Canada·Blog

Lara Rae: changing my voice to match my gender

Hormone therapy can bring about many remarkable changes, but has no effect on the vocal cords. So to pass, sonically, as female - I've got my work cut out for me.

Male and female vocal cords vibrate at different frequencies, and hormones have little effect

As a performer, I've got my voice work cut out for me. (Leif Norman)

Since starting my gender transition, I've learned that hormone therapy can bring about many remarkable changes. But there's one body part the hormones have no impact on: the vocal cords.

I'm trying to change my voice to match my gender. Unfortunately estrogen is no help and surgery to alter my golden pipes isn't for me. So at this stage, I'm doing it on my own.

It's all about vibration...

Male vocal cords have more mass so it takes more air to get them vibrating.

Male cords hum at between about 107 Hz and 134 Hz. But even on the high end of the male range, there's a huge gap of about 60 Hz before I could even get close to consistently sounding female. 

... and depth, volume and intonation.

And besides pitch, there's also other vocal qualities – like depth and volume – to think about. 

There's also the social nuance of the way women speak. Women typically sound more tentative, are quicker to apologize and are more hesitant. Maybe centuries of oppression have had an impact on the psyche and vocal cords? 

And for a performer like me, there's another problem. The female voice I will find is a 'head voice'. It's all coming out above my larynx with no diaphragm at all. As soon as I get mad or loud or sneeze or cough, the whole jig could be up.

Despite these huge barriers it's amazing what can be accomplished with effort.

Here are patients of Richard Adler, one of the best in the speech pathology biz. These samples are from his work Voice and Communication Therapy for the Transgender Client

Women like the last one in that clip can sonically pass as female 100 per cent of the time. But did you notice how tentative and halting the second voice was compared to the first? I wish I didn't have to deal with that part. 

I've got my work cut out for me. But regardless of how I end up sounding, my journey so far has shown me I'll always have lots to talk about.


Lara Rae is charting her journey in a new syndicated column, airing Mondays on CBC Radio One. 

About the Author

Lara Rae

Columnist

Lara Rae is a stand-up comic, comedy writer and the former artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.

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