to modulate my voice easily. This was due to the fact that I had very low testosterone levels. Usually a boy’s voice changes significantly during puberty, but because of my abnormal hormone levels, my voice barely became lower and deeper sounding. I was even a member of my high school glee club, and sang tenor but when I reached puberty I lost that ability.
Although modulating is easy for me, I admit that being able to modulate my voice consistently is still a work in progress. The estrogen hormones will slightly help in time with regards to pitch, but I still need to train my voice box properly and speaking in a feminine voice will be a conscientious effort my entire life. During the early stages of my gender exploration, I simply tried softening my voice. I tried raising my pitch artificially, arriving at that bad falsetto that sounded very contrived. But after years of constant practice I am happy to say that I have achieved a more feminized version of my natural voice. Nowadays, I can effortlessly carry on conversations with my modulated voice and was recently told by a male admirer, “You've got a raspy tone... not cigarette smoker raspy, sexy raspy.”
Certain women, I have noticed, have a distinct way of talking; most are more animated with their expressions, and use plenty of hand gestures (which is the type of woman I want to become—a “girly girl” if I were to categorize). So another important factor to consider, as I adapt to using my female voice full-time, is being mindful of not just the tone I use to articulate myself, but my mannerisms when speaking as well. I was an effeminate boy to begin with—I grew up hanging around mostly women—but my demeanor was actually considered subdued for the stereotypical gay man (I was never a flamboyant queen!). As a result, being able to become more lady-like is not too far of a stretch. Thankfully I have The Dolls, and can simply mimic the way they act and speak. I carefully discern which characteristics I can effortlessly carry off without over-doing it.
Not overly exaggerating is also important. An “identity” trademark I have noticed among other transgendered women is their knack for putting extreme emphasis on feminine actions/behavior. I personally think these expressions tend to draw more attention to themselves and can come across as unrealistic because it looks too over the top. Subtlety is always key!
I do hope that someday I will be able to reach the high-pitch feminine voice notes. In the meantime, I’m focused on practicing the modulation of my voice–with an accent. My French tutor, who is a dear friend, tells me that I actually have a great French accent even with the use of my female voice—I just need to work on slurring those RRRRRR’s properly—which gargling can apparently help with. You know what they say, “Practice makes perfect!”