Saturday, June 25, 2011

Finding a Voice

Did you ever hear about the Frog who dreamed of being a Princess and then became one?  Okay, maybe not the Princess but her Mom anyway.  The only trouble was, the minute she opened her mouth to sing everyone knew she was a frog, or had been.  The End.

Most of us want to communicate with others. So many of us want to do more than that, to find a voice.  In music and elsewhere, your voice says who you are. Being a Trans woman, I kind of have a problem with that . It requires so much working with.

Playing guitar with the Band (Cattlegrid)
Music making has always motivated me.  At the worst of times as a bullied misfit teen it was a refuge, somewhere to hide, a world where I didn’t have to be one gender or the other, at least alone in my room.  Onstage, in small folk gigs, people listened or sang along to the music, they didn’t just watch.  Someone once told me that the music is more important than the person who sings it, they are just the instrument.   I felt that maybe I could ‘hide’ in full view of everyone else because in a weird way I was the music.  I occasionally sang my own songs, but far more often was asked to sing other well known material.  I was a teenager, I borrowed other people’s voices or at least their lyrics.  Yes, I tried to make them my own but I had barely enough musical experience to do so.  Musical interpretation requires being sure of your voice.  I was too confused to have one.

What followed was a long period of self doubt, not only about myself and my gender but also about my music.  Growing older brought more self consciousness and the realization that others thought that a boy who tried to sing in a tender way about love and relationships was an anomaly.  I ‘lost’ my voice. I stopped singing, period.

Was that it?  I pretty much thought it was.  I went underground in more ways than I care to think. I tried to hide again, but this time by becoming ‘normal’. I took a regular job, I married.  I had two adorable children, a house, a garden and a dog.  I spent my time building a pretty home and tried to fit in.  For the best part of 20 years I hope that I gave it my best shot.  At least my acting an performance skills came in handy, pretending to be one gender when you actually feel that you belong to another takes a lot of energy.

Who knows what exactly prompts any trans person to come out and confront who they are.  For me it was recurrent depression that was getting so bad it was endangering whatever future I might have.  Coming out as a woman, living full time in my community as a female employee, a Mom, a daughter and a sister allowed me to finally be publicly the person that I had always been inside. What remained unspoken & unsung was a memory of all the experiences of people who tried to cut me down, bully me until I cried, corner me, crush me and hate me as well as those few who either felt the same or gave me a hug.  I felt numb.

When I took to songwriting again, it perhaps wasn’t surprising that my first new song was entitled FEEL.  Writing the lyrics and the melody was an easy task compared with learning to sing it as the woman I now am.  Modifying your speaking voice isn’t too difficult with practice. The harmonics involved in a singing voice however make it much harder, simply altering the pitch of your voice will make little difference

So what do I do?  Do I sing with the voice I have as best I can?  Do I tweak the EQ on the mixing desk to cut the bass? Do I reach for a stomp box that will gently modify the formants in my voice and make them more female? Do I modify my vocal tracks in post production. I’ve used so much other help with my appearance that maybe I should.

There’s no easy answer to this one.  Being relatively small, slim, having my own natural hair and wearing size 6 shoes, I tend to pass fairly easily and speak with a feminine sounding voice.  I very much wanted it that way, it makes my life easier and I love it but this is little more than a genetic lottery.  When I’m singing it’s another story.  We live in a society dominated by celebrities who appear to be perfect, perfect hair, perfect voice, perfect looks. But all of this is an illusion.  I’m a trans songwriter and musician so shouldn’t I be getting up there and being a trans singer, not trying to perpetuate an illusion of sounding like a natal woman?

Being Trans is not a choice, it’s a path that few would care to travel.  Earlier in life it lead me to silence and hiding.  This time around however hatever I do I won’t let it silence my voice :D

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