We are ONE WEEK away from our next Pride and Joy Parent Event: An Evening with Nicole Gress. This event will give affirming adults an opportunity to learn just how important voice is in mental health. They will be there to answer all your questions, share her story and we are sure her contagious energy will inspire conversations well beyond our event.
We had a moment to sit down and chat more about Undead Voice and hear directly from Nicole for this week's blog post about some of the background of Undead Voice and why they started it as well as a dive into mental health for the trans and nonbinary community. Nicole also graciously shares resources you can come back to.
And for even more information about Undead Voice, Nicole's expertise, and some of their personal journey, don't forget we kicked off Season 3 of our podcast, Out of Queerisotiy with Nicole, so make sure to have a listen!
What do you love most about the work you do at Undead Voice?
Great question. I won’t lie - it can be tricky. Creating a community and service in a space where it didn’t exist before, there’s no roadmap to follow. Self-management can be illusive when you’re switching quickly between tasks and wearing multiple hats. But it always comes back to community for me.
I find myself constantly fueled by the bonds I’ve forged with the trans and gender diverse (TGD) members of Undead Voice Lab (our online voice transition training program). They’ve quickly become my chosen family full of interesting, bold, unique, and profoundly different voices. Together we are a sanctuary for one another and prioritize holding space for each individual to rediscover their true selves.
Why did you start UV?
WHEW! That’s a loaded one. I’ll try to resist the many rabbit holes that surround that answer, and be succinct, honest, and direct.
Through my time working as a speech-language pathologist in a medical setting early in my career, it became clear that voice transition training was an area where the TGD community was being caused (unintentional) harm.
The techniques being used by SLPs don’t work, because they weren’t created for voice transition, they were created to treat voice disorders. Being TGD is not a disorder, and neither are our voices. Nevertheless, I didn’t have the freedom within the constraints of the medical setting to explore or develop new techniques, and most of my patients ended up running out of insurance coverage, motivation, or money before they achieved an affirming voice. This leaves the patient feeling as though they’ve failed, whereas the truth is quite the opposite, it’s an institutional failure.
It became clear in order to truly serve the community and make voice transition accessible, I had to overcome these barriers. So, I left the medical field, moved my practice online, and crafted a community-based approach where individual identity was prioritized. I developed a curriculum that was gender inclusive and created specifically for altering the gender perception of a voice, opened the doors, and welcomed my first 100 members. That was in Fall 2020, now 3 years later, we’ve grown our community to over 70,000 TGD folx that span the entire gender spectrum and 13 countries. Our free resources have gained over 3.24 million views.
How would you suggest parents of trans/gender diverse youth navigate voice in their schools? Any offices/orgs to reach out to for more help?
It's important for parents to understand that while schools may have speech-language pathologists, these professionals are not trained in voice transition. As such, seeking external resources is often necessary. For most other transition related guidance and support I recommend contacting organizations like GLSEN or PFLAG.
But in this case… just reach out to us (Undead Voice)
We offer free voice consultations via Zoom to connect you and your family with the best voice transition resource given your unique timeline, budget, and goals.
Additionally, UV has a dedicated youth voice program that can be a vital resource in this regard.
Voice training is an incredibly approachable and affirming step, especially for trans youth. It's non-invasive, doesn't require hormone therapy or surgery, and can be pursued privately. UV offers a space where youth can undertake this journey without the need for a formal diagnosis, bypassing the need to involve insurance companies, thereby ensuring privacy and autonomy in their transition process.
What does the role of voice play in mental health for trans/GNC individuals?
The role of voice in mental health cannot be overstated. 85% of TGD individuals experience voice dysphoria, the emotional turmoil that comes from having a voice that’s misaligned with one’s gender identity.
For many, voice training is a clear path to self-affirmation and expression, a tangible link to their authentic selves. Having a voice that resonates with your gender identity can be a beacon of hope, of self-assurance, drastically reduce dysphoria and isolation, and foster a profound sense of belonging.
How does UV work with individuals who might or might not be ready or want to take hormone therapy?
UV is well-equipped to assist individuals irrespective of their stance on hormone therapy. Before we proceed, let's unpack the specifics of how hormones can influence the voice.
First, it's important to dispel a common misconception that estrogen has an effect on voice modulation - it does not. Now, focusing on testosterone, it has varied impacts depending on the stage of life at which it is introduced. During adolescent puberty, testosterone significantly deepens and darkens the voice by altering both pitch and resonance, a result of the enlargement of the vocal tract. However, when testosterone is administered after puberty, in young adulthood or later, it primarily affects only the pitch of the voice. To achieve a natural-sounding, darker, and deeper voice with nuanced changes, voice training becomes an indispensable ally.
