Unexpectedly, Grace

Amp has very kindly granted me permission to guest-blog at Alas!.  This is daunting:  the signal-to-noise ratio here is astonishingly high, even though the topics are often fraught.  I asked Amp delicately for guidance.  He cheerfully told me to write what I wanted.

So I will.  I will also appreciate suggestions.

The Internet being what it is, I will lead with a few things which are less important in a broader context, but critical in this one:

I am a trans woman, I earn much of the money my family lives on, and I am not out to the public.  I work in a setting which tends to run politically conservative:  law enforcement.  Although I’ve been doing it for many years, with reasonable success, where I live, employment protections for trans people are scant.  Therefore, although I will mention things about myself as they become relevant, I will often be chary with specifics which might endanger my family’s income.

This wariness is not completely new to me; I’m introverted by nature, and any sensible cop knows that she can be targeted for doing her duty.  But once I realized that I was trans and started working my way through transition, I found myself in the closet, and I have become accustomed to being unpleasantly shocked by how comprehensively that affects what I do, and what I say.

For instance, awhile back a newspaper in my region ran an excellent series on trans people.  I wanted to respond to something toward the end of the series.  But, the paper’s response mechanism demanded address and phone number, and my comment was going to speak from my lived experience as a trans woman.  So I wrote, via e-mail, to someone at the paper and said, in summary, “This is what I would say, but I will not endanger my family to say it.”  He wrote back to say that the paper’s policy was to require some way to verify identity, and he gave good reasons for why they would want to.  I understood them; in my professional life, people lie to me a lot, and anonymous communications are problematical at best.  However, I had set my limit for sound reasons, which were important to me, and I chose to abide by it.

So I didn’t comment.  Without taking a risk I was not willing to take, I could not comment.  To be denied a voice, even for well-intended policy reasons, was a lesson in the fragility of free speech and also in the effect a well-intended policy can have on a vulnerable minority.

I understood a little better what it was like to be, for instance, homosexual in the 1970’s, to see danger on every side, to subject myself and my family to risks in order to do things which most people could do on a whim.

It has been an unpleasant and sobering experience.  Very educational.

There is a long list of things I have to be careful about.  Here’s a simple one:  my voice.  Every trans woman who wants to be gendered correctly has to work on her voice.  There is no good surgery to raise pitch, and it’s not all about pitch anyway; there are different ways to use your voice to communicate nuance, and some are more characteristic of women than of men.  It takes a lot of practice to strengthen some muscles and get used to using them, while at the same time not using adjacent muscles.  I can teach anybody to talk like Mickey Mouse in a few seconds.  It takes many, many hours for a person with vocal chords reconstructed with testosterone to speak like a person with vocal chords which never were.

For me, that means that I use my “female voice” everywhere I can, for practice.  I use it with my family.  I use it in the small circle of friends who know that I’m trans.  I read bedtime stories in it (except for when the male characters are speaking, because what a waste of a silver lining that would be).  Over time, it has become natural to drop into it.

But at work, I have to be very careful not to.  I’ve only slipped once, and fortunately, it was with a well-regarded co-worker.  He just gave me a quizzical look.

So I have to police my voice very carefully.  When I pull into the lot at work, I often talk to myself a bit in my male voice, so that I get back into that mode.

At work, if I’m telling a story and quoting a woman, I am careful to make the “female” voice unconvincing.  It would not do to be too expert with it.  (In extended conversations, “too expert” is too much to hope for just yet, but with initial utterances I’m doing pretty well.)

The heck of it is that my male voice is a good voice.  It’s resonant and versatile, with good range.  People enjoy it when I sing.  My wife loves my baritone, and one of her greater fears as we were figuring out this transition thing was that a day would come when she would never hear it again.  (I promised her then that in private, between us, she could hear it on request.  She has been careful to make the request only at need.)  My female voice simply doesn’t compare.  I have tried singing with it, and I can get away with it on some songs.  No doubt it will get better with careful practice, but there will always be limits on it which I can blow through effortlessly simply by singing through my chest.

One way I de-stress is by singing and accompanying myself on guitar.  I have a stressful job, with lots of overtime, nights, evenings, holidays, weekends, and call-ins.  Once I hit a certain threshold, stress starts to affect my interactions with my family.  So stress-management is not a triviality.  My inability, so far, to find a good female singing voice was making it stressful to pick up my guitar, which did no one any good.  For awhile, I glumly faced the possibility that I would have to give up singing.  I cast about for other instruments, portable and versatile enough to try to substitute.  Harmonica?  Limited, and … wet.  Renaissance flute?  Fiddle?  Concertina?

