Hoarse and hair

In The longest journey, I bemoaned the nine-month wait between my first gender identity clinic (GIC) appointment and starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I didn’t mention the other NHS-funded treatments I started in the meantime, namely speech and language therapy (SLT) and laser hair removal. I had planned to write separately about each of these, but having been stricken by an unpleasant cold/lurgy this week, it suddenly seems apt to write about them together.

Finding my voice

This ‘aimless, unprincipled’ blog arose as a result of a New Year’s resolution made in front of my followers on Twitter. I don’t normally have much truck with rash promises-to-self made at the start of a calendar year, but I thought the extra motivation provided by an (imagined) Twitter audience would be a useful spur to doing something I’d wanted to do for a very long time. (And it worked, as you, my imagined reader, can see.)

In fact, though, I made two resolutions on Twitter, and the first was to do with my voice:

Tweet by @transponderings on 21 December 2017: ‘My #NewYearsResolution (a bit early, I know, and I don’t normally make one at all) is to go public with the voice I’ve been working on.’

Within about three months of my first GIC appointment, I had my first appointment for speech and language therapy. It was really just a chat about what I hoped to achieve and why. I realised that I wanted a more ‘female-sounding’ voice for two reasons: first, to overcome the dysphoria I feel in hearing a ‘male’ voice when I speak; second, to reduce the chances of being misgendered in public on account of my voice (if my appearance doesn’t do the trick first!).

Since then, month by month, I have been working mainly on raising the pitch of my spoken voice through a series of vocal exercises. I’m not considering any voice-related surgery (scary on a number of levels!), and no hormones can reverse the effects of the male puberty I went through in my teens. (If you’re on masculinising hormone therapy, you may fare better, because testosterone will cause your voice to break to some extent. It’s just that it’s a one-way ticket: the only way is down.) So what I’m trying to do is turn a different part of my vocal range (a part that I already use for singing) into my habitual speaking voice.

This has gone fairly well on the whole. I can consistently find a pitch that is within the typical range for cis women, and it’s relatively easy for me to read in that voice for an extended period. What’s much harder is sustaining the voice while thinking about other things (such as what to say). I’ve managed short interactions with people in shops etc., but conversations with people I know have so far remained in (more or less) my old voice. There’s a habituation/practice issue and also a confidence hurdle to be overcome.

So this resolution is still a work in progress, but I do hope to get there soon. Having this cold, which has so far mostly affected my throat, means that at times in the last few days I’ve had practically no voice – or a strained and peculiar voice at best. I did wonder whether this might be a good transitional opportunity: go into a cold with one voice and come out with a different one? Hmm. Maybe.

Losing (some of) my hair

Anna’s chin (left) after laser treatment in May 2017, (right) in December 2017
May (just after laser!) to December

As a transitioning trans woman, my hair comes in two varieties: the kind I want more of – this grows out of the top of my head, and I know I’m lucky to have what’s there – and the kind I could well do without. There’s some of the latter over much of the rest of my body, though hormones will hopefully improve matters over time, but the worst from the perspective of gender dysphoria is the hair that grows out of my face, because it’s so visible and is such a cue for (mis)identifying my gender.

One of the first things I wanted from the GIC was facial hair removal, which I had expected would involve electrolysis, given that most of my beard was grey or white. (Laser hair removal only works with dark hairs and relatively light skin.) But that wasn’t my call: it would be up to an unseen NHS dermatologist to decide on the best course of action.

The first thing I had to do was submit to the horrors of – cue scary music – medical photography. OK, so that didn’t sound too scary. Let’s try again. The first thing I had to do was have medical photography of my facial hair after – cue scary music again – four days of beard growth. If that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is! Bear in mind that at this point I’d been shaving once if not twice (and sometimes even three times) daily for the best part of a year.

Fortunately, I could choose a time when I didn’t have to present myself in public for a few days. (It must be doubly hard for people who are in full-time employment.) Once I’d accumulated a horrific amount of beard, I made my way gingerly (OK, greyly) to the hospital for my photo shoot. Once I got there, the introduction to my modelling career was relatively painless.

Then I had to wait for an assessment. I found out to my surprise that the dermatologist had chosen laser and that there would be a six-week wait for my first appointment at the laser clinic. Laser hair removal can be painful, but it’s a short-lived kind of pain and, in some ways, much more bearable than those four days spent without shaving. I had eight monthly sessions on the NHS, with the last one last month. But it’s not over yet.

As I suspected, laser wasn’t going to get rid of all my facial hair. So I’ll probably still need (many hours of) electrolysis at some point. In the meantime, the GIC has recommended waiting to see what hormones do to my facial hair. Then it’ll be back for another photo shoot with four days’ growth of (mostly white) stubble.

However, one benefit of having a cold is that one day this week, when I wasn’t going out anywhere, I didn’t bother shaving at all. Even the next morning, 48 hours after my last shave, I noticed that there had indeed been a remarkable change in the appearance of my facial hair. To the touch, it was every bit as bad as I’d have expected, but visually, it was passable: I wouldn’t have been too concerned about a stranger seeing me like that. Progress indeed.

2 responses to “Hoarse and hair”

  1. Firstly thanks for your blog, it’s a delight to read about how things are going for you since you’re “slightly” further along than I (I have a GIC referral, well two, one to the Aberdeen clinic but since no ones staffing that at present, one to Glasgow as well, so I’m guessing I’ll be in limbo for at least 12 months (but likely more like 18)).

    Re your voice. Is it “simply” a case of throwing yourself into a higher range and then practice, practice, practice? Or are their other tricks that can help? I read somewhere (most likely in someone’s autobiography) that singing along with and trying to match a female musician’s range is helpful, any thoughts on that (I’ll keep on dancing around my kitchen singing along to Annie Lennox regardless, but it would be nice to think it’s helping as well)?

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Heather – and I’m so glad to hear that my blog posts have been of interest. If you’ve read ‘The longest journey’, you’ll know that I’ve also experienced the joys of waiting for GIC appointments and then for various things to happen; it can seem like an age. In your case, the initial wait is much longer than mine was, so you have my sympathy. I hope things are faster for you once you’re ‘in the system’.

      As a linguist, I was fascinated by the prospect of being on the receiving end of speech and language therapy. In my undergraduate linguistics degree, we studied some of the tools that are used in speech therapy, so I thought there would probably be some technology involved to provide feedback on how my voice was developing. But my SLT sessions have actually just involved lots of humming, singing and speaking in different pitches. It’s fairly low-tech, though I do get excellent feedback from my therapist. If you sing already (with or without dancing!), that’s an advantage.

      I’m not qualified to say what’s right for your voice, so I can’t really offer any particular advice. If you are lucky enough to be able to find a speech and language therapist to work on your voice before you get to the GIC, that would be good (but I realise that’s not realistic for most people). One thing worth doing is to download a simple app to analyse the pitch of your voice. Another excellent resource (recommended by my therapist) is *The voice book for trans and non-binary people* by Mills and Stoneham.

      Good luck – and enjoy dancing and singing along to Annie Lennox, whether or not it helps your speaking voice!