Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice six days on T.
Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice fifteen days on T.
Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice three weeks on T.
Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice twenty-nine days on T.
Voice diaries are a common right-of-passage for transmasculine people, the act of recording one’s voice as it drops over the course of medical transition. When I started testosterone, I wanted my recordings to be punctual: once a week for the first three months, then once a month through the end of the first year, then every three months through the first half-decade.
I had a lot of grand ideas about my transition, none of which came true. I thought medical transition was going to be the thing that finally fixed me: my vocal folds would thicken, cartilage cocooning my cords, voice dropping to sound like my booming father. Intramuscular testosterone was going to make me into the self I always wished I was, and I would never look back. And it did, to an extent, but T isn’t magic; my vocal cords will always be shorter than the average man’s. I still hear now who I heard then.
The summer between fifth and sixth grade, right before my first name change transposed my childhood nickname into the mouthy syllables of my legal name, I went to camp. Mom drove me forty-five minutes each way to a long warehouse building in north Portland with no AC in early August. Every day, I thought I was going to melt. This was mostly from the heat bearing down on my small shoulders, but I was also terrified. I didn’t know a single person at Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. I was drawn to the kids four or five years older than me, their power, enthusiasm, exuberance, beauty. But I was there to learn how to play bass and start a band.
A standard four-string electric bass is tuned to the same notes as a guitar’s lowest four strings, just one octave deeper. When these notes are written out, they are transcribed back up an octave into a guitar’s range for ease of reading and normalization of guitar notes. No matter the pitch, an electric bass cannot really be heard without an amplifier.
Rock and Roll Camp for Girls only lasted a week. I sat in the far back of stuffed pseudo-classroom during our daily workshops, introduced to new concepts: ableism, screenprinting, radical kindness, zine making, queer identity. These were people who understood me, even if I didn’t understand myself. Queer and punk feminism soaked itself into the muscle of my suburban youth, where I lived twenty minutes from the ashes of riot grrrl culture. At Rock Camp, in the middle of its revival, I felt safer than I ever had.
Over the course of that week, I tried desperately, and failed, to befriend or even talk to any of the girls. There was a sixteen-year-old camper in particular whose mushroom-shaped hair was black underneath and bleach-blonde on top. She swapped layer colors halfway through the week. I couldn’t stop staring at her every time I saw her in the lunch hall. I think my camp counselor, Nicole, knew. Nicole was also transfixing in a way that would influence my late-teen fashion when I decided I just needed to try harder to be a woman – her beehive hairstyle and big cat-eye glasses, red lipstick on black hair on white t-shirts, spiraling tattoos down her arms – but she was kind enough to not bring up my subtle fixation. She didn’t know about my writing tendencies, nor I hers, but we connected as best as two awkward queer punks with a seventeen-year age gap can. She led our band into cohesion in a small room full of thick, plush soundproofing material.
By late high school, I was anointed in the casual burning misandry of queer women, the kind one screams as a verbal middle finger to the patriarchal system that failed them miserably. I just laughed a little too loudly and offered my own contributions a little too quickly. “Men are trash,” I said, letting the ‘a’ vowel linger and ring out from my throat. My friends, all lesbians or fellow bisexuals, nodded. “I hate that I like them.”
“You don’t have to,” they offered, genuinely trying to help me out of what they heard as the problem. “Even if you have those feelings, you don’t have to pursue them.”
A bass string and guitar string are often wound to the same thickness, but the material they are made out of, particularly their cores, are what differentiate them. A bass player could lace their instrument with guitar strings, but the timbre will always sound off.
Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice seventy-seven days on T.
Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice ninety-five –
My voice, one hundred and thirty one –
Voice, one hundred and fifty-four –
One hundred and seventy-seven days on –
I record myself to become a fossil, one I expect to never fully excavate. One day, I think, staring at the “record” button, someone will want to hear this. I’ve only gone back twice to listen to myself but the difference is startling. I always thought I hated my voice in the same way as everyone else. After all, a voice sounds different to its owner than it does to others because of the way it rattles through hard palate and bone. It must have been okay for others to listen to, considering how many people told me I had a radio voice, but it was always disembodied to me. My voice, the radio host; my body, the machine. Now, speaking with this voice still feels the same, but when I hear it stutter out of one of my student’s speakers on Zoom, it is a blessing and a curse: I hear the woman who speaks for me, and the man in the echo.
I record myself to become a fossil, one I expect to never fully excavate.
Loosening myself away from queer womanhood was the last thing I did before accepting I needed to transition, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s taken me over a year to let myself settle into the specific hole of the gender identity I’ve dug with my bare hands.
Sometimes, I want to burst forth into the soundproofed band room where my lesbian friends are all still hanging out like nothing’s changed and expect the same warm response I used to see but know I would find the space empty. Some days I want to give up completely and go crawling back to what I know, or thought I knew, but I know I am happier this way as myself. I know how joy sounds, it’s just different than I remembered, and a little more nasally than I expected. I am one of the lesbians that men stole, except I was never a lesbian, and men never stole me.
My last roommate, the first person I’d ever come out to as queer when we were fourteen, started avoiding me after I came out as transgender. The sculpture on our coffee table was one she made, swathed in pink glaze and a pyre of large thorned branches. “It’s a testament to queer womanhood,” she told me. “It’s a reclamation of the things I thought I couldn’t have.” But we don’t talk anymore.
Rock and Roll Camp for Girls ended with a concert in the Bagdad Theater in southeast Portland. My five-person band was comprised of the third-youngest campers, so we performed near the beginning of the set to not interrupt our bedtimes. While the song we’d written that week was simple and none of our harmonies or chords lined up, we screamed as much self-acceptance as we could muster. Our lead singer hollered the chorus line by line, pointing the microphone at the crowd who echoed it back to her.
How can I get through to you?
That I have dreams too?
It’s not that I don’t like you,
I just wanna be myself.
Hi, my name is Lee, and this is my voice four hundred and seventy-three days on T.
My mom uploaded a video of my band’s performance on YouTube the week of the showcase. The video itself is blurry, leaving pale outlines of the five of us in our white screen-printed t-shirts against a black velvet Bagdad Theater background. My voice is only audible when I introduce myself at the beginning, and even then, I am almost too quiet to hear, saying my deadname before the crowd had stopped cheering for the girl who introduced herself before me.
It’s still hard to feel like I can let my voice go raspy and crackly like radio static tuning to the right station. Eventually, with time and practice, it will come out clearly. Or, as clearly as it can, considering the average timbre of someone