Researchers Create New Tool To Assist Voice Modification Therapy For Trans Women

New York University researchers have identified a 'biofeedback' system which could assist trans women undergoing voice modification therapy.

Voice modification equipment consisting of a microphone and recorder

A new biofeedback system in which bodily functions are electronically monitored and visually displayed has been identified as a tool to help trans women undergoing voice modification therapy.

The system involves a person speaking into a microphone and seeing a real time visual representation of the sound on a monitor. The technology was able to display targets the speaker should try to hit to match frequencies typical for cisgender female speakers. The viewer is then able to modulate their speech until the targets matched. When recordings of the voice modification were played back to blind listeners, they rated the speaker “more feminine” on a marking scale.

The researcher who headed the study, Deanna Kawitzky, said “Our voices are so much a part of who we are. For transgender women, it can be really challenging to find a voice that matches how they choose to present their gender identity. This study suggests that biofeedback may be used as a tool to help trans women achieve a voice they are comfortable with. Biofeedback has not been used in this way before, and we’re excited to have identified a new direction for transgender voice therapy research.”

In a relevant case, trans woman Sophia Reis spoke of the “humiliation” she felt when phone staff at Santander bank froze her account because they felt she didn’t sound like they thought she should.

Sophia registered her new information and change of name with her bank in November and was given confirmation her details had been updated. However, when attempting to transfer money to a friend she had to undergo a security check by phone. Reis was told she had failed the security check and the money would not be transferred. The next day she discovered her account had been completely frozen.

When she visited the bank to query the situation, she told bank staff “you have got all my documentation and I changed my name on November 11.” The customer service representative told her “my voice did not match my profile because it sounded like a man on the phone and not a woman.

Reis was left feeling “humiliated and embarrassed” because she had told the staff she was a trans woman. “It was humiliating having to go into my bank and to explain myself when all my information was at the click of a button.”

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