You sound like a man…

Should I laugh? Or should I cry at this latest bit of utterly egregious insensitivity?

OK. I admit it. I sound like a bloke. That is one of the last and hardest of things to change. Unfortunately for those of us making the MtF (Male to Female) trek, whilst hormones and surgery can and do achieve many things, voice isn’t one of them.

I say unfortunate, because for those crossing the other way, hormones DO have an effect, bringing about noticeable deepening of the voice within a reasonably short time frame. I, on the other hand, have just two options: a surgical tightening of the vocal chords; or speech therapy.

I’ll be opting for the latter, thank you, since the surgical technique is one of the least certain of the techniques going in this field. It could work: or I could end up sounding like Micky Mouse. Or maybe Minnie. Perhaps not.

This vocal blokishness is therefore something of a bane for a girl who does much of her work on the phone. Still, I get by and although I can hear the disbelief on the other side, most never do more than descend into raised eyebrow territory.

Maybe I’m not as bad as I think: maybe I am. Certainly, the times I seem to pass least well nowadays are when there are only voice cues for others to pick up on. Last week, f’rinstance, it happened when I was in the dark, in the back seat of a car – and then with people who had known me for years by my old name and only an hour or so by my new. I certainly don’t hold it against them: they were trying very hard; and with only voice to guide, they reacted instinctively.

For the most part, people manage to check me out subtly. There is the exchange that goes: “Jane”. “James?” “No, Jane.” “James??”. I find that seriously boring and unimaginative.

Most folks nowadays settle for “how are you spelling that?” which is clever: acknowledges there MAY be a problem without saying there is. Best of all are the ones who go “is there a y in that?”, allowing me to wonder if they are genuinely trying to decide whether I’m just plain Jane – or a slightly more upmarket “Jayne”.

Worst, to date, was a legal practice, where one secretary was clearly giggling as she spoke with me. Hmmm.

Worst til today, that is. “Hello, my name is Jane Fae”.

“Jane? But you sound like a man”.

Pardon! In what universe is that the best workaround to any possible doubt as to my gender? If I am a cis woman, how am I going to react? If I am a trans woman, isn’t that just a tad insensitive? And if I am some sort of joker….Nah!

Oh, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall if ever that person met Sacha Baron Cohen: “But you don’t LOOK black…”?

The strange thing is, this was another legal practice – Bevan Brittan – which offers amongst other things, advice on discrimination and diversity in the employment field.

The individual coming out with this bizarre comment claims to be a mediator with “a particular interest in analysing how disputes arise in order to solve them”. er, yes. Because I was phoning on behalf of a friend, I bit my lip and said nothing.

However, I think I can suggest at least one way in which disputes arise – and that is through just this sort of indelicacy.

I can’t be arsed to take this further, though actually…it was quite hurtful.

Still, somebody, somewhere in that practice needs to sort out their diversity training.



3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Liz Church said,

    I remember a chap who seemed to be programmed to say “sir” in response to a masculine-sounding voice. Even when he’d got his head ’round my gender and was saying “madam”, he couldn’t help punctuating the conversation with “sir”. I was upset and angry to start with, but his discomfort and the bizarre dialogue had me in stitches by the time I put the phone down.

  2. 2

    Changing speech takes time, but anyone can do it with practice. I remember those days of getting called ‘Sir’. The telephone was the final frontier, and believe me the day you finally pass on the phone is a good day. I would say steer clear of vocal chord surgery – I’ve heard too many stories of people disappointed with the results. Also pitch is only a small part of what makes a voice sound male or female – remember that some women are quite deep (like Honor Blackman) but you would not mistake them for male.

    Mannerisms and a whole host of other things all go to make a voice sound ‘male’ or ‘female’. The best thing to modify one’s voice is practice all that you can. Once upon a time I had a voice that sounded like a bored Noël Gallagher who had been chain smoking since he was 12. It took around eight months of work, but speech therapy worked. Keep on practicing, and don’t let the idiots get to you.

    With regard to people sniggering, I always found confronting such people worked well. They don’t expect you to pull them up, and a request to see their manager or supervisor usually illicits an improvement in the way they are treating you.

  3. 3

    Jennie Kermode said,

    A deep voice is less of a problem for older trans women. Many cis women find that their voices deepen considerably with the effects of natural post-menopausal testosterone (or, more accurately, its different metabolisation), so it’s no all that uncommon for older cis women to be mistaken for men on the telephone. It also happens to women who are heavy smokers or have lung problems like bronchitis (or just a heavy cold). If you’re feeling self-conscious on the phone, muffle your consonants and they’ll probably just assume you’re ill.

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