For over 25 years, Sue Addlestone has helped people of all backgrounds gain confidence in the way they sound. Our voices are as important for first impressions as the way we look and move, so Sue?s work is of real value to transgendered people.
As a graduate of the University of Manchester in Speech Pathology and Therapy and Head of the Voice department in the NHS, Sue is fully committed to assisting transgendered people. She has prepared those in pre and post-transition for a life in all settings; be that in work or with family and friends. This has provided Sue with an impressive catalogue of specialist knowledge.
Here, Sue speaks openly about the science, the pitfalls of a ?DIY approach? and that practice remains the route to perfection:
Is it really possible to sound like a woman if you are a male speaker?
I am pleased to say is that with the correct instruction, a good female-sounding voice can be achieved. This is in spite of the differences between male and female anatomy, which it does take work to overcome.
What are the differences between female and male voices?
We all work essentially in the same way, with air passing through our vocal cords, so that gives us confidence from the start. However, the main difference in the way men and women sound is purely down to anatomy – male vocal cords are longer and thicker than those of a female. From a scientific point of view, longer male cords vibrate at 125Hz and female at 210Hz – children?s voices average over 300Hz! Perhaps it is easier to imagine the vocal cords as guitar strings:? the length and thickness of the string determines the quality of the note and the speed at which the string vibrates.
It?s like comparing a double bass to a ukulele then! So, are we stuck with what we?re born with?
Well, pitch is only part of the story, so there?s more to be hopeful for. Other vocal features carry vital information for listeners. Like if someone you know phones you and says: ?hello?, most often you immediately identify who it is that is calling just from that one word, both from pitch and pronunciation. Pronunciation habits might give someone a very flat-sounding hello, while others may have a more sing-song quality to their voice.? It is all these features combined which assists that judgement, so we work on all of these features with male-to-female speakers.
It?s not always easy for transgender people to look for outside help. Can?t all of this be done with home exercises and self-teaching?
It?s a sensitive process and definitely not a case of a one-size-fits-all approach. In my experience, the extent to which a male-to-female speaker achieves a naturally sounding female voice is dependent on the help available. In clinics, I regularly meet speakers who have spent many hours surfing the internet in an attempt to change their voice, which leads to variable rates of success. There?s too much conflicting advice online, and often without experienced clinical foundation.? A good therapist will be able to tease out which features each individual needs to work on and devise a tailor-made programme of graded exercises.
OK, so no short cuts. But, how long until someone can see the light at the end of the tunnel?
People shouldn?t lose faith! A great result is achievable, and they?ll be so proud when they reach their goal. You wouldn?t expect to play the piano in front of a live audience in the Albert Hall after having practised a couple of times on your own at home ? and it?s the same principle with voice training. The best voices I hear in my clinics have been achieved by patients who dedicate a small amount of time each day to practice. It?s all about quality not quantity.?? How long it takes is dependent on both the therapist and the individual ? it?s a collaborative process.
So, we just practice, practice, practice?
Yes, but confidence comes as a package. If you look good and feel confident then you?re more likely to have a good voice which matches your image.? Anxiety can make your voice flat and lose your female rhythm. The most successful transitions happen when people are supported holistically.? It is best when the voice expert?s input takes place alongside medical, psychological and style expertise as well.
Sue is part of a team of experts that form the UK?s first Transgender confidence consultancy, Born. A nationwide agency with bases in Birmingham and Manchester, Born is the first ?trans for trans? agency of its kind and seeks to provide transgender people with skills in style, make-up and more to help them to reveal the person that they really are. For more information visit www.born.uk.com