On the Science of Changing Sex

The Sound of Your Voice…

Posted in Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on December 1, 2012

female_scientist…Oh, how I miss waking up to the sound of your voice…
-Bare Naked Ladies

Each time we utter a word, we communicate far more than just the lexical unit of speech; we also announce to the listener our native language, our hometown, our age, our gender, and possibly our sexual orientation.  In the transgender field guide videos, I asked the viewer to pay attention to the vocal inflections of each of the transwomen.  If you listened carefully, you probably noted that the HSTS transkids each were distinctly different than the AGPs.  This vocal difference that transkids have, compared to non-gender-atypical boys, is present since childhood.  It is not a recent development, not a conscious attempt to sound like women.  That voice is largely untrained.

Many gay men have a discernibly “gay voice”, but not all.  Interestingly, this voice quality corresponds to the level of gender atypicality that they exhibited as children.  That is to say, that straight sounding gay men report having been typically masculine as boys, but “gay” sounding men report having been gender atypical as boys.  Research also shows that this “gay voice”, far from being a speech defect, the stereotyped “lisp”, it is actually clearer sounding speech.  This speech is also more like how heterosexual women speak, than how straight men speak.  Given this, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that gender atypical boys should sound more like girls than gender typical boys.

A large percentage of boys who were gender atypical grow up to be gay, though some do grow up to be straight identified.  (Given that being gay is still socially stigmatized and discriminated against, I personally suspect that many of these so-called “straight” men are in fact closet homosexuals.)  A number of these gender atypical boys are also gender dysphoric.  And a subset of those that are gender dysphoric will persist being so to become transkids.

In the Crocker and Munson study, they showed that older gender atypical boys had even more feminine voices than younger atypical boys.  As I showed in my essay on persisting and desisting gender dysphoria in children, those who desist in being gender atypical and gender dysphoric seem to be doing so just before the age of 10 or so.  Thus, I believe that we can surmise that Crocker& Munson’s older boys would have a higher percentage of ‘persisters’, transkids, than their younger test group.  So, I hypothesize that the increased perceived femininity of voice production in the older group is an artifact of the desisters having dropped out of the potential pool of older boys, leaving the more naturally feminine transkids.

One working assumption is that a sizable subset of gay men have significantly feminized brain structures that influence both erotic target (sexual orientation) and vocal production.  This is supplanting the hypothesis that the “gay voice” is the result of community wide agreement upon a ‘code’, a voice that helps gay men identify each other.  The evidence supports the former, rather than the latter, as pre-adolescent boys are unlikely to have self-identified as gay, and to have deliberately learned a community code.

I hypothesize that the feminization of the brain is more extensive in ‘persisters’, transkids, and that the voice production is similarly more feminized.  This is in keeping with the conceptualization that (at least some) gay men are somewhat feminized, more like women than straight men, and that HSTS transkids are “so gay they’re women”, as James Cantor has quipped.

I think it would be interesting for researchers to compare the “gay voice” to the “transkid voice”.  From my own experience, they are similar, but not identical.  The gay voice is trending towards the transkid voice, but doesn’t reach it.  The average transkid voice is trending toward the female voice, but also doesn’t quite reach it, though, with just a tiny effort, it can allow the average transkids to pass as female to most listeners.  Some transkids have voices so like the typical female voice that no effort is needed.

Again, as I pointed out in the field guide, the untrained AGP voice is typically masculine.  A great conscious effort must be made if an AGP wishes to achieve a passably female voice.  I think it would be interesting to compare and contrast the HSTS and AGP voice.

Addendum 1/4/2013:

Lal Zimman has conducted an interesting bit of research on FtM transmen’s voice, which I now reference.  He has a couple sound clips that may be of interest.

References:

Crocker, L., & Munson, B., “Speech Patterns of Gender Non-Conforming Boys”
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~munso005/Crocker&Munson_NWAV2006_PostConference.pdf

Peter Renn, “Speech, male sexual orientation, and childhood gender nonconformity”
http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/class/psy158h/prevhonors/z111/project.htm

Deborah Günzburger, “Acoustic and perceptual implications of the transsexual voice”
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01541604

Lal Zimman, “Pronunciation of ‘s’ sounds impacts perception of gender, CU-Boulder researcher finds”
http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2013/01/03/pronunciation-%E2%80%98s%E2%80%99-sounds-impacts-perception-gender-cu-boulder-researcher

 


 

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