Undead Voice episode transcript
Elena Joy: [00:00:00] Welcome to Out of Queeriosity. Consider us your field guide for Queer Pride. You will hear from the best of the best in terms of queer business leaders, queer relationship experts, the activists working to protect us all and everyday LGBTQ plus people, but have figured a few things out so you don't have to, out of Queeriosity is brought to you by the Pride and Joy Foundation. Let's do this.
Welcome to Out of Queeriosity. I am your host. Elena Joy, pronouns she, her. I'm so glad you're here. Y'all it's the beginning of our third season, which means it's the beginning of my third season hosting this podcast. Y'all I am on other people's podcasts, like way more than I host this one. And I've realized something I really want to change when I'm on other people's podcasts.
I'm really natural. It's just me. I love it. Like I really love it. When I'm hosting, I am anything but natural. I get this weird broadcaster voice a lot of the time. Maybe you've noticed. Yeah, I'm really stiff. I'm really weird. I'm determined to change that this season. So I might stumble, I might come across like I'm fumbling, but I figure that's way better than the stiff fake news voice, you know? I've long identified that my voice connects me to my authenticity, my sense of self, in a really direct way. The more I use my voice, the better my mental health is. This is a foundational truth for me. The more I use my voice, the better my mental health is. Many in our community have discovered that about themselves, enough that our Pride and Joy theme this year is Your Voice, Your Power.
So when I met Nicole Gress, the CEO of Undead Voice Lab, I knew we needed to get her in our Pride and Joy family. She is a licensed speech pathologist that is filling the gap for gender non conforming people who aren't getting the affirming voice results they need from traditional methods, if they're even able to access those traditional methods.
Nicole is disrupting the entire system in the best possible way. We are excited to host her for our Pride and Joy Parent Event on September 19th, where we will dive deep into everything parents, teachers, and other loved ones need to understand about affirming voice, It's connection to mental health and how to access it for this interview. We're focusing on how she created her incredibly successful business that is also serving thousands of LGBTQ plus folks. How do you take a tiny grain of an idea and turn it into something both financially and socially successful? So if you're a parent or ally make sure you join us on September 19th or even if you just want to get to know Nicole better in a live space.
Yeah. Join us. We're going to dive deep into everything we want you to understand about affirming voice. But for now, let's hear about the success of Undead Voice Lab with Nicole Gress. Welcome to our first episode in season three of Out of Queeriosity. We're so glad you're here with us today. And we are joined by the amazing CEO of the Undead Voice Lab, Nicole Gress, pronouns she, they.
We're so excited to have you here today, Nicole.
Nicole: Thank you. I'm excited to chat with you too.
Elena Joy: This is going to be amazing. Y'all. I had like, I don't know, a first conversation with Nicole. That was one of those ones that you're like, okay, where have you been all my life? Why are we connecting so quickly? This is fabulous.
Now we're besties. So this basically came down like this in the call and I immediately understood that one Nicole's company undead voice lab is going to be exploding in the next year. And I want in on that action because it is so cool to watch as well as I realized how much we needed to bring Nicole and her company to pride and joy foundation.
You all are going to, uh, this is amazing. Okay, let's get right into it. First [00:04:00] of all, tell me in a nutshell, what undead voice lab is.
Nicole: So undead voice is an online platform for voice transition training. So helping individuals explore the gender expression in their voice and find a sound that's more affirming for them.
Elena Joy: All right. So are you an entrepreneur, a CEO, a startup founder, a speech pathologist? What are you?
Nicole: Yes. All of the things,all of those, if you would have asked me a few years ago, or even a few months ago, maybe, maybe about a year ago, what do you do? My answer probably would have been, oh, I'm a speech pathologist and I work in gender affirming voice care that has shifted, not my role, but my.
Description of my role. So now, if you ask what I do, I founded a company called undead voice, which is an online platform for voice transition. My background is a speech pathologist, but I often joke that I don't identify as a speech pathologist anymore because I use a very small percentage of what I learned [00:05:00] to support the work that I do now.
I've kind of shunned, shirked a lot of the traditional healthcare education that I've got because it wasn't working well for the people I was working with and created something quite different. So I am a speech language pathologist by license and training, but I identify more as a CEO.
Elena Joy: Brilliant, brilliant.And that is the kind of fluidity that's not only there in our LGBTQ plus identity, but also our career identity, our parent identity, right? Like it is shifting and there's so much nuance to it all the time and to be able to embrace the nuance and to say, yeah, I described myself one way a year ago and a totally different way now. And that totally works for everyone. Like that is power right there. And I love it. So tell me a little bit, why speech? What was it about speech pathology that brought you into that field?
Nicole: So, I mean, I have, like, the kind of the classic story that most speech pathologists have of, you know, when I was in 3rd grade, I couldn't say my Rs.And so I went to a speech therapist. I wouldn't say that that brought me to voice training. It definitely encouraged, or was my first exposure to the field. So fast forward when I was in college and around to career fairs and explored came across communication science and disorders as a field that I could enter into.
I made that connection of. Oh, yeah. I used to say Wabbit and goals when I was younger. And this person helped me do that. But what I discovered at that career fair and when looking into speech pathology is it provided. Fluidity and flexibility, which was the biggest thing for me, I think, even from a young age, I knew that I didn't really want to build somebody else's dream.
I wanted to build my own team and working for somebody else wasn't going to be my future. And within the scope of speech pathology, you work with. From birth to geriatrics in such a wide range of disorders. So I've worked from I've worked in early intervention from birth to 3 year olds, all the way up to traumatic brain injury and stroke recovery with the elderly and everything in between and. The workplace flexibility that you get as a speech pathologist with wonderful. So ever since I graduated graduate school, I've always had at least 2, not if not 3 or 4 positions. So I could kind of make my own schedule. Oh,
Elena Joy: I like that. So tell me a little bit about what about gender affirming speech pathology? How did that pull you in? And did that mirror any kind of your own personal journey with that? Or how did that come about?
