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Health, Science & Environment

Gender-affirming vocal therapy helps transgender patients find true voice

OSU gender affirming voice therapy 2.jpg
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Anna Lichtenstein, a voice therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, works with Ari Toumpas on her voice resonance and intonation. Toumpas is a transgender woman and voice care to help her sound more like herself has been an important part of her transition.

Many people dislike or even hate the sound of their voice, but for some in the transgender population, the voice they hear can sound mismatched with their authentic self—and can even leave those individuals open to verbal and physical abuse.

An increasing number of health care providers are offering therapies to help trans patients find their true voice.

Ohio State grad student and trans woman Ari Toumpas began gender-affirming voice therapy last summer at OSU's Wexner Medical Center.

One of the biggest reasons Toumpas sought to change her voice was her own personal safety.

“Like, if I'm at a traffic stop and I don't know who this cop is, is this cop going to harass me if he realizes I'm a trans woman?" Toumpas said. "Or even just in my day-to-day of like, getting my coffee at Starbucks, is this barista going to be a jerk because they perceive me to be a trans woman?"

For 10 weeks, Toumpas worked with Ohio State voice therapist and speech language pathologist Anna Lichtenstein.

“These patients don't just not care for their voice, they don't identify with the voice that they hear they feel like it's not their true authentic self," Lichtenstein said.

The exercises Lichtenstein provides help modify different parameters of the voice, such as airflow, resonance, pitch, range and inflection patterns.

In rare cases, voice therapy is paired with surgery to permanently change the pitch and frequency of the voice.

Toumpas was able to achieve her ideal voice without surgery. Today, her new voice is second nature.

"I kind of can't even like go back to my old voice," she said. "In a lot of ways when I when I try I just end up sounding like a robot or mocking someone or doing a bit."

While Toumpas finds freedom in her feminine voice, she said trans individuals shouldn't have to go through the process if they don't want to.

“I have tons of like trans fem friends who don't care to modulate their voice. They're just like, 'Yeah, I sound like this,'" Toumpas said. "And I love them for that.”

Given that transgender individuals frequently face social stigmatization and often struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, Lichtenstein said this these therapies can save lives.

“These patients are people, and they are very valuable to society. And they deserve care, just like everybody else does," she said.

Health, Science & Environment TransgenderVocal Therapy
Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.