How gender-affirming voice therapy allowed this woman to be truly herself
'I want the world to see me and hear me the way I see and hear myself,' says Terri Coolen
Like so many of us, Terri Coolen has recently been spending countless hours speaking in video meetings and on conference calls.
But after each meeting, Coolen has a routine. She takes a moment to analyze the way she spoke, paying close attention to her pitch and intonation. Using a virtual piano app, she tries to match her voice with the key of A.
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That's because for the past six months, she has been working with a speech pathologist who is guiding her in gender-affirming voice therapy.
In Nova Scotia, speech therapy for trans and gender-diverse people is covered by the provincial health care plan. Coolen regularly sees a speech pathologist, who provides her with voice training and exercises to do at home and throughout her day.
"It allows a trans person to find the voice that aligns with who they know they are," said Coolen.
"I want the world to see me and hear me the way that I see and hear myself."
Being properly gendered in public
In 2020, Coolen began to live publicly as an out trans woman.
But she quickly realized that people were often misgendering her and mistaking her for male based on her voice — a painful experience that, at one point, happened three times in one morning.
"I was going through a drive-thru, it happened. I went to a grocery store, it happened. I went to another store, it happened again. I think it happened because people were listening to my voice, not looking at the person."
Coolen doesn't like to dwell on those moments. Instead, she'd much rather talk about how it feels when she's properly gendered by a stranger or acquaintance.
"When I'm properly gendered, it's like I'm Julie Andrews running across the field in The Sound of Music," laughed Coolen.
When she first began work with a speech pathologist, Coolen wasn't sure what to expect and worried that feminizing her voice might not be possible. But after that first session, she left feeling hopeful and excited.
When I'm properly gendered, it's like I'm Julie Andrews running across the field in the Sound of Music.- Terri Coolen
Her speech pathologist told her that there's a shared range between typically masculine and typically feminine voices. The goal for Coolen was to train her voice to speak in that shared range.
"I just felt empowered. Oh my gosh, I can do this. This is something I can attain!"
Speaking on stage
Coolen uses her voice in a very public way.
As a community theatre performer, she has been working to learn how to bring her new voice onstage and adapt it to different characters.
Two weeks ago, she took part in her company's first performance in front of a live audience since the beginning of the pandemic. It was also the first performance where she played a character that matched her own gender identity.
Stepping on stage, she was nervous — but knew she had the tools to speak confidently in her true voice.
"It was a moment I'll never forget, that first night. To be able to walk away and said I did it."
Finding 'Terri's voice'
At the beginning of her vocal journey, Coolen spent much of her day worrying about the way her voice was perceived by others.
"You continue to try. It's like learning how to walk. It takes a while," she said.
Focusing on her voice day in and day out, while also doing vocal exercises and dealing with the psychological impact of being misgendered would often leave Coolen exhausted.
But each day she gains confidence and thinks less and less about the way she sounds. The quest to find her voice has also led her to reconsider what makes a "male voice" and "female voice."
"It's given me a confidence to [use] Terri's voice. Not a female voice, or a male voice — Terri's voice."
Orignally aired in November, 2021
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