I was noodling around one night on my guitar, thinking about how much my wife loves my singing, and I thought, “Fuck it.  In my own damned home, with my own accepting and loving family, I’m going to use this gift for our own damned enjoyment.”  And I sang out again, in my baritone.

I’m a woman with a baritone on tap.  I don’t always use it, but it’s there, and I enjoy it.  I have a right to it; I traded in a killer soprano for it, even if I really wish I could have that soprano back.  There are things I will do to be considered female, and there are things I won’t.  I won’t give up my voice forever.

For now, I use my voice within bounds described by the safety of my circumstances.  But I’m not going to stay within these bounds forever.  I used to live outside of them, and I will again.  I’m not planning to move, and I won’t hide my old name when I change legally to “Grace”.  I’m going to transition in place, and if possible, keep my job.  There will be no hiding that I am trans from people who know me, and from all the people those people will delight in telling.  It would probably kill something in me to try.

I chose not to participate in the discussion at that newspaper.  Fortunately, we have the Internet, and relative anonymity makes it possible for me to express myself here.  The Internet has enabled me to dole out the trans bigotry to myself in measured doses, to strengthen my system, build up some calluses, and work on my chops.  One of the best little pockets on the Internet is here at Alas!, and I’m privileged to be able to speak here.

Thanks, Amp.  Thanks, Mandolin.


[edited for clarity]

This entry posted in About the Bloggers, Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Gender and the Body, Gender and the Economy, Transsexual and Transgender related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

25 Responses to Unexpectedly, Grace

  1. 1
    Merlyn says:

    As it has been pointed out, the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. What is not pointed out nearly as often, is it isn’t just for the “major” rights, but for the little rights that most people never need to consider- raising your children without being at risk for them being taken away based on who you are, not what you do, walking down the street hand in hand with your partner without needing to check for danger and in fact in (nearly) every social interaction that it is who you are and not what others think you are that defines the interactions.
    I am so glad to have found your voice here, and your willingness to share it. Silence has it’s place, but does little to help understanding, and much in cloaking the work still left to do.

  2. 2
    Simple Truth says:

    Thanks for posting, and I look forward to hearing more from you! I enjoyed reading about your struggles with your voice. It hits home to me; I have the opposite problem most times. I hope you do enjoy your voice, and keep practicing so you can have the best of both worlds.

  3. Welcome, Grace. I look forward to reading and learning.

  4. 4
    MisterMephisto says:

    Welcome, Grace! Let your voice ring out strong and clear here!

  5. 5
    Tom says:

    This is really beautiful writing. I’m sitting at work, eating lunch, and reading the part about your singing voice was so moving that I teared up. I’m glad you are writing here and sharing your part of the human condition with us. I really, really hope that someday you won’t need to deal with the nonsense that you face just to live you life.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Hey, I’m starting a trip today (going to California for Comic-Con), but I wanted to say welcome as well. I really hope you enjoy posting here — I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading your posts.

  7. 7
    Robert says:

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate your bravery in sharing your stories and your life. A lot of people, I think, are like me when it comes to trans issues: pretty ignorant, particularly when it comes to just things like ordinary daily life. (I had never even thought about voice, for example.) So whatever you choose to share will find an interested and accepting audience.

  8. 8
    David says:


    I work with an out transgendered police officer here in Houston. Her courage is amazing.

  9. 9
    nm says:

    Oh, I hope you can find a way to openly be a woman with a lovely baritone singing voice. That’s a wonderful image of your situation, for all the goods and bads of it.

  10. 10
    Nymeria says:

    I’ve been trying to work on my voice for what’s seemed like years now. Still no luck. Your article is really great, and I hope things continue to improve.

    I’m looking forward to whatever you write in the future.

  11. 11
    chingona says:

    This piece was very evocative. I’m looking forward to reading more and learning more.

  12. 12
    Jake Squid says:

    It’s nice to have you here. I look forward to your future posts.

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    Fuck ’em. Just tell them you’re a female tenor. There’s actually plenty of them, I’ve sung with a few.

  14. 14
    RonF says:

    Not to trivialize your other issues, mind you. But I do love to sing too, so that’s the only thing I feel competent to comment on.

  15. 15
    Mandolin says:

    Thank you for sharing and it’s great to be able to hear you speak in this space.

  16. 16
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I mentioned this to a friend who’s seriously into music, and he said that cis women who sing baritone aren’t all that rare. And that when one who’s open about being a baritone shows up a choirs, a number of women who’d been claiming to be tenors will come out as baritones.

