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.


Crocker, L., & Munson, B., “Speech Patterns of Gender Non-Conforming Boys”

Peter Renn, “Speech, male sexual orientation, and childhood gender nonconformity”

Deborah Günzburger, “Acoustic and perceptual implications of the transsexual voice”

Lal Zimman, “Pronunciation of ‘s’ sounds impacts perception of gender, CU-Boulder researcher finds”



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All The Wrong Moves

Posted in Autobiographical, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on September 24, 2010

female_scientistBack in mid-90’s, an out of town transactivist, a transwoman who had transitioned in mid-life, asked if she could visit at my home, as she was passing through. I agreed and had her over for lunch. She arrived wearing a respectably skirted suit. She passed fairly well. Nothing about her looks or manner would have told most people that she was a transsexual. However, my nine year old adopted daughter, Liz, insisted on using masculine pronouns. I was deeply embarrassed, mortified. I tried to correct her, but she angrily replied, “But he’s a man!”, with that look on her face that clearly said she thought I must be either blind or crazy. I’ve been told by many AGP transsexuals that it can be very difficult to pass around pre-pubescent children, who always seem to read them instantly.

On another occasion, late at night, I got a call from a very distraught nineteen year old, pre-transition, pre-HRT, transkid that I knew as Stacey. She had had a fight with her folks and they had locked her out of the house. I’m sure you can guess what the fight had been about. For me, it was deja vu, having had the same one with my folks when I was seventeen. I drove out to her place and took her home. She was wearing a polo shirt and pressed slacks, boy’s shoes. I put her to bed in our spare room. The next morning, Stacey had awoken early, gotten dressed in those same boy’s clothes, and went downstairs to scrounge a breakfast. My daughter had gone downstairs before I had gotten dressed. She saw Stacey for a moment and, startled by a stranger in her house, ran back to me. She asked breathlessly, “Who’s the girl in the kitchen?” I calmly replied, “Her name is Stacey…”  My daughter rejoined Stacey and consistently, unreservedly, saw her as a girl, as they happily chatted together.


Kay Brown with her adopted daughter Liz

So, my daughter saw a post-op AGP transwoman as a man, and a pre-transition, pre-hormone therapy transkid as a girl!

What was it about this polished older transwoman that led my daughter to attribute maleness to her in spite of her obviously female attire and appearance? What was it about Stacey that led my daughter to attribute femaleness to her in spite of her obviously male attire? What was it about me during my first weeks of high school that a strange boy should turn to another and ask in genuine confusion, “Is that a boy or a girl?” To which, the second boy simply shrugged.

The answer is likely sex-typed motor behaviors. Children are very aware of opposite sex typed motor behaviors starting at the age of five. That’s also the age which many of the adult sex-typed motor behaviors begin to develop. This process continues into adolescence in a progression from sitting styles, to walking, to standing, to book carry. The female sex-typed book carry style, in which one uses the crook of one’s arm and hip to support the weight is the last to develop.

Both children and adults can imitate some of the opposite sex type motor behaviors, but interestingly, not all. This is of extreme importance to passing, or rather the phenomena of being read or clocked as transsexual. It is widely understood that before transition, MTF “older transitioners” do not perform very many of the female sex typed behaviors naturally. But during the transition process, quickly learn to self-monitor and perform them. However, given that they can’t be continuously monitoring their behavior 24/7, they are likely to relax when they feel in safer environments. But even when fully self-monitoring, as I feel certain my lunch guest was that day, she can’t perform those female sex typed behaviors which most adult males can’t perform. Some of these sex typed motor behaviors are so visible that I personally have been able to accurately clock an AGP from the back, at up to 150 yards away!

On the other hand, transkids perform many of these female typed motor behaviors naturally. As children, before transition, they may try to monitor and suppress these very behaviors that the AGP transsexuals later have to learn to perform. Like the AGP, but in the reversed gendered sense, there are certain behaviors that they can’t control, can’t keep from performing, likely due to their feminized cerebellum. Thus, in high risk situations, such as in front of potentially aggressive boys at school, they may be taken for homosexual or even for girls. This can have negative consequences, even if overt violence is avoided. Gender atypical behavior causes most people to feel uncomfortable. This can lead to ostracism or lack of social cooperation. Thus, transkids suffer from lower grades, fewer social and job opportunities, and lower social status. After transition, these very same behaviors no longer need be monitored, so for transkids, transition is both easier and actually increases their opportunties and status.

But, for the poor AGP transsexual woman, transition often reverses her social status and opportunities, often in subtle ways that she can’t quite pin-point the cause. As one such transsexual put it to me years ago, “… before it was all smiles, now its all frowns (from strangers)”.  The problem is… even smiling is different in men and women.

Epilogue:  A year or so after the events I described above, my lovely daughter was rummaging in my things when she chanced across some photographs of me as a child, “Mommie, why are you dressed like a boy in these pictures?”


{A quick note: Yes, I’m aware that two of these authors are very trans-un-friendly. I just hold my nose when reading them.}

David H. Barlow, Joyce R. Mills, W. Stewart Agras and Debra L. Steinman, “Comparison of sex-typed motor behavior in male-to-female transsexuals and women”

Steven C. Hayes; Rosemary O. Nelson; David L. Steele; Marie E. Meeler; David H. Barlow, “The Development of the Display and Knowledge of Sex Related Motor Behavior in Children”

Steven C. Hayes, Rosemery O. Nelson, David L. Steele, Marie E. Meeler and David H. Barlow, “Instructional control of sex-related motor behavior in extremely masculine or feminine adults”

George A. Rekers, Shasta Mead Morey, “Sex-Typed Body Movements as a Function of Severity of Gender Disturbance in Boys”

Steven C. Hayes and Susan R. Leonard, “Sex-related motor behavior: Effects on social impressions and social cooperation”

Rita Rachkowski and Kevin E. O’Grady, “Client gender and sex-typed nonverbal behavior: Impact on impression formation”

Ugail, H. et al. “Is gender encoded in the smile? A computational framework for the analysis of the smile driven dynamic face for gender recognition”


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