The opinions expressed in the following piece are solely those of the author.
By Tony Candela
What do Brittney Griner, Amy Schneider, Caitlyn Jenner, and a plethora of others have in common? It is their male voices. Only Jeopardy super-champion Amy and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce, the decathlon Olympian) have had sex reassignment surgery. Brittney is apparently female, except for the sound of her voice and according to some, her male body build (extra-wide shoulders and Adam’s Apple) and unusually superior physical strength). I have no knowledge of the medical assessment of her maleness or femaleness, and I never wondered about her athletic prowess except to admire it, but once I heard her voice, everything for me was thrown in doubt. Mind you, I am glad she was freed by the Russians and I am sad she and so many other women athletes are so under-paid that they need to moonlight by playing internationally during the off-season, but I can’t help wonder if Brittney isn’t either inter-sexual or transexual and how she has been permitted all these years to play for college, Olympic and WMBA women’s teams. Putting that aside, women with male voices appear to be quite common. In my experience as someone who uses the sound of voices to make gender determinations, a male voice emanating from a woman is quite discomfiting, not only because of the misdirection, but because of something more visceral: it is just a bit too unnatural for my comfort. I’ve also been embarrassed saying “Thank you, sir” only to be corrected (“I’m a woman.”). Things like that happen to blind people often enough that we get over it quickly, so embarrassment is not the driving force of my attitude; social integration is.
Revisiting an old theme of mine (marginalization), persons with disabilities and those who differ in other ways from the norm will always engender fear and even visceral rejection from those around them. Things take getting used to. Education helps. That is why I wrote my memoir and sci-fi novella (see below). However, I also advocate that those who are different do as much as they can to fit in to their environments. I believe we should do our part to reduce social discomfort, knowing we will only be partially successful. Thus, I advocate for improved methods of voice feminization.
Generally, voice feminization is a complex process of surgeries, vocal therapy, and training on ways of self-presentation. Men who want to be women must not only have the right equipment and look the part, they must sound like what they look like and use more feminine inflections, according to various web sites I consulted. Voice masculinization appears to occur naturally after sex reassignment as increased testosterone tends to change the vocal cords enough to soften the voice. If not, surgery designed to relax the vocal cords can be done. The opposite (reduced testosterone and increased female hormones) is insufficient to make a male voice sound female. Hence, the need for surgery that tightens the vocal cords.
I have been convinced for quite some time, long before I heard Brittney Griner’s voice, that modern medical and therapeutic techniques appear woefully inadequate to help men who become women to soften their voices. Hearing male voices coming out of women is so disconcerting, it engenders in me two seemingly opposite reactions: anger at them for not sounding like the women they have worked so hard to become and desire to advocate for what I think will help them better fit into society.
Admittedly, people have the right to be exactly who they are without attempts at accommodation to social norms that tend to exclude them anyway. Certainly, this is Brittney Griner’s attitude. She has spoken publicly to this effect, making me think: What if the women whose voices remain man-like are comfortable that way? They might not wish to risk surgery. They may have decided that this remnant of their previously uncomfortable male existence is not so incongruent with their new body that they can live with it. While we can change physically, the mental aspects are more complex and without lots more input from transgender people themselves, we will never understand that complexity. In the meantime, I hope voice feminization techniques improve and increase in use. Anything that reduces marginalization will put a curb on the stigma many transgender people and those like Brittney Griner endure.
Anthony R. Candela, Author
Saying aloud what should not remain silent.
Books by Tony…
Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy
A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports
Vision Dreams: A Parable
A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.
More About Tony…
Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.