This information is particularly crucial for parents and guardians to understand, especially when guiding children who are approaching puberty. If a child is discontented with the potential deepening and darkening of their voice that a testosterone-based puberty could induce, it's vital to consider that these changes are permanent and can induce dysphoria. Therefore, these factors should be heavily weighed in their decision-making process.
At UV, we collaborate with individuals to help them find a voice that aligns with their gender identity, utilizing various techniques and approaches, independent of hormone therapy. Our program accentuates the transformations that hormones can induce, concentrating on modulation, pitch, and resonance to harmonize the voice more swiftly and harmoniously with one’s gender identity. Our curriculum creates a natural, effortless, habitual voice, without the use of surgery or hormones.
Is UV safe in states where gender-affirming healthcare is banned?
Absolutely. UV operates as a secure, online platform offering a community and resources that are not bound by geographical restrictions. Our approach is non-medical and focuses on voice training, which doesn't fall under the purview of healthcare bans. UV remains a safe haven where individuals can freely access the support and tools necessary for their voice transition journey.
About how long does it usually take to change an individual’s voice?
The timeframe can vary significantly as it is highly individualized. However, through our online accessible platform, a significant majority of our clients - about 97% - find alignment with their true voice within just 9 months of dedicated practice using our curriculum, as opposed to the traditional medical model where weekly voice lessons can take an average of 3 years to achieve similar results. This accelerated progress is largely due to the resources we offer: on-demand video courses, 24/7 access to your voice coach for guidance, and a supportive virtual community of 400+ folx that facilitates motivation and accountability. Our approach, based on habit stacking, encourages frequent, short bursts of practice, fostering sustained progress and daily wins.
If you could go back to your younger self, what advice would you give?
Let’s get philosophical…. Haha! If I could have a chat with my younger self, I'd share the wisdom of being brave enough to question and challenge the established norms. I would encourage them to steadfastly work towards their vision, believing in their intuition and understanding that they possess the potential to spearhead meaningful change.
Most importantly… I'd give them the comfort that they will be welcomed by a community that accepts and supports them completely. In this journey, they would not only uncover their authentic voice but also inspire a movement that would touch the lives of many around the world.
What are three things, in your opinion, parents and caretakers of trans and gender diverse kids can do to support them?
Foster Open Communication: Create a safe space where children can share their experiences and concerns about voice dysphoria openly, without fear of judgment or stigma. Encourage discussions about their voice transition goals and how they feel about their voice in different settings.
Education and Awareness: Educate yourselves about the specific challenges and nuances of voice dysphoria. Gain a deep understanding of the ways in which voice dysphoria can impact a person’s well-being, and the resources available for support and guidance. This knowledge will allow you to empathize with and support your child's vocal transition journey more effectively.
Active Participation: Actively participate in your child's vocal transition process, offering unwavering support and understanding. Encourage them to explore voice training options, and be present in consultations and their conversation buddy in practice sessions if your child is comfortable with it, showcasing that you are with them every step of the way as they work to align their voice with their identity.
Do you have any suggested voice transition resources for families of trans/gender diverse youth you would like to share?
Certainly! Here are a few recommended resources:
Anything you would like to share that we didn’t ask?
I just want to take a moment to share how profoundly meaningful this work is to me. I've seen firsthand the incredible transformation and joy that comes from finding a voice that truly matches one's identity. It's not just about vocal training; it's about lifting a weight, a kind of mental distress that many folks experience daily due to voice dysphoria.
I get to witness these beautiful moments of realization and affirmation in our community every day. It’s honestly awe-inspiring to see the relief and happiness that blossoms when someone finds their true voice. It’s a reminder of the authentic, deep connections we’re fostering here - it’s not just about reshaping narratives, but genuinely enriching lives, one conversation at a time while building community in a world that’s actively trying to erase our existence.
Join us to extend the conversation around voice, mental health, and advocating for trans and nonbinary youth. Nicole will be there to answer all your questions as well as have an open discussion. This event is virtual on Tuesday September, 19 at 4pm PT / 7pm ET. Register today!
Nicole Gress (she/they), is the CEO and founder of Undead Voice. She is a leading expert in demedicalizing transgender voice care. As a gender-fluid individual, they know firsthand the power of voice in affirming one's gender identity. Nicole has leveraged their eight years of experience as a speech-language pathologist in the trans voice specialty to redefine voice transition care and champion innovative, inclusive solutions for the transgender community.