(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – The transgender population is a marginalized community who may experience negative social interactions stemming from their outward presentation, which can lead to verbal and physical abuse, as well as an increase in suicide rates. Supporting patients with quality gender-affirming care through their transition journey can be critical to improving patients’ overall quality of life. This not only includes physical attributes, but also how they sound. That’s why otolaryngologists and voice therapists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center partnered to offer voice care as part of their comprehensive gender-affirming care program to help those who are transitioning find their voice.
“There is a lot more to voice presentation than pitch, and a lot of the things people do with their voice are learned over their lifetime,” said Anna Lichtenstein, a voice therapist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center specializing in gender-affirming voice modification therapy. “In voice therapy, I work with transgender patients to achieve these nuanced characteristics by working on things like resonance, inflection, airflow, breathing and intonation.”
In rare cases, voice therapy is paired with surgery to permanently change the pitch and frequency of the voice. Oftentimes, this includes shortening the vocal cords and changing their shape to increase pitch. Surgery to raise pitch is more common because, while hormone therapy can help lower the voice for transgender men, this type of therapy does not change the voices of transgender women.
“Surgery is only right in a subset of patients,” said Dr. Laura Matrka, a clinical associate professor of otolaryngology at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “It can reduce the strain and the fatigue it takes to maintain a pitch and, maybe most importantly, it eliminates accidental bass notes.”
Experts say this professional care is important to changing the voice safely and sustainably, and while there are many online resources that offer advice and exercises to alter the voice, they can put too much strain on the vocal cords if done incorrectly or too quickly. This comprehensive voice care has been very successful in helping transgender patients achieve the voice quality that best represents their gender identity.
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