Nicole: Yeah, it's kind of all wrapped up in itself. So when I was going through school, my specialty was in something called acquired neurodynamic disorders. So I specialized in working with adults in the medical field who had suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke.And teaching them how to talk again and so whenever I sought out my 1st job, I worked at both a private practice in a hospital setting with that population. And that just so happened to be in the Bay area in San Francisco, and there's a large gender diverse community in the city in general. So, as soon as I entered into a medical facility that took insurance and saw adults, there was a huge influx of gender affirming voice care as well.
And. So, I started to use the different techniques that I was taught in my once, like, unit in one class in graduate school on how to do gender affirming voice therapy, and fell absolutely in love with it. I found in that situation, personally, and through patient care, that so much of Gender exploration happens through the voice.
It's a pretty visceral, like if you hear yourself sound differently, a pretty visceral response of like, hell yes. Or hell no. Like that is me or that is not me. I think we've all probably heard ourselves recorded answering machine and said, what is that? All of that, a little bit of, you know, the feedback on our voices and whether we love them or not.
So I started. The first few years of working with Gender Affirming Voice was as a cis identifying human. I mean, I'm queer, but I was cis identifying at the time. And then I hit this point, which I'm sure we will talk about, where I decided to move out of traditional healthcare and create a community based Approach to voice transition and in that journey had to do a deep dive into a bunch of different singing voice acting voice performance pedagogies and through that experience of learning to control and transition my own voice discovered that I am gender fluid voice.
So the voice exploration actually spurred my gender exploration and landed me somewhere that was no longer CIS identifying. And that was really powerful for me. And then from there, I mean, period, I mean, there's not really further than that, but. I've seen that reflected in a lot of the people that I'm working with as well, because it's usually one of the earlier explored areas of gender expression, because it's a really low stakes.
It's a lot of really good payoff and euphoria that you can find, especially if you're navigating a medical transition. It's one of those areas. That's pretty approachable if you can find the resource. So.
Elena Joy: That makes sense. I love that. So it sounds like there was a demand a need for this type of service. And there you were young right out of college, like, ready to serve, but only had taken 1 class that could even possibly help. Right? And so you really kind of dove into it and then realized, oh, there's so much here. There's such a gap here that I could fill. And then that led you to your own journey and your own identity of who you are and talk about how powerful the voice is right?Like, not only can we use it to get to know ourselves better, but as we get to know ourselves better, our voice becomes more authentic and genuine to who we are. Like, it's just this incredible relationship there between ourselves, our identity, our voices.
Nicole: Yeah. It's ever changing. Even if you're not somebody who is interested in finding a more affirming sound, everybody's voice has changed throughout your life. And depending on who you're around, we start to say things differently. We use little catchphrases, culture shifts, and we start using, you know, like more or little phrases that tell geographically where you're from. So everybody has code switching that happens in their voices. So it's. Yeah, voice and language and speech underlie all parts of our communication and are really impactful, empowering for communicating who you are to the world.So then you can imagine if that doesn't align with how you identify, it can be a really isolating experience to feel like you have to hold back your thoughts, yourself, your personality. Your uniqueness, just your presence, because you don't want it to be communicated or heard in a way that's not in alignment with your identity.
Elena Joy: That makes sense. That makes total sense. Well, there's a hundred different questions I could ask you from the parent perspective, right? Parents of a trans or non binary kiddo and how to use the voice in an affirming way, but we really want to reserve that for our pride and joy parent event that will be happening in September. So for sure be on the lookout for that. The link will be in the show notes. Absolutely. But I do want to go into just one question for the parents here. I would love to know if they had an LGBTQ plus kiddo, maybe in their teens, their early college years, and they were telling them, yeah, I think I want to go into the health care field. There are some parents that would feel like that is such a. Maybe not safe place for my lgbtq kid to be so I know the healthcare field. It's like a massive industry and you absolutely can't speak for it as a monolith. Right? However, if you had an lgbtq plus kiddos telling you in front of you saying, I think I want to go into healthcare.
Do you think that's a good place for someone with my identity? What are your thoughts on that?
Nicole: My initial response viscerally is, like, no, but not saying don't do it, but it's to be really cautious and conscious of, like, what. education system you're going into. So there's a lot of variety in the career choices of individuals who are in my program.One of the first scholarship recipients that I gave a full ride to was a trans woman named Gianna who was in residency. And when I speak with her, because we've gotten very close as most, most of the members and I do over the years, her experience wasn't wonderful. Specifically because at the, at the point at which she was transitioning her voice, she had already been through most of her education and was at this like patient care point where she was having to present differently than she was and feared the voice transition, changing her bedside manner or being questioned authority wise.Based on her identity. So if you're a parent of a somebody who is younger and can explore their voice prior to going into that more higher education, that's wonderful. Now, as an individual, personally in education or in health care, I absolutely love being able to. Change things from the inside out. So if you have a child who is feeling empowered and confidence or excited to find those pieces of themselves and change things for the community, it's essential to have that type of representation within health care.
Now, as the culture continues to change and the lines of gender continue to blur. We're seeing a lot more representation within the speech pathology field of individuals who identify as gender diverse, which is wonderful. Um, I'm connecting with more and more trans doctors. There's obviously whole healthcare companies like folks or plume who specifically.
Are for lgbtq plus folks and the providers all identify as queer as well. And that is extremely powerful. So I would say, be just of where you live and where you're choosing to go to school so that you're taking care of yourself and your own mental health. But if you can get to the point where you're in a position and you're able to disrupt things, that is amazing because the, the reality is that.
You know, we're queer people are here to stay. We're not going anywhere and we need health care. So we would much rather see somebody who is affirming and of lived experience than somebody who is not and the only way to start eradicating the harm that can happen to patients of being misgendered or denied care and coverage is to have more empathetic providers who they can share the same experience that they do and provide that care.
