“To think that women sing high and men sing low is such a mistake,” says Ari Agha during the first minute of Voice transformed * formeda new short film by Leah Borts-Kuperman and Maria Sarrouh, streaming above.
Agha is a sociologist, activist and defender of transgender singers. They are also the creator and researcher behind the University of Calgary program Project Key Twho studies transgender singing-to-voice transition through testosterone therapy, using their own experience as a case study.
“The lack of systematic information about transgender vocal transitions makes the decision to start testosterone especially difficult for transgender singers,” explains Key of T’s mission statement. “They can either take testosterone to transition , but risk losing the functional use of their voice, or continuing to live with a body that does not match their gender.”
It’s a dilemma that Asher MacLaren also faced. Research published by the Key of T project helped MacLaren make an informed decision about taking testosterone. “Most of my fears have come true, at least temporarily,” the Vancouver singer admits in Voice transformed * formed.
“I lost my voice for quite a while, but I gained a new one,” he continues. “I got what I wanted, which is a tenor range, and one that works, but not as well as my old range, but I trained that [range] for years and I probably trained that voice for six months.”
The video also includes excerpts from singing lessons and an explanation of the physiological changes that occur in the larynx and vocal cords during testosterone treatment.
“With transmasculine people, I find they’re trying to adjust to the new chest resonance,” says Stephanie Weiss, assistant professor of voice at Arizona State University. “Their voice is a little lower, and if they were singers before [transitioning]they probably trained with a superior instrument.”
MacLaren likens the process to breaking in a new car. “It’s exciting, and it fits your style much better than the old one, anyway.”
Voice transformed * formed was produced in association with CBC’s Creator Network. Watch the full video above.