  17. 17
    NancyP says:

    This cis-gender female tenor would like to introduce you to the GALA Choruses movement. This “Gay and Lesbian” -titled organization of amateur choruses also has at least one all-transgender chorus, and trans people sing in many single-gender and mixed-gender choruses belonging to GALA. My town’s women’s chorus has a transwoman member, and she was made welcome. She also was facing the problem of developing a female singing voice, and stayed in Alto II section with the rest of the female tenors. The typical audience of the GALA chorus performances consists of LGBT people and their allies. Many members are closeted at work. Some cis-gender straight allies also become members, often following an LGBT friend or family member’s suggestion. Our chorus had a straight mother and her lesbian daughter as members.

    One possibility for explaining a slip at work could be an interest in vocal acting, and voice study with exercises. You might have to actually HAVE that interest to be plausible – have a regional accent or two under your belt, and have a confident male voice.

    To acknowledge the main topic of your post, yes, being closeted means not being able to state your personal experience or even express your views in public fora that don’t allow anonymous comment. Sucks. I work for an organization that puts penalties on widely broadcasted public expression of certain opinions (aka being a scandal to the Faith).

    Even heterosexual topics can be socially taboo for first person speech – “I had an abortion, and I am glad that I was able to make this choice because (insert life experience here)” or “I am an atheist / I don’t belong to and don’t want to belong to a church” (in many social settings this can be a significant disadvantage), etc. (I don’t mean to compare the importance of individual examples of socially motivated self-censorship, just to point out that self-censorship is widespread.

  18. 18
    Emberly says:

    This is a beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing. Your voice in writing is absolutely lovely.

    Your story reminds me of a trans woman in my church’s choir who graces us weekly by singing proudly in a beautiful baritone. Her voice is amazing and her solos are inspiring!

    I look forward to hearing more from you here!!!

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  20. 19
    Grace Annam says:

    Thank you very much, all, for the warm welcome and general thumbs-up! Thanks also for the well-wishes and hopes for an easier future.

    I meant to reply earlier, but life intervened, and that gave me a chance to do something which Alas! bloggers tend to do, and which I think helps facilitate discourse: the original poster tends to hold her comments until people have had a chance to comment. I might have overdone it slightly, but that’s life with mandatory overtime for you.

    Nymeria, you didn’t say it explicitly, but I infer from your comment that you are also a trans woman working on her voice. It’s really difficult, especially when our goal is 99.99% perfection in all circumstances. For us, a 90% success rate means that one in ten people misgenders us (and the percentage rises for longer exposures, absent other factors). If you like, contact me via e-mail. I’ve collected a bunch of resources and links, and it’s possible that there’s something in there which might help.

    Robert made a good point:

    A lot of people, I think, are like me when it comes to trans issues: pretty ignorant, particularly when it comes to just things like ordinary daily life. (I had never even thought about voice, for example.)

    It’s easy for me to lose sight of how foreign my own life experience is to people; after all, I’m immersed in it. And, because I am transitioning very slowly and carefully, I’ve had a lot of time to research and think… and lose sight of the forest while I’m examining the moss on the trees. So, Robert, your comment is a useful reminder that sometimes the best advocacy which a poorly-understood minority can attempt is testimonial.

    David wrote:

    I work with an out transgendered police officer here in Houston.

    Yes, Julia is quite an education, and my hat is off to her for the trailblazing she has done. I know her slightly from e-mail exchanges. We met through TCOPS, a professional association of trans police officers and support personnel:


    Thanks to NancyP and Emberly, who offered their own experiences with out trans women who sing baritone and are accepted. That is surely nice to hear, and gives me hope.

    RonF wrote:

    Fuck ‘em.

    Sometimes that sentiment is what gets me through the day!

    Oh, wait, there’s more:

    Just tell them you’re a female tenor.

    Thanks for that, and I was going to reply to this a bit more, but it started turning into something possibly deserving an essay of its own, so I’m working on that.

    Likewise, NancyP, for your point about the broader context for self-censorship. Thanks for the topic suggestions!


  21. 20
    Nymeria says:

    @Grace I am, haha. I’ve tried random videos and articles and the like, but the email thing would be great. (I’m not sure how to contact you by email though. I don’t see it listed on the site.)

  22. 21
    Mandolin says:

    Nymeria–If you email Amp, he can definitely get it to the right place. Or if you’ve entered an accurate email address into our site (one of the not published ones) then Grace can grab that by looking at the site’s back end.

  23. 22
    Grace Annam says:

    Thanks, Mandolin. I’ve e-mailed her and we’re in touch.


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