Elena Joy: Absolutely. Right. So, if we come from a place where we feel a lot of safety, where we have a good support system around us, where we can explore and try and bounce back if we need to. Right. Then going into health care and providing some disruption as well as some empathetic listening. Can make a huge difference.I love hearing that. And so let's get into what that disruption meant. So why is what you do different? Because I think from the typical bystander, they think, okay, voice affirming care. So if someone wants to alter their voice to be more affirming of their gender, aren't they just going to call up a speech therapist? And as long as their insurance covers it, like it's going to be fine. Right? Like. How is reality different than that?
Nicole: Yes, that's a great question. And that what you just described of, like, you know, seeing your primary care physician identifying voice transition is an area of interest or even your mental health professional because they refer as well and then getting that referral over to what the traditional health care model has identified as the appropriate provider for that care. A speech language pathologist is the typical traditional path.
Elena Joy: And that's what you were doing. Originally. Is that accurate? Okay. So you were your little queer self being that little speech pathologist come in.
Nicole: Okay. So, that journey, once you get to the point to that point is, you know, you go and see a speech pathologist, they do an initial evaluation report. They take a lot of data and metrics somewhere in your voices now, and then they. Prescribed goals for you, long term and short term goals to meet whatever your voice transition goals are. And then you come back every week or sometimes once a month, depending on what your parents will approve and what the individual has availability for. And you have a voice lesson where it's anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and they're teaching you new techniques or exercises to expand your vocal range. And then usually we would send people home with either a printed handout or some handwritten notes on what their exercises are to try for the week. They would go home, they would practice, or not practice, whatever, whatever they had bandwidth for, and then come back to this lesson.
And for me, What I started to see trend wise within that more traditional model is a few things, one that time of practicing is really whenever somebody benefits from feedback, right? So I would have somebody in the room with me. I would show them an exercise and they would perform it. I would help them modify it so that it was perfect. And maybe they could do it 10 times out of 10 in the room with me. But as soon as they go home and they lose that feedback loop from the professional or the expert there.
Doing it, but maybe they're doing it 20% wrong. Now that whole week or that whole month, they're practicing over and over and they're building a habit. They come back. I did my practice. Awesome. Show me. They show you almost. So instead of moving forward, we then have to not only correct what was wrong, but undo the habit that they formed over the last week or the last month. And that cycle just continues the average length of voice transition for somebody within the. Traditional medical model can be 18 to 36 months. So a year and a half to three years, but it doesn't actually take that long to transition your voice. You're just restricted on how fast you can progress based on how much feedback you have, how much contact you have with the provider, and then how much they can actually teach you within that 30 minutes.
That is like one of. 20 roadblocks. As a provider, as a queer provider, it was very frustrating to me to not be able to have contact with my patients outside of what I was quote unquote allowed to and what was billable to insurance. So I could do, if I had five minutes at the end, at the end of the day, answer a quick email, but I wasn't able to actually like send a video or give somebody feedback in between sessions because it wasn't billable time. And that was extremely frustrating on top of a lot of times. Patients lose access to, um, insurance covered sessions before they had met their voice goals. Now, that all feels like, okay, great. Can I just pay out of pocket? Or maybe I have that type of a timeline and that is what most people ended up having to do. And so those are the earlier roadblocks that I identified, but if we fast forward a few years into working within gender for voice care, there was a much more glaring problem that. Exposed itself, which was if I'd been working with a patient for a few months and they were making some progress, but maybe not all the way across the finish line of what they wanted for their goal voice, they would start to bring in online resources like YouTube videos or guides that they had found online and asking me to look at these techniques, which were completely different than anything I had been taught or told.
The speech pathologist within me and some that I worked for were like, that's actually not that safe. That's going to be bad and cause vocal trauma. And I'm like, oh, yeah, absolutely. So then I would tell those patients don't do that. Absolutely. Don't do those exercises. Don't move your larynx. That's going to be bad for your voice based on not my experience, but on what I was being told.
Now, there's this really, really visceral moment for me where I, everything kind of clicked where I was working with a CIS white C level executive at an organization who had damaged their voice, like yelling at a game, a baseball game over the weekend, and they were coming in looking for some vocal health care to rehabilitate their voice because It sounded scratchy and it hurt.
At that moment, the same techniques that I was taught to use for rehabilitating that man's voice were the same thing I was being taught to use for helping maybe a trans feminine patient find her affirming femme passing sounds. And I was like, there's no way that this actually works because it's not feminizing his voice and it's quote unquote, feminizing her voice, but she's not satisfied with the sounds like how this does not add up.
So. I started existing online in the areas where trans people were already trying to DIY their voice and just listening. And it became apparent quickly that this was a really common occurrence for trans folks who were going to see speech pathologists for gender affirming voice transition work, which was they would hit this point where they maybe had learned about vocal health and pitch and a little bit of intonation, but that was it.
And that wasn't enough, but they were left feeling like they had failed. It became very clear that they had not failed. This was an institutional failure. All of the techniques we're taught as speech pathologists are based on research on how to rehabilitate a voice. So help a healthy voice get healthy again.
Not actually on how to change the gender expression of a voice. So it was like bad input, bad output, the techniques weren't comprehensive enough and within that traditional healthcare setting and in the role that I was restricted in how much I could go outside of the box and use different techniques experimentally, I did not have the freedom or the flexibility to try new things that weren't research and evidence based.
But there is no funding for research and evidence behind or for research to create evidence based techniques around gender affirming voice care. It's just not something at this time, which was the Trump era, right?
Elena Joy: No, there's no funding. Yeah.
