Voice Changes and Singing: The trials and tribulations of transitioning from boy soprano

This gets a bit technical with music-related terms. Apologies for that but it’s hard to explain it any other way.

When I made the decision to start taking testosterone, I was excited about the prospect of my speaking voice changing. I’d always felt self conscious about it, and wanted a lower voice. But as someone who has always loved singing, and as the director of a choir, I was worried about what would happen to my singing voice.

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I knew my singing voice would inevitably change, but I didn’t know how much, and how difficult it would be for me to control my new voice as it dropped. I was warned that it might be hard to sing at all for a while. Given that I teach my choir by ear — so I sing every phrase to them for them to repeat back to me — I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out.

The changes were slow and subtle at first. Initially I noticed that my lower range expanded and became stronger quite quickly. Within a couple of months I was able to sing tenor which had previously been the part I struggled to reach low enough for. At that stage I could still manage the soprano (the highest part), but the quality of the sound I made started to deteriorate. As my lower range strengthened and gained resonance, the higher notes became reedy and more like a falsetto than a true soprano. After about five or six months on T I could still get the high notes out, but I sounded like someone who’d been breathing in helium.

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At that point I experienced a more sudden and noticeable voice drop, and the top end of the soprano was more or less wiped out. I started to rely on playing a descant recorder, or singing an octave down when I was teaching. Soon it was not only difficult to sing the soprano part, but also the alto. And where previously I’d always sung the bass part an octave up when teaching, that was becoming a challenge too and I could just about manage to sing it in the correct register.

This is when I noticed a peculiar problem that’s pretty unique to someone teaching a choir with a voice that’s going through male puberty. Once I started to switch octaves, it totally threw my choir. I realised that this is because when you sing, you instinctively pitch your voice in the place where you can sing the tune. But this is different for the average male and female voices. Someone with an adult male voice trying to sing along with a female voice will automatically drop down an octave. Likewise a woman or child trying to sing along with an adult male voice will instinctively pitch an octave up.

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The problem for me, and my choir, is that at the moment my voice is stuck in a place that’s very much between male and female. I can sing almost as low as most cisgender men, but I don’t have the same resonance or sound quality that they do. So when I sing the bass line in the correct register, the basses in my choir still try and drop an octave below me — which puts their voices in the basement and is impossible for them to manage. Conversely when I sing the soprano part an octave down, the sopranos still try to match my pitch and usually end up singing too low. So it’s all fun and games as I have to try and sing higher, and then I squawk and make horrible noises. But as someone in my choir said to me this week when I came out with a sound like a dying donkey, “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” I guess that’s the best I can ask for 🙂

 

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Six Months of Male Puberty: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I passed an important milestone this week. Yesterday marked six months on testosterone for me. It seems like a good time to reflect how far I’ve come, while also being aware of how far I still have to go.

Puberty is a slow process, whether it’s the naturally occurring type or a second one induced by hormone therapy. Most of the advice and information tells trans people to expect to see changes for up to five years at least, although most of the most noticeable changes often happen in the first two years. So, six months is still relatively early days.

The changes are subtle (gradual voice drop, acquisition of facial hair, fat redistribution etc) but are gradually adding up to me being read as male by strangers more often. The weird part for me, is that I never know what assumptions other people are making about my gender. Unless they happen to use a pronoun in my presence, or an obviously gendered term like sir or the dreaded madam I have no way of telling how I’m being categorised. But given that I can wander into the men’s toilets without causing a stir — and was getting some very odd looks in the ladies the last couple of times I tried to use them — I think that on balance the world is mostly seeing me as a bloke now.

My voice is the main thing that still lets me down. It’s a lot lower than it used to be, and now technically measures in the male range.

From pre-T to now, courtesy of an iOS app called Speech Test (where do I sign up for those muscles?):

Unfortunately the lack of resonance and years of ingrained feminine speech pattern still makes me sound rather androgynous. I don’t get challenged when I give my name to banks/insurance companies etc on the phone anymore though, so that’s progress.

My family and friends are getting used to talking about me using he/him pronouns, and it makes me happy when I hear them do it. I know it’s been really weird for people who have known me for a long time, so I appreciate how hard everyone is trying with this. The closer people are to me, the harder it is, but my ex/coparent/partner-in-crime and my kids are managing to get it right 90% of the time now, so if they can manage it then I figure anyone can.

The last six months have been a rollercoaster for a variety of reasons, and being on testosterone is the least of them.

  • I’ve been busy with work, friends, and family, and dealing with the fallout of my transition. This has affected relationships in unexpected ways as well as predictable ones.
  • I’ve been getting used to being free and single (although still cohabiting incredibly amicably), and have launched myself into the insanity of online dating as a gay man.
  • I had chest surgery six weeks ago, so was busy preparing for that, and then dealing with recovery.

The most important part of this post — I feel good. I’m happy and at peace with myself in a way that is new. I’m finally starting to feel like I know who I am after years of being lost in a post female puberty wilderness of feeling fundamentally wrong. Being authentic and honest about who I am is a wonderful feeling, and I have no regrets about making that leap of faith.

So to sum up, life is crazy, and difficult at times, but it’s also pretty damn good being me.

Here’s to the next six months!