My opportunity to work with transgender clients came with my first adult neuro and voice job- what an opportunity to have a supported start in a Scottish specialist centre! I was immediately sympathetic to the pain and dilemma of a life lived inauthentically by, often, ‘ordinary’ chaps who had always known they didn’t fit their skin. By chaps I mean the solely male to female clients who contacted us.
Here I developed my skills: core skills such as active listening; safe experimenting with voice and movement; sensitive honest feedback and acceptance. Also the management of those tricky therapy situations which challenge any therapist in this area over time such as a client’s anger, or behaviours associated with depression.
However, other of my specialist posts did not offer this client range and I had to wait a few years before returning to a voice post receiving transgender referrals. In the intervening years legislation had improved for equal recognition of ‘trans’ people, including in the work place and easier access to information has, I think, influenced the age of those starting their transition.
Basically, I consider my role as Speech and Language therapist is to offer feedback of the existing communication skills to the client – outlining the individual factors such as voice quality; volume; speed; resonance: style and choice of language. Then, when the components of communication are more understood, and our degree of trust has developed, we can start to manipulate the key factors that signal gender in various settings.
I hope to develop a clearer understanding of the ‘message’ we send when we communicate, and use recording and film to share this with my client. I think this is also a good learning situation for the therapist, and the paradox of ‘trying too hard’ or ’mixed messages’ can be one I may share with my client when attempting to explain a technique or aspect of therapy. Hopefully the resulting humour is an asset to the therapy process and not a hindrance!
Over the years I have met and worked with many lovely people, originally living as men, who have found successful ways of becoming the woman they always knew they were. Latterly my work has included workshops with my local self-help group where I also have contact with female to male members.
Whether their transition involved surgery has been, of course, their decision but the outward appearance and communication of ‘self’- including the voice and speech acts- had been a mutual collaboration which has truly represented what Speech and Language Therapy means to me.
Heidi de Quincey / Speech and Language Therapist / ASLTIP
The views expressed in the blog do not necessarily represent the views of ASLTIP. Publication does not imply endorsement.
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