Nicole: That is not to say that the techniques that we use in undead voice lab aren't research in space. They're just not specifically pulled from speech pathology. They're pulled from decades and decades and centuries old singing techniques and breathing techniques and body work. So there's a lot of support and evidence and research informed techniques that we're using, but that's what happens when you're pioneering a field. You Don't have a rubric to pull from.
Elena Joy: Yeah, there's nothing there. There's no gameplay there for you to pull from and then tweak and inspire and get better at. Instead, you are inventing. You are inventing it.
[Are you loving this interview with Nicole? I hope you join us at our Pride and Joy Parents event on Tuesday, September 19th, where we will have another live event with Nicole to answer all of your questions as parents, teachers, grandparents, and other adult loved ones of LGBTQ plus youth. How we can help their voice become a key part of their mental wellness. We are so excited to have the opportunity to get all the information and knowledge from this incredible resource that is Nicole. Please join us, prideandjoyparents dot com to sign up for our event. We can't wait to see you there. ]
Elena: Talk about disrupting an industry. How did you make that leap, though? How did you go from that really secure cush job, right? Like, being able to go home at night and not really worry about much other than the fact that you can't actually support your patients, right? How did you decide to make that leap?
Nicole: Well, I've always been interested in, like, finding an unexplored area of my field and being able to push change into it. And once it became evident that this is, What we're doing wasn't adequate and the need was huge. There was less transparently less fear around not being able to find patients and more fear around making sure that I had the right techniques to actually create change with them. Also, I started working 1 on 1 outside of my other positions, just taking on a few 1 on 1 clients to try out new techniques and kind of co create.
A curriculum that worked well based on what I was learning myself with my own voice before I quit my other positions then. So I probably did both for about 6 months. And then, of course, we all got forced inside from the pandemic. And then I was in a position where my partner is immunocompromised. So I was no longer going to be going to the hospital to work for their safety because as a speech pathologist in a hospital, we are working with intubation and extubation, so covid patients. So I, that role easily fell away due to covid. And then my clinical job, became me doing a lot of like four or five, six year old voice therapy or speech therapy through Zoom, which was, horrendous as for 10 hours a day. I was like, absolutely not. This cannot be
Elena Joy: Oh my gosh. I totally imagine the chaos that was attempting to do that.
Nicole: Most of the time it was like, sit up, sit up, stand up. I can't see you. Get out from under the table. Mom, are you there? Mom?
Elena Joy: oh my gosh.
Nicole: Um, but. So it just kind of all happened, Kismet, at the right time.
I was filling up that hospital time that I had lost. I was filling those hours up with one on one clients. And then when the pandemic hit, everybody [00:28:00] who had been seeing in person speech therapists for gender affirming voice care had no, nobody, they had no resources, the internet blew up the kids with like, what do I do? What do I do? And so I decided early, I think maybe it was April of. 2020, that's when the pandemic started, right? Yeah. Yeah. To just say, okay. So at that point, the cost of a one on one therapy session with me was 149, which might sound like a lot, but for speech pathology is generous for out of pocket, um, just for perspective. And I said, okay, anybody who needs it, we're going to do 1 month of a group online training. 149 to pay it once you get the whole month, and we're going to meet twice a week. And we're just going to go through this as a group. And I think at that point, I had over 50 people sign up and just did this, like, 1 month intensive of teaching a whole group.
I would teach on Monday, they would have group practice on Wednesday, and we would come back together at the end of the week on Friday. And it was transformative to see what a community based, to see what a community based approach did for the motivation and accountability and support of voice transition. I had been working for years with people who struggled to be motivated and they're, they were discouraged in this whole, like. Gray cloud of self judgment for not practicing enough or, uh, for not hitting their goals just disappeared when they had other people have lived experience who are also transitioning their voices to connect with and because it was online, I was seeing people who had never even thought that voice was something they could pursue because they tried to seek resources.
They lived in 2 role of an area or in an. Affirming state that there really was no speech pathologist that were skilled enough to do the work with them. So it was like, it was, it all happened at the right time. And then having that like amazing transformative experience myself. [00:30:00] And all the people in this group with me that month, we just kept extending it.
You want to do another month because you can't do everything in a month. Like, but I was still doing that old model of like, here's the lesson. I was just doing it for 50 people instead of one. And I happened to hook up with an amazing business coach who gave me this line that I tell everybody who's asking for entrepreneurial advice is doing any coaching.
If you repeat yourself more than once, write it down and direct somebody to it. You are not a robot. You will not feel, you will not feel fulfilled as a human. If you're just repeating something over and over. You should be spending your time and energy with the individual unique feedback and coaching people need.
And if it's educational or something you're repeating more than once or twice, you need to put it. Online, let it exist somewhere and just direct people to it. Interesting. And that created the idea of courses because I did not want to spend my 1 on 1 time teaching. There's no reason for somebody to just listen to a lecture. That 1 on 1 time really should have been reserved for listening to someone's voice and, like, working through their individual roadblocks, they can go learn the technique on their own time when it works best for them through a course and then reserve our face to face time, if you can call it that virtually for their individual problems. So, the community based approach and the idea that I could put this into a course completely open the door for, like, a very nontraditional approach.
Elena Joy: And so it sounds like you also worry. Using that to kind of ease into the business world, you didn't like, decide, okay, I'm going to have a website. I'm going to have courses. I'm going to get a launch date. I'm going to write instead. It was just, I'm going to do this for a month and see where the traction is and see where the idea sticks. And then you innovated the idea, right? Like, you realize a couple months into it that you were just, you scaled what you had done before, but you hadn't. Actually solved any of the root problems you weren't actually giving the customers what they wanted in the way that you wanted to give it to them, right? Which was faster, easier sticking more right? Like the self motivation, all of the stuff. So you innovated that into this community based, but also course based. And so the instruction time is only happening there and you're getting that 1 on 1 time for feedback, which I think is just incredible. We have so many queer people that have.
