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MATTHEW KONG meets speech and language therapist Christella Antoni

IT is a staple skit in comedies where a transgender woman would appear to be the perfect woman, only to surprise everyone with a deep, brooding voice. Though a very funny scene in television and film, in reality, the situation can be quite different. If your voice does not sound or conform to the idea of your gender or appearance, it can lead to prejudice and discrimination. In the worst case scenario, not having a “correct” voice can lead to violence.

The voice can be trained but it is a long process and needs professional coaching. Not just to provide the insight to go about it but to prevent any lasting damage to your voice.

For someone undergoing gender reassignment, it is an area that affects their ability to smoothly transition. Though the exterior reflects their gender, the wrong voice can expose a transgender person to prejudice or violence.

A speech and language therapist who has worked with patients undergoing gender reassignment to modify their voices to suit their gender has developed an app to support their clients with vocal exercises between their next appointment.

christella antoniThe Christella VoiceUp App provides a structure of vocal exercises as well as accurate recordings so you are able to monitor and hear the progress you’ve made.

Christella Antoni, left, began working in this field where services and public understanding of the transgender community was limited. While both areas have grown in recent years, so has the number of people who have come forward. Christella hopes her app can relieve the stress on services and support clients with their voice modification. Talking to Christella about her work, I learned that she entered this field by taking up the torch of another therapist who worked with the transgender community for many years and was looking for someone carry on her work.

“I knew it’d be a difficult job but I did it. I just took on the challenge and from that one day job it grew to four days a week for the NHS. And then I reduced the sessions so I could train somebody else,” Christella said.

“Listeners tend to make judgements about voices, you know? Because, society is still quite binary, we tend to think in terms of male or female. On the whole, that’s what people still do.”
In recent years, she has seen both the NHS and private sector services improve the support for the transgender community. Not only has the services have changed but also the approach.

“When I started doing this around the late 1990s, there was really not much at all. So people had to go usually to just one clinic in the whole of the UK, travel long distances, the care was just so patchy, but now it’s just growing,” She says, reminiscing how different the care was when she first began. “I’ve had so many stories like this, where people went to their GP but the GP was clueless and just said: “Why don’t you go away and have a think about it.” And then the person lost all courage to go back,”

“So you can imagine, you’ve bottled this up your whole life and finally get to a specialist clinic and you get maybe a psychiatrist who’s a bit difficult, saying you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that.”

Since she began working with the transgender community, Christella found herself spending her time working with clients and training other voice therapists.

Despite her work bringing a new generation of voice therapists and growth in services, she still found herself seeing client’s just once a month with many travelling great distances for an appointment. This led Christella to look for an alternative solution to this issue and found developing an app was the way to go.

“It’s very much based on the method that I’ve used all these years which is to bring the voice forward into the face. Like the resonance, what they call the resonance. So you can have the chest resonance or face resonance. And then using a slightly raised pitch, lengthening, using the intonation differently,”

“We’ve got really good feedback from other therapists,” Christella said, surprised by how far her app has helped other therapists in her field.

“Even as far as Holland and other places where they said it just really helped. Even the therapists themselves follow it, they’ll get an understanding of the techniques involved.”

This is the app is not a replacement for a qualified therapist and those undergoing gender reassignment should use the services of a professional therapist. Nevertheless, Christella’s VoiceUp is a valuable resource for the transgender community.

• Matthew Kong is a Birmingham-based freelance journalist who has a passion for ice hockey and comedy.

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