Voice masculinization is one of the most important components to individuals who are going through ftm transition. The voice is a powerful signifier of gender, and successful transformation can be the key to affirming gender identity. For some trans men, voice masculinization will involve testosterone hormone therapy. Testosterone will produce a physical change in the vocal folds, causing the voice to deepen. The results of hormone therapy are different in every person, and not all individuals will experience a complete deepening of the voice. However, with or without hormone therapy, complete vocal masculinization is possible. Read on to hear more about the effects of testosterone, as well as non-medical methods for achieving vocal masculinization.
So, when does your voice change on testosterone?
Research in the field of transgender healthcare is vastly limited compared to other fields. However, we can look at a study published in 2021 to get an idea of testosterone’s timeline. This study, done at a single university-based transgender clinic in Thailand, surveyed 39 trans men over the course of 2 years. They found that 72% of participants experienced some deepening of the voice in 6 months, with 97% experiencing this at 12 months, and 100% at 24 months. However, it’s important to remember that not all trans men will experience a complete deepening of the voice. One scientific report from 2021 found that 17% of its participants felt “neutral” or “extremely dissatisfied” with their voices after hormone therapy, likely due to incomplete vocal masculinization. In addition, previous studies have logged a 12-16% dissatisfaction rate, with 25% of trans men reporting that they were still perceived as female over the phone., Furthermore, 31% of the participants expressed a desire to further their vocal masculinization with voice training.
That leads us to our next segment. What do you do if you experience incomplete vocal masculinization? Or, what if you want to transform your voice, but you’re not interested in taking testosterone? That’s where the power of voice training comes into play.
Voice training for ftm people
As we’ve discovered from our discussion above, many trans men will seek to complete their vocal masculinization with voice training. Voice training is a powerful method that allows individuals to learn and sustain a new way of speaking and singing. While many trans men will combine hormone therapy with voice training to achieve their goals, some may choose to forgo hormones and pursue vocal masculinization through voice training alone. So, how does it work?
The foundation of ftm voice training centers on the idea of expansion. Inside your head and neck, there are three chambers where your voice will resonate (vibrate). These chambers have the ability to change in size depending on how we use them, and their size will determine how the voice sounds. R1 is the chamber located inside your neck, and it is often called the primary gender control knob of the voice, because its position will have the greatest impact on whether a voice is perceived as masculine or feminine. The size of R1 is controlled by the position of the larynx, a cartilage box that contains your vocal folds (sometimes called the voice box). The larynx has the ability to move as we speak and sing. If you place your hand gently around your throat and swallow you will feel the larynx move.
For trans voice training, the position of the larynx is extremely important. When the throat (R1) is expanded, the larynx will drop into a low position. Causing the voice to sound richer, lower, and more masculine. By contrast, when the throat is constricted, the larynx will move into a high position, causing the voice to sound brighter, higher, and more feminine. Learning to achieve and sustain a low larynx is foundational to masculinization, and it has been suggested that this vital component cannot be fully achieved by testosterone therapy alone.
Additional masculine vocal traits
While the core of ftm voice training will focus on the use of the resonance chambers, there are some additional layers to the masculine voice that help complete the picture. Vocal fry is a subtle raspy quality that is often associated with the male voice. You may have experienced it early in the morning, or perhaps when your getting over a cold and you notice that your voice sounds more rough and rugged than usual. When used correctly, vocal fry adds a warm, rich quality to the speaking voice. A great example of heavy vocal fry is the voice of Vin Diesel, while a more subtle use of fry can be heard in the speaking voice of Bruno Mars. The amount of fry used will be different for each individual. Some female voices will already incorporate fry (Scarlet Johansson, and Sophia Bush are great examples), so adding a heavier vocal fry to increase masculinization may feel natural and authentic. By contrast, if you’re starting with a voice that has no vocal fry in it, it may feel better to add only subtle amounts. It’s important to exercise caution when doing this, because forcing too much vocal fry into the voice may cause fatigue or hoarseness.
Another hallmark of the male voice is a monotone speaking quality. Monotone means that the voice will have very little movement in pitch. In contrast to female voices, which tend to incorporate a wide range of pitch change, male voices tend to remain anchored to a consistent low tone. Early on in the process of voice training, individuals may find that they can achieve their desired tone, but they can’t sustain it. This is very common. With careful practice, you can learn to stay consistently in your desired tone, as well as learning to keep reactionary sounds (coughing, sneezing, yelling), all within the masculine range.