A talent, a skill, specialized like speech pathology, who know they could use it, not only to fulfill themselves, to fulfill others in the community, et cetera. But when you go off and start a business, you're not just taking your one little talent and skill. It's like all of a sudden you have to know, how do I market this? How do I pay my taxes? How do I do the bookkeeping? Like how do I do all the crap? Was that intimidating for you at all? Or were you like, I'm going to hire a business coach and figure it out.
Nicole: I'm the first person in my family to go to college. So I know no entrepreneurs prior to doing this. I knew nobody, like I literally figured all of it out. My partner all often will remind me when I'm feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by like a meeting that goes bad or, or really just trying to figure out the next big step. I get humbled every day of, Oh, this is how you do it. And then nope. But it will remind me of the three days I spent up for like 20 hours a day drawing on my procreate on procreate on my iPad, a web comic for a website.
Like I. I had to teach myself absolutely everything. And even now, if you go to my website, all the illustrations are done by me. All of the design work is done by me. It's beautiful. Thank you. Often other business owners will be like, why, why'd you do that? And I'm like, I didn't know that I didn't have to.
Like, I thought that I had to, nobody told me, I mean, I wasn't making enough to hire people. [00:34:00] So what else, what other choices there? And I will say that the community, my community that I was building was phenomenal for all of the decisions that I made. If I didn't know what to do, I wouldn't say, are you an expert in this?
I would just pull the community. Like what colors do you like? What name of a company resonates most with you? Here's a lesson. Does this make sense? Let me take a step back. So I created my curriculum and then I recruited 100 beta users to go through my program and I met with them every week for feedback and tweaked the timing of everything.
So that and the make sure that all learning styles were accounted for and clarified things that felt unclear. And that was. Revision one, I just launched January of this year, 2023 revision four, and that stick around for a while, but everything about my company is crowdsourced. And if you have a good community that you're really investing in, then you can lean on them to know which direction to go.
You don't [00:35:00] have to look at, you know, what is this big company doing? What's Walmart doing? What does Google, Amazon, Apple do? It doesn't matter because. They're not your demographic, they're not queer, which is rad. But like, if you can actually talk to your community, then you can create something that you're not as, uh, it's not like if I build it, they will come.
It feels much more bespoke to the audience. So though I didn't have a background as an entrepreneur or anybody to ask questions to, I had a really passionate community who was supporting me that I could ask, what do you need? And that question is what I asked to this day over and over. What do you need?
And then I will create it. So even if you don't have any experience being an entrepreneur, if you have the passion and the ability to humble yourself and just ask the questions and not an ego, it's not as difficult as it seems to create something that the community needs if they're telling you they need it.[00:36:00]
Elena Joy: Absolutely well, that has me thinking all about design thinking and how that gets played out on a business level. And yeah, it's got my brain going in such awesome directions. 1 thing that I'd love to chat about with you is this idea. The phrase has. I don't know a lot of different connotations, but this concept of imposter syndrome, I think it's actually really important to talk about in our community, both from the parents perspective, to be aware that it is real and it plays out in our lives in really distinct ways.
But also for us as LGBTQ plus individuals to be aware of like, Oh, I might be self sabotaging. Because I've got this imposter syndrome happening. The fact is, is like, do you, did you know any other trans CEOs when you started your business, right? Like how many CEOs had you had a conversation with before you started your business versus now, right?
Like what, how did imposter syndrome play out for you? How do you identify it and how do you deal with it?
Nicole: The answer is zero. I knew no, I knew no trans CEOs. I knew when I started my business, only my patients. I didn't know anybody who was starting a company who also identified as queer at the time. Now I have, you know, I know a few, but.
Even now that I'm years into it, I'm making these really great strategic partnerships and meeting with executives at large companies to talk about integrating and increasing accessibility to voice transition resources for their workforce and for their employees, which means I'm getting into meetings with really high up people at large organizations, and it was just a A few months ago, two months ago, I don't know when this is coming out for you.
It was spring of 2023 that I was having a conversation with my business coach about the agenda for a meeting that was coming up where I was going to have one of these big conversations. And then I looked at the calendar invite and there was four C suite executives in the call. There was a COO, which is the chief operating officer, the chief medical officer, the chief marketing officer, and then the VP of partnerships.
Elena Joy: Oh my gosh.
Nicole: And to me, and I'm like, okay, uh, we came up with kind of the talk script and the slide deck that I was going to share, which are basically, you know, it's something every entrepreneur does when they're going in to have a meeting and present themselves and ask for a collaboration. And my business coach kept guiding me to on how to lead a meeting.
And I'm like, wait, hold on a second. What do you mean lead the meeting? Who am I to lead the meeting? I'm in the meeting with a bunch of these C suite executives. Aren't they leading the meeting? It was like, what's your title? And I said, I'm the CEO. He's like, doesn't that outrank all of those? And I was like, yes, yes, it does.
So even going into these meetings, talking with executives at companies that would be lucky to have access to our community and our services. I had this imposter syndrome of who am I to lead the meeting? And once I was able to really like, step into that identity as a CEO over and over and over. That kind of falls away, but then, I mean, you don't lose the nerves, of course, circling back to the beginning of the conversation where I said, if you asked me a few years ago, what I do, my answer would have been SLP or speech language pathologist.
You ask me now, the answer is emphatically a CEO. I've learned throughout my time building this company that imposter syndrome, the antithesis. To it for me is trusting that my future will figure it out because if I look retrospectively, my future self has figured it out every step of the way a year and a half ago.
I was like, I want to go into corporate sales. I want to go to business to business. Marketing, right? Or peer partnerships. The thing that gave me pause is I don't know corporate language. I don't know how to speak the jargon. [00:40:00] I could probably figure it out, but I don't already have that language that I can pull from fluently to feel confident in those meetings. What I've discovered is you don't need it. You actually do much better if you are just yourself and speak from your passion and You. Nobody's judging you for not knowing all of the lingo. Oh, you can say, what does DTC mean? Or you can ask the questions that you need to ask.
