There are many ways to sound more masculine with or without testosterone, so you don’t have to settle if you feel your voice is insufficient or unsatisfactory in some way. You may be familiar with one or more aspects of a masculine communication style, and even have had experience with it. Below is a brief explanation of different aspects of masculine communication based on norms in an American English context. These are basic features that do not all apply to all men in all contexts, or necessarily to your particular needs or in all situations you find yourself in. When they do apply to you, they may be shaped in various ways to optimize the masculine aspects of your own speaking style in context.
Pitch and testosterone
The current literature reports that testosterone decreases pitch by about an octave within the first 6-12 months due to an increase in the mass of the vocal folds, resulting in a sufficiently low habitual pitch that is near a cisgender masculine average speaking pitch of 107 - 129 Hz (see the chart below). For some individuals, this amount of decrease is less or takes longer with a lower dose and sometimes even with a regular dose. Any decrease in pitch is permanent whether you continue or discontinue testosterone. People have reported hoarseness or throat discomfort at the beginning of therapy or with each dose. This side effect should be taken seriously! Visit an laryngologist or speech-language pathologist to determine whether unwanted vocal fold changes have occurred and whether vocal rehabilitation exercises are necessary. For people who are not taking testosterone or whose pitch has not lowered sufficiently for them, pitch can typically be lowered through voice training. Other individuals can benefit from doing voice training before or at the start of testosterone to learn vocal awareness, strategies, and non-pitch skills, followed by a tune-up once testosterone kicks in. The chart below shows an example training target for an average masculine speaking pitch of 146 Hz (D3) for people who may need help behaviorally modifying their pitch (this target may or may not apply to you). This pitch would allow natural pitch movement of 12 notes in conversation. Keep in mind that even with low pitch, you can still not sound sufficiently masculine for you, since there are many other factors that make up masculine speech and voice.
In addition to a lower average speaking pitch, the way you move your pitch around can be important to sounding more masculine. When using a lower pitch, be sure you still have room to move your pitch around to convey meaning. It is indeed possible to be expressive in a masculine way without sounding unfriendly or too feminine. The following are ways to move your pitch around effectively:
- Move your pitch downward when possible (medium to lower) for a more staccato-like effect
- Avoid pitch movement that is particularly upward but also avoid being monotone
- Stress words by stretching them rather than going significantly higher in pitch
- Try varying loudness or speed to create effect
This aspect of voice is usually a more difficult yet critical part of sounding more masculine. It is often the difference between sounding naturally masculine and sounding younger or more feminine than you are. Resonance is the reverberation of sound in a space. For humans, that space is in our chest, neck, and head. If you have a smaller head and neck, your voice may sound smaller, brighter, or thinner. An analogy is the difference in tone between a violin and a cello. Luckily, resonance is not solely affected by biology (size), it's how you use it. More masculine resonance is about maximizing the space in your head and neck so that your voice sounds bigger, darker, and fuller, more like a cello, even though your size may be more like a violin. To sound bigger, start by speaking slightly louder, opening and moving your mouth more than usual and opening your throat for a slightly opera-like, yawn-like fullness. Resonance can be difficult to learn, but once you get it, it can make a big difference.
Maintaining a smooth voice is important for your vocal health. Avoid chesty, harsh, or hoarse talking in an attempt to sound more masculine! Think instead of a full, connected, radio voice.
Masculine articulation is sometimes perceived to be heavier and darker than feminine articulation. In attempt to move pitch less, some transmasculine individuals sound monotone with slushy articulation. Focus on speaking clearly by moving your mouth in a more vertical direction, which can prevent unclear speech and produce a fuller resonant sound.
Louder voice is usually important for sounding more masculine. Some transmasculine people have difficulty being louder, because they are speaking at an average pitch that is too low or they have difficulty powering the newly increased mass of the vocal folds. Sounding loud is almost always possible. It’s just a matter of tuning into proper breath support from the diaphragm and connecting each word for a fuller sound.
