My life is easier when I fill it with external noise. I listen to a lot of podcasts and radio, and sometimes I even leave some streaming internet TV playing just to have sound in the background. I don’t like being alone in the quiet. It makes me think too hard. And if you’ve ever dealt with gender dysphoria, you’ll know that thinking too hard is generally not your best option for coping.
Due to a recent incident in which I reflexively flushed my phone down a toilet (probably don’t ask), I haven’t been able to listen to quite as many podcasts lately. Instead, I’ve been reframing my technological failures as an opportunity to work at accepting having no external filler noise to listen to.
Mostly, I’ve been doing this by singing.
Singing is an emotional challenge when you’re trans, and it’s even more of one when you detransition. When I was first questioning my gender and seeking relief in trans identity, I felt my dysphoria concentrated most intensely in my voice. I hated how high it was, as compared to how I sounded in my head. I hated that the way I spoke and sang made me sound like–and thus feel like–a young, vulnerable, feminine girl.
I stopped singing Breton folk songs in the shower, or Joni Mitchell via Practical Magic while driving, or Dean Martin, like the Italian-American stereotype I apparently am, while batch-cooking dinner for the week. After a while, I even stopped speaking as much as I could. I didn’t want to deal with hearing my own voice, so I just refused to use it.
Testosterone made it all better, at first. As I heard my voice crack its way down the scale, I felt like I was making forward progress into a warm realm of comforting baritone. But then, I began to try singing again, and the change stopped feeling like progress.
It’s strange. You never notice that you feel a physical location for every note that you sing until suddenly, all those notes have switched places without telling you. When I tried to sing along to Joni Mitchell in the car like I used to, I’d reach for the high runs that used to flow out of me like water, and instead I’d crash face first somewhere half an octave lower. When I tried to sing the labor song “Bread and Roses” (you may know it better from the film Pride) while I was angry about my job, my voice would crack into nothing at one of its proud, sustained notes, and I’d drop the whole song.
I felt lost. I couldn’t recognize the path through music anymore. None of the landmarks were there.
I stopped taking testosterone very slowly. I began alternating weeks because I conveniently “forgot” to do the injection, and the vocal changes began to slow as well. Finally, after a great deal of reading about gender theory and alternate methods for coping with dysphoria, I stopped entirely. But the damage to my voice seemed done. It was lower, so I didn’t have to deal with the same stress I’d previously felt at sounding like a child. But it also didn’t sound like me to me. And worse, I didn’t know how to use it. I didn’t want to use it.
As I detransition, I have to learn to reconcile with womanhood on both the internal and interpersonal levels. It’s weird to notice my voice, which had previously made me so dysphoric because of its highness, give me an entirely different sort of dysphoria at a lower pitch. And it’s really weird to get visually read as an adult woman when you seem to have the voice of a 14 year old boy. Most intensely, it sucks to feel that it’s your fault. That you brought this on yourself.
Consciously singing through my voice’s acquired cracks and failures is helping me to realize that even though that’s true–I did bring it on myself, I chose to do this to my voice–and even though the physical changes of transition have left indelible marks on my body, that’s not where my progress stops.
Change is constant. My body will continue to change until I die. I can hear my voice crack in different places in my favorite songs than it did a month ago. I have no idea where it will end up next month, or at next year, or after a decade off of testosterone. There is no road map for finding all the notes again. I’m learning to navigate my voice intuitively, just as I’m learning to reconnect with the rest of my body.
At this point, that feels like a victory in itself.