This column originally appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Canadian Musician magazine.
By T. Thomason
In 2015, just before I turned 21, I started testosterone hormone replacement therapy (THRT). I’d heard consistently that THRT would make singing professionally impossible. For a long time, I was convinced I’d have to choose between my career (which I’d been developing since 2009) and who I was meant to be. Thankfully, that was not the case.
(A quick disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a vocal coach, and everyone’s voice/vocal goals are different!)
1. Find Inspiration
I went looking for examples of singers who were doing what I wanted to do and was lucky enough to connect directly with one of my favourite artists. Lucas Silveira – the first openly trans man signed to a major label – said to me: “Continuing to sing through THRT is possible. For the best results, singing must be at the centre of your transition.”
Vocal changes as a result of THRT are permanent and irreversible. I had to ask myself: “Am I prepared to base my medical and social life around my voice?”
2. Connect with a Vocal Coach Before THRT
It was extremely helpful to begin working with my coach, Ali Garrison of Swallow a Dragon Voice Studio (recommended by Lucas) before starting THRT. This gave Ali a sense of where I was coming from.
Check out your local arts funding bodies for professional development grants. Working with a coach through vocal transition is time sensitive and absolutely professional development! I received the Chalmers Professional Development Grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Without their support, I would not have been able to work with Ali during this crucial time.
3. Learn About the Vocal Effects of Testosterone
A quick rundown of my rudimentary understanding of what is happening to our instrument through this process (do your own research, talk to your doctor): When testosterone is introduced to the body, the vocal cords thicken and the cartilage of our larynx hardens. A high dose can shock the body, resulting in the abrupt thickening of the cords and hardening of the larynx, which you can imagine could lead to stories we’ve all heard – constant vocal cracking, loss of range, vocal entrapment, etc., all to varying degrees.
From my research, many folks start in the 0.5 ml weekly injection range, though there is not really a standardized starting dose for testosterone that I’m aware of.
Based on Lucas’ experience and approval from my doctor, I began on 0.25 ml every 10 days, and increased the frequency of my shot to once a week when I was comfortable with my initial vocal changes (and had consulted my doctor and Ali). I increased my dose incrementally as I became comfortable, vocally. This gave my body time to adjust and grow into a different instrument.
Keep in mind, lower doses of T may slow physical changes and result in being visibly trans for a longer period of time.
4. Sing for an Hour Every. Single. Day.
More great advice from Lucas. No matter what, sing. This is time sensitive. Don’t leave it and return down the line to a totally new instrument.
If I was sick, I didn’t sing, though I discovered that the day after my shot in the early months, it often felt like I was coming down with something (stuffy nose, scratchy throat) and it was important to gently sing or hum through this.
Ali helped me create a vocal warm up regimen which is gentle and consistent so that I can always measure where my voice is that day as I begin my hour. I still do this.
5. Learn About the Anatomy/Structure of the Vocal Instrument
At our first lesson, Ali gave me a hand mirror, told me to open wide, and look in at my mouth/back of my throat. She said, “Look at all that space in there; it’s like a cathedral! That structure is integral to your sound, and won’t change with hormones.”
Ali taught me about resonators and how unique they are to each individual (seems obvious, but it blew my mind). This helped to reinforce that many parts of the sound I was used to, that I identified with, that felt like me, would not change. I could count on the fact that pieces of myself would come with me. This was extremely comforting. It helped to ground me in my body, in the reality of what was happening as opposed to getting lost in the spiral of “what ifs.” I began to trust and like my body more than ever before.
Ali taught me not to sing into the places that felt like they were under construction, and to focus on what was accessible. She helped reassure me that I was not abandoning parts of my voice; I was supporting them by giving them the time they needed to grow, checking in gently and regularly until they were ready for me to slowly test-drive what had developed.
It was incredibly hard to trust that leaving these areas alone was the right thing. By learning about my instrument, I came to believe that my body will show up for me if I let it. It was an amazingly empowering lesson.
You can do it! Happy singing! I can’t wait to hear your new voice; the world needs it.
T. Thomason is a new kind of pop sensation. The U.K.-born, Nova Scotia-raised Toronto resident has impressed fans with his emotional and highly energetic live performances throughout his 11-year music career at festivals like The Great Escape and Pride Toronto. His recent single, “Loser Pt. II” featuring Ria Mae, is out now. www.t-thomason.com.