Stereotypical men’s language, relative to women’s, is commonly characterized as being more assertive, more direct, more matter-of-fact, or less elaborative. It can also be perceived by some as more interruptive, more crass, or more judgmental. But you don't have to "be THAT guy" if you don't want! Yes, you can still be friendly, caring, and anything else that feels right to you. It's just a matter of combining the right types of words, amount of words, or masculine voice patterns to get the right balance for you. In fact, language varies widely depending on the person, the situation, and other possible aspects of your identity, including your age, your relationship to your listener, your socioeconomic class, your ethnicity, the region you live in, the social context you are speaking in, etc. These various factors will likely become more or less important depending on the situation. So, rather than uniformly using stereotypes or trying something that doesn't feel authentic, you should carefully consider your particular speaking situation in order to determine what kinds of words and how many words you should use, and what your conversation style should be. What is considered appropriate communication behavior in a particular situation? Is a typically masculine style important in that situation? What kind of communication style do you want generally, and how do you apply that depending on whether you are in a work meeting vs. with your best friend vs. with your dog?
How you sit, walk, and move is part of your more masculine image, including how you look when you are talking to someone. Some features are:
- Taking up more space in general
- Sitting posture is A-shaped
- Crossing legs ankle-to-knee rather than knee-to-knee
- Avoid leaning forward toward your listener
- Slightly less expressive face
- Moving your hips less when you walk (top heavy instead of bottom heavy)
Believe it or not, you can change how you laugh, cough, throat clear, and sneeze! A more masculine sound can be achieved by modifying pitch, resonance, and/or loudness. Aim for a lower pitch, open your mouth more vertically, and get louder, but don’t blow anyone overboard!
It is possible to modify your singing pitch range to a certain extent, with or without testosterone. There is some preliminary evidence that a lower dose of testosterone allows for the maintenance of a higher pitch range or easier modification of pitch. I provide counseling regarding general expectations for singing in your case, utilize singing for speaking voice as necessary, and get you ready to see any of a number of singing teachers who are familiar with transgender voices.
In addition to teaching technical stills, I provide counseling regarding how you are feeling and thinking about your voice in the process of voice change. Sometimes mental obstacles are harder than the technical skills. I help you to address issues as they arise. Some may include staying mindful of your voice during daily interactions, accepting your best possible voice as part of your best masculine self, trying out new types of vocal behaviors even if they feel silly or strange at first, coordinating your voice use with other changes in gender expression, or addressing how to manage new societal expectations or privilege when you are recognized as male in conversation. I help to navigate your thoughts and feelings to help you make the right steps for your voice at the right time for you.
Breathing and stretching when wearing binders
Do you wear a binder or other type of compressive clothing? Does it limit your breathing or ability to yell, or does it create tension in your chest, neck, or shoulders? It's important to take these issues seriously to prevent these problems from becoming chronic. If you experience these issues, I help you expand your breath support and make your breathing more efficient for speaking by giving you exercises and speaking tasks when the binder is in place. I can also provide breathing, stretching, and massage exercises for you to do privately at home without the binder.
Try producing a lower, more chesty voice when counting to 5, looking straight ahead and moving your mouth more than usual. Do that back and forth, with a relaxed throat vs. a tight throat. Notice how it feels when it's right vs. wrong.
Make a loud, yawn-sigh sound “Ha!” 6x. Notice how your jaw, tongue, and throat are more open vertically. This maximizes the space in your mouth and throat for a bigger sound.
Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated, and carbonated beverages to prevent swelling, dryness, or acid reflux.
Think about any experiences you may have had until now speaking in a more masculine way. What kind of speaking situation was it? Where were you? Who were you speaking to? How did you sound more masculine? Did you change your voice? your communication style?
Read aloud from a newspaper, book, or magazine. Be a little slower and louder than usual while keeping your throat relaxed. Notice how just a small amount of loudness can make you sound more masculine.