Y opted for voice feminisation surgery after speech and language therapy failed to deliver the results she was looking for. The effects have had a profound impact on her. She chatted with us about her experiences.
I’m from the UK but I was brought up in a Ukrainian community with English as my second language. I currently work in academia but, before I transitioned, one of my roles was as a martial arts instructor. During this time, I’d scream myself hoarse as I belted orders at students. I had developed a very deep, dark voice as part of this persona and moving from where I was, to a more authentic version of myself wasn’t easy.
Surgical interventions have been a crucial part of my transition. I had facial feminisation surgery, which was fantastic but it also served to highlight the fact that my voice didn’t match my identity. People would see me and want to engage but I would avoid interacting with them for fear of the way I sounded. Simple things like returning a polite “hello” were often anxiety-inducing for me.
I was, initially, very nervous of the risks associated with vocal surgery and, as a firm believer in the power of speech and language therapy, I decided to focus my energies there, in the first instance.
I worked with some talented voice coaches but, unfortunately for me, the changes I experienced were often so subtle that I would talk myself out of any further voice work. I can now see that my dysphoria was a significant barrier to making progress.
Consequently, my interest in surgery as an option steadily grew. I did a lot of research and had been considering travelling to South Korea for the procedure but I was worried about my aftercare on return to the UK. Upon further investigation, I realised there were competent surgeons already here, performing the same surgery on a regular basis with positive outcomes – it gave me the final push I needed.
My surgeon (Chadwan Al Yaghchi) was extremely diligent. Every time we spoke, he went over the procedure in great detail and discussed patient outcomes and what I could expect. The surgery itself was painless, I only experienced mild discomfort on waking. I underwent glottoplasty without the additional LAVA procedure (Laser Assisted Voice Adjustment), often done in tandem. My surgeon talked me through the various options over two separate consultations. I had also read up on things (there is plenty of academic literature available on the internet now) and I felt having both procedures might give me too much of an increase in pitch or impact my voice quality in a way I might not be comfortable with.
I had some anxiety around coughing post-surgery, but I very quickly learned how to suppress those reflexes. I also did lots of steaming, as per my surgeon’s instructions, which really helped. My partner and I even learned rudimentary British sign language so that we could communicate during the early healing period. This turned out to be a really fun part of the experience, though I can imagine that might not be the case for everyone!
About a month after surgery, I slowly returned to voice therapy and that’s when I started to experience the biggest gains. Compared to before, now even the slightest adjustments to my vocal posture made a big difference. This was incredibly motivating and rekindled my enthusiasm to keep working on my voice. Surgery definitely helped to improve the pitch, timber and resonance of things but therapy really taught me how to use my new instrument in the real world – which is very different to how you use it behind closed doors.
As part of my voice training, I continue to spend a lot of time on Discord servers using the voice chat features to speak with other people online. There are quite a few communities dedicated to voice work and real conversation is hugely beneficial for making noticeable improvements.
Voice feminisation surgery has been one of the most profoundly life-affirming parts of my transition. Very few people like the sound of their own voice but, when you are trans, any incongruence really affects your self-perception. Getting to a place where you actually want to hear it is truly amazing. All of the things I thought were out of reach were suddenly attainable, almost like having a genie grant one of my ultimate wishes, but with the condition that I had to put some work in too!
Perhaps one of the most interesting changes for me is the way in which my new voice has impacted my character. The period of silence required during my initial one month recovery was enlightening. It has made me aware of how much I used to talk over people. It has encouraged me to listen and to be more reflective, which is a far truer representation of who I am.