Elena Joy: I fully agree with that. Like, in my work as a consultant, there's so often that I will feel I'll notice that I'm feeling like, who am I to be doing this? I don't have an MBA. I don't even have an HR degree. Why am I here? And sometimes I just have to address that elephant in the room because sometimes I'm not the only one wondering that. There's a whole lot of people in the audience wondering why her? Why does she have the microphone? And I've learned to really lean into the fact that I'm here because y'all need me. You've been trying to do DEI the corporate way and look where it has gotten us. It is not working. You need someone from outside of corporate to come in and tell you how we can do this in an authentic, successful, and sustainable way. It is the pivot that we need. And so, I love that. I love leaning into the idea of, no, I don't know all the corporate speak. Yes, I am the CEO. And yes, we can figure this out.
Nicole: Yeah, and interesting for your audience might be the idea of taking this concept of imposter syndrome outside of just what it's like to be in a power position or navigate the corporate world into the identity piece. As I was moving from. Not really ever exploring my identity and just taking for granted that I was cisgender to actually exploring my identity. There was early on this, like, who am I to do this? And I got asked that question a lot of times online. Like, who are you? Who are you? Uh, why, who are you to tell us this?
And I, it didn't give me pause in the way that I, of course I looked, who am I to do this? But it really being asked the question, who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Over and over pushed me to Look at that myself and yes. Yeah. So there was a point where, I mean, I also would love to acknowledge that I am cis passing. So that is obviously a privilege that just needs to be acknowledged whenever I'm entering into these situations, but the not so much facing out towards like business or talking to other, um, executives in the, in the corporate world, but looking interiorly at my community, there was this. Sense of imposter syndrome. I'm gender fluid. Is that enough? I'm gender queer enough.
Elena Joy: Am I trans enough? Am I gender nonconforming enough?
Nicole: Yes. Yes. Yeah. To be part of this community. I haven't had the, probably the level of vocal dysphoria that a lot of the people I'm working with have had. I've been depressed, but I've never felt suicidal. So am I Queer enough, am I impacted enough by some of the more frustrating or hard to overcome mental health pieces that go along with, you know, the transgender and gender nonconforming community to feel part of the community. So that was a journey for me as well. Whereas now I'm like, very confidently.
Yes, I am. Yes, I am. Yes, I am queer and I deserve to be here and to have a voice. And I can kind of use some of that privilege that I'm acknowledging to speak in rooms where others may not feel as comfortable or confident speaking and speak for the community, not to everybody's experience, of course, but to further the inclusion and acceptance of gender queer people.
Elena Joy: Have you found that there are queer professionals that are facing roadblocks or barriers in their career and their advancement because of their voice?
Nicole: Absolutely. I mean, I think there's 85% of trans folks report voice is 1 of the main sources of dysphoria for them. And if you put that in perspective of only 40, I think it's 46% of LGBTQ people are professionally transitioned at work. Voice can be a really. Big contributing factor to the choice to or to not professionally transition. That is some of the education piece that I'm doing with organizations that I'm talking to of how to create a more allied or safe, inclusive culture of coworkers who are active allies to their trans or gender nonconforming.
You know, brothers and sisters in the workplace to help them feel more confident and comfortable transitioning their voices at work. We do a round table every month in my program. And this month's round table is on the subject of professionally transitioning in the workplace and how to overcome the mental and emotional roadblocks that sometimes voices for you puts in the way of making that type of transition. I will be able to speak much more to this after that. Anecdotally, it's a huge part of the conversation I'm having with every single member of where are they at and their overall transition journey and how can I help support them in the voice piece. A lot of times individuals who are medically transitioning can feel as though their presentation is affirming and aligned, but the voice is the last missing piece of the puzzle.
It really impacts somebody in the workplace. You know, there's the fear of safety, discrimination, harassment, losing your job, professionally transitioning. And I would say on a day to day, there's a huge impact on somebody who's choosing to transition their voice at the workplace. There's the experience of your voice gradually shifting while at work. And then also, I mean, that's more of like an interior employee, coworker, manager, like, executive leadership level fear and then there's also the client relationships. If you're in a role where you're speaking, especially if your job is like, at a call center, or you're mainly doing audio connect communication and not doing video calls that passing and quotes and putting passing in quotes on the phone is 9 times out of 10 one of the goals that people in my program are trying to reach.
Elena Joy: To be passing on the phone.
Nicole: Yeah, because you don't have a little piece to go with it. So, you know, individuals to maybe are gendered correctly. 100% of the time in person can have lower numbers over the phone for a multitude of reasons, which are inferable. But yeah, what I have learned is that most often, whenever somebody is deciding to professionally transition, there's this burden on the trans community to choose whether they want to do so in their own place of employment, or if they want to switch positions. So the the need for leadership and employers to really look at the culture that exists is urgent,
Elena Joy: huge.
Nicole: And retention so that you don't as a trans person have to feel like you have to find a whole new job in order to feel supported in transitioning.
Elena Joy: Oh, that is a huge thing that I'm trying to get across to the clients that I'm working with right now is every company has. The, the name that I'm using is Alex because it is gender neutral enough that everyone can identify it, right? Every company has an Alex who is a person who has been out as lesbian or gay for a long time. Everyone knows it's not their whole personality. It's not a big deal. They have lots of good friendships at work. This is not an issue, right? But what management doesn't realize is that person has also realized something recently about themselves around their gender identity.
And now it feels awkward to bring up because they've been with the company five to 10 years. And now it feels weird to ask for new pronouns. It actually feels easier to quit and start a new job somewhere else with the new gender identity. Like, our corporate leadership is not understanding that that's how important this is, is to be able to provide this space so that if people need to come out another way, they can.
