Flat. Hollow. Irritating. As if I was talking into an empty jar. That’s how I’d describe my voice. I’ve always hated it. The sound of my own voice makes me want to just run head first into a wall. But how can I hate something that’s an integral part of me? Easily. These days, I rarely listen back to podcasts or interviews where I speak. If there are others talking, I’ll just skip past my bits. But how long can I was I expecting to keep avoiding this for?
It was actually the global pandemic that forced me out of my comfort zone, in so many ways. I had to find other ways to engage with people and to stay connected. It also forced me to see the bigger picture. To do more. To realise this isn’t just about me. I’ve had certain privileges and I needed to do more to give back or to help others. We are one giant gender diverse family and we mustn’t leave anybody behind, despite all the in-fighting. So I upped my game and dedicated my energy to trying to make the world better…even if it was just through one tiny thing. That counts, doesn’t it? Something that would make things easier for those less privileged or for those held back by intersections. Where does one even begin though?? That’s something I found myself asking. A lot. It seems so daunting, especially with a Government that behaves like that the annoying kid at school who has every toy imaginable but still wants yours. Or with a society that’s steeped in tradition or binary rules which have been reinforced throughout the generations.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve become a brand ambassador for the London Transgender Clinic, joined Gendered Intelligence’s GIANTS program, created the Pass It On campaign, signed with CC3 Entertainment, become a member of the Crown Prosecution Service’s hate crime panel and joined Birmingham Pride’s committee. Overcoming anxiety as much as I can and distancing myself from the voice inside my head telling me I’ll never be good enough, in a very short space of time. All in the name of finding ways to help gender diverse people and to create change. Throughout all of this, I had to use my voice even more. I’m at the point now where using my voice is my job. Whilst I knew it needed to be done, I didn’t realise just how much it was getting me down. I was faced with a dilemma: I hate my voice but I need to use my voice. I’ve had vocal therapy and, wherever possible, I’ve been doing vocal exercises and learning about how my voice works. But time is a luxury – especially after a massive change in personal circumstances, which meant having to travel a lot during the week, on top of the things I already do. In an ideal world, society no longer judges people based on what they look or sound like. People aren’t held to outdated standards and definitions are expanded to be more inclusive. That shift will happen, I mean you only have to look at how progressive the world has become in terms of gay marriage or abortion, for example. Ok, things aren’t 100% but every journey has its ups and downs, right? If we want change, it will happen eventually, as long as we commit to making it happen. Eventually. Sadly for me though, the shift perceptions about how a person looks or sounds won’t happen in my lifetime. I need to do something for me too. I’ll still be fighting for a better future for all my trans and non-binary family…I just need to put myself first for now. And that’s why I’ve chosen to have vocal surgery.
Extreme? Maybe. But it’s something that I’ve had to weigh up. Having had vocal therapy from different therapists, I know that surgery isn’t going to magically fix my voice. In fact, the surgery only addresses one aspect of how we talk and there will be other things to work on…but that said (no pun intended) the surgery is a big help. A step in the right direction, having tried other methods only to find they cannot give me what I need, when I need it. I acknowledge surgery isn’t for everyone – whether it be preference or access to it…that having this surgery doesn’t make me any more or less trans and that it’s not a necessary part of medically transitioning. However, this is necessary for me. For my own journey and for my own mental health. This kind of surgery isn’t something covered by the NHS. In fact, my facial feminisation surgery (FFS) and breast augmentation aren’t things covered by the NHS either. They’re deemed aesthetic and therefore unnecessary for trans patients (don’t even get me started on this point!!) leaving many trans people struggling so much, with those wishing to go down this route having to go private (if they feel surgery is for them, because surgery doesn’t define us). I’ll be having my vocal surgery with Mr Al Yaghchi, who has a special interest in transgender voice and went on to develop his own version of the Wendler glottoplasty technique.
Ultimately, I’m sick of being misgendered whenever I’m on the phone or having to answer so many security questions because the person on the other end doesn’t believe I am who I say I am. I’ve even had my own doctor’s surgery question my identity. It’s so frustrating that I’ll usually ask my wife to make calls for me. I’m sure she’s sick of it too!! I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be the real me, and now that I can…I can’t. Not fully, anyway. Even when I’m out, I hate using my voice in public. I avoid it wherever possible. Opening my mouth to talk is like having to out myself every single time, which is so triggering. How will people react? Will they take me seriously? Will they become hostile? Whilst I’m not scared to have the surgery, I’ve spent the last few months feeling so conflicted with my choice for surgery because of the Pass It On campaign I created. Passing shouldn’t define me. It shouldn’t define anyone. But would having this surgery mean I’m subscribing to a certain standard? Am I a hypocrite for doing this and wanting to pass vocally, or is it that I’m trying to align my voice with my gender identity…even though it shouldn’t matter? But in a way it sort of matters? As I mentioned at the earlier, the societal change won’t come about in my lifetime, so what do I do in the meantime, when it affects me so much? I can easily do an Instagram video, or a filmed interview, without much anxiety these days because those videos are linked to me and what I do. There’s normally some kind of intro or context. It’s like my bio or my reputation is a precursor, preparing the room for when I open my mouth. But what about when I’m just buying a coffee or asking for directions…or even phoning up to query an online order? There’s no precursor. The people I interact with don’t know who I am. And they certainly wouldn’t care, even if they did know. Thing is, I shouldn’t have to hide behind a job or a reputation to be accepted. I should just be able to talk. More recently, I’ve stopped doing TikTok videos and any unnecessary Instagram videos, especially the live ones, all because my dysphoria became so overwhelming…even though talking openly about the trans experience is what I do!?!! Argh, it’s so fucking messy trying to unpack all of this. There’s one thought I keep coming back to, which offers some sort of guidance for me, and that’s when I was being recorded for a school project. When the project was played back to the whole class, I was disgusted by how I sounded. That disgust has always been with me, long before I needed to come out and to transition. It’s only now that I know how I’d want to change my voice.
So yeh, I’m likely to be judged, slated and even hated for making this choice. But what else is new? I acknowledge that I can’t please everyone…and I’m here to. This is a choice I’m making for me, regardless of what anybody says. This is my way of finding peace when I open my mouth and words fall out.
Featured image: via Google