Nicole: Yeah, and especially at this juncture, like, we mentioned covered earlier, but, uh, it was a time when I saw a vast increase in people pursuing different voice transition resources because it was a period of time where individuals quote, unquote, like, offline out of the office, focus on their transition and emerge back into the workplace as they're affirming identity.
So there's a lot of turnover job wise. That you may or may not know this, but one of the most popular career choices for the gender diverse community is in software engineering, which is impactful and extremely necessary for any tech company to have diversity within their software engineers, because they create the tech that basically creates the culture in the world that we live in. And so you have to have diversity and representation in your software engineers so that our culture shifts and shows the diversity that exists globally. And with it being one of the most popular career choices, employee retention of gender diverse talent is imperative to move ahead, um, as, and to compete as a tech company as well. And it's interesting the, the things that are not thought of as part of employee retention there, which is, you know, providing truly comprehensive access to gender for me, health care resources like voice.
Elena Joy: I love it. All right. So leave us with a few things. In April of 2020, you started this program on a month to month basis. It is now late summer 2023. How many people are in your program?
Nicole: Um, right now active daily users is around 400. That is, you know, that those people who are currently still changing their voices many, many, many, many more than that have graduated and met their voice goals and a large percentage of those folks hang around to do mentorship within the program, which is wonderful. And then our community at large is around 70, 000 across all of the platforms. And that's Intentional because we've talked a little bit about undead voice lab as our signature program, but we also. Once I felt like the company was financially secure enough to branch out, started creating lower tier programs that were accessible at a much more approachable price point.
79, 99, 249, depending on what the resource was and then. More widespread. I just a few, I think two months ago released a trans voice one on one guide, which is completely free resource. And you can find it at undead voice dot com slash guide, but it doesn't just talk about beginner voice exercises, which are in there, but it also talks about how to determine what your goals are, how to figure out your budget for voice work, what, what kind of energy you have, how to prioritize it.
It goes over the effects of testosterone or any sort of HRT on the voice, how to. Approach voice dysphoria and some tips and tricks for working around voice dysphoria while finding a euphoric sounds and most proud of, which also made me most scared to put out transparently is the last chapter is on how to vet your potential voice coach.
That I've been slightly critical of speech language pathologist techniques throughout the entire guide, but I lay out a list of [00:52:00] 14 questions that I feel are extremely useful for. Asking your potential voice coach or speech therapist before you work with them, uh, and also kind of gauging what their reactions are to those questions, and they should be excited to answer them, but it helps you vet who would be worth investing your time, energy and resources with and who might be good to just kind of pass along and look for somebody else.
Elena Joy: What an incredible resource, what incredible volume. I'm so excited to be able to share that link now. It's going to be like a perma share. I think for my whole people.
Nicole: Yeah, I'm excited to do the, um, what's the name of the parent thing?
Elena Joy: Oh, yeah. The pride and joy parent event in September.
Nicole: Yeah, I'm excited to do the Pride Enjoy Parent event in September because we have a youth program and we have 150, 000 a year in needs based scholarships reserved for youth. So there's a lot of focus on supporting youth through voice transition because I won't go too deep into it because I'm sure that's everything that we've talked about. The effects of puberty, the irreversible effects of puberty on the voice and why voice should really be one of the. Like a really big point that you're taking into account when you're deciding how to move forward with gender affirming health care for youth. Because I don't think it's been talked about in as much weight as a lot of the other medical transition pieces, but we will dive into all of that and more.
Elena Joy: Oh my gosh. And there's so much more that I could be asking on the business side as well. Like to see what incredible growth, I mean, any entrepreneur could say, how do I get from zero clients to 400 plus monthly clients, In a 3 year period? like that in and of itself is absolutely amazing, but I think what we'll kind of wrap it up and audience if you have more questions for Nicole, and we need to have her back here for another round go around. You let us know we will drag her back.
Nicole: We can do a follow up. A. M. A. That would be amazing.
Elena Joy: Oh, so to wrap this up, I'd love to know you had mentioned. Thank You know, I know that my future self has figured some things out and so I can rely on that. I can calibrate towards that. I can point towards that. Tell me 1 or 2 things that you have figured out for the April 2020 version of Nicole. Were there any like sticking points or like crossroads that you got to, and you're like, I have no idea how I'm going to figure this out, but somehow you did.
Nicole: Yeah. I think something that I did instinctually that as I'm coming across new entrepreneurs who are starting to create businesses maybe aren't doing. And so I didn't know if it was right or wrong that I'm surprised by is creating a company with scalability already assumed. So the intention there is, you know, I could have created the courses, the coaching, the community with the goal of having 50 members or having 20 or having 200, but I created it with the intention of having 50, 000. Which means that as my company continues to scale, I'm not having to dismantle my infrastructure and redo it every time that has saved me years of my life. It's enabled me to grow to the scale that I have now and to be profitable from almost the very beginning. In a very short period of time, which is wonderful.
The other piece is I think when starting out, I often grappled with this idea, especially whenever you're in more of an educational space where you're sharing your expertise about something of what to keep. To myself or behind a paywall versus what to put out there in social media for tips and tricks. And at first, I was very much like, well, I can't tell somebody how to raise their larynx because that's one of my courses. If I do that, nobody's going to come to my courses. And I really battled with that for a while and struggled with it and finally saw enough times that whenever. I put really valuable resources out there and gate kept nothing.
It only returned to me in tenfold. And I have never spent a dollar in marketing. I've never paid for an ad or anything. I just, I've bought marketing if you will, in quotes with my goodwill by putting all of the information and the resources out there. Because the truth is people pay for curation. We could probably learn anything you wanted to know by Googling enough times and, you know, Frankensteining together information off of the internet, but that wasn't what I was creating.
And so just being really generous with my knowledge and looking through the lens of access, like if access is the goal. Who am I to gatekeep my own information and it didn't do what I feared, which was have people just digest and consume all of my free resources and never move forward working with me. What it did was establish me as an expert in my field and a thought leader and what I'm doing and drew people to my work and to me as an individual by just really. Answering every question that was asked of me and, and, and never having like a sales approach.
Elena Joy: That's powerful. I love what you said there about the access. If access is the goal, then X, Y, Z. Right. And that, that really helped guide your essentially, it was your marketing approach, right? Like the information that you were sharing. Okay. So go ahead.
Nicole: When I first started out, I, I, uh, before I decided to do all of my branding myself, because I am very controlling with the, with the imagery, um, and everything else, I had a branding specialist that I met with and they asked me, okay, but what are your goals?
Are your goals profitability? Are they, um, growth? Like, what are your goals? And I'm like, I don't even know what you mean. What are the choices? Cause again, not an entrepreneur, not a business degree. I had no idea. I was like, I just want to be successful. And at the time I didn't understand. And my answer was like all of them.
I want to look through all of the rose colored glasses. I don't want to have to switch back and forth. Now, retroactively, I would have told April 20, 2020 Nicole, um, And I will say this candidly, you should start with some profitability because if you are always feeling financially insecure, then you don't have the bandwidth to work or to give yourself, uh, and show up for your community in the way that you should once I felt financially secure and whatever that means to you.
I'm, you know, also privileged. I have a partner with. Like gainful employment. And so as a team, we were able to make great choices about me reinvesting all of my profits back into my company, instead of paying myself for a while there. And that was helpful. So I want to acknowledge that. But once I felt financially secure in my company, then the lens turned to access.
And once I have my access glasses on, it changed everything that I did in my company. I stopped focusing on anything that did not. Directly impact access and that's where you started to see me creating a lot more online tips and tricks for free. The trans voice 101 guide and then doing free provider training and workshops to not only increase access to my platform, but also increase access for the trans community through their, their primary care physicians so that they weren't pushing people down the wrong road.
Elena Joy: Mm hmm. I love it. So I love this idea of profitability is first. I think that can initially rub so many of us the wrong way, especially in the queer community, because being profitable, being wealthy so much of that is really attached to oppression. Right? And so when we can detach that and take it to I. We'll have so much more capacity bandwidth, all the things, right? If I'm profitable first, right? So I love that starting with profitability, then focusing on access.
Now, future Nicole, 2029, Nicole has figured a few things out, right? It has probably been on a new chapter or 2 of the book. What are some things that you're hoping future?
Nicole: That profitability piece. So my mantra right now is make them pay, meaning make anybody but the trans person pay for their voice transition. So 2029 Nicole has figured out how to increase access and profitability, but by organizing, convincing, pressuring the other entities to fund voice transition, or at that point, we are saturated enough That's all organizations are asking to include us as a wellness benefit.
So the number 1 thing I'm hoping 2029 Nicole has figured out is how to take vacation and how to make other people large organizations and entities fund the resource so that we're not asking the queer community to continue to invest in something that is already. Astronomically expensive, which is transitioning.
Elena Joy: Pride and joy fam. Do you see why Nicole is such a kindred spirit? This is exactly how pride and joy foundation was founded was this idea of we want to decrease and prevent decrease the rate of and prevent suicide and homelessness in our community. And we want corporate America to pay for it. Period. It should not be coming out of the pockets of our own people.
This is a systemic issue, homophobia and transphobia, and therefore the system should be the one to help heal it and solve it. Yeah, we bail them out. They should bail us out. Hell yes. Oh, thank you so much, Nicole. Okay. We're going to have the link to the guide, obviously a link to the undead voice lab. Is there anything else out there that you, that our audience needs to know about?
Nicole: Yeah, I would say 1 of the things that I continue to do that I've done since day 1 and I will do even in 2029 is to offer free voice consults. So if you or anybody, you know, is interested in voice transition, your child, yourself, your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, and that individual is just trying to navigate the online world of where the hell to find a resource. I can help you. I spend it. An inordinate amount of my time making sure I'm up to date on all of the resources that are available. So if you go to my website, you will find a link to schedule one of those consults with me. They are free. They are 15 minutes. They are over zoom on or off video, whatever you're most comfortable with.
And I can help you figure out based on your goals, your budget, and where it's falling and, you know, your comfort level, what resource would work best for your voice journey, even if it's not with me.
Elena Joy: I love it. Well, we're so excited. September 19th. We're going to see you at our pride and joy parent event. It's going to be absolutely incredible. And please all the parents, teachers, educators, community leaders, grandparents. We're so excited to have you there and bring your questions about how affirming voice can impact our youth's mental health and what we can do as the adults and loved ones in their lives to both increase the affirmingness of their voice as well as the wellness of their mental health.
So we are so excited to have you there and Nicole, thank you so much.
Nicole: You're welcome. See you then.
Elena: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Nicole. Isn't she great? Nicole and I are working on a few projects together. In our chats, I've learned so much about how affirming voice is impacting our community and our success in the world.
For example, did you know that for many people struggling with their voice, when they interact with someone, say their boss, 66% of their brain is being used, being conscious of their voice and how it's being received instead of being present in the conversation. They're also more likely to not speak up in team meetings or other high stakes conversations often where their team and their boss really need them to speak up. Both parents and leaders can go a long way to increase the psychological safety of their people by being aware of how voice impacts mental health. In my day job as an executive coach for emerging LGBTQ plus professionals, I've personally seen time and time again how much voice impacts career. In my day to day life as a conversion therapy survivor, I've experienced how much voice impacts my healing.
In my life as the volunteer executive director of our awesome Pride and Joy Foundation, I've seen over and over how using our voices helps to deconstruct our own internalized homophobia and allows us to access our own beautiful queer joy. It's your voice and it's your power. Speak it to yourself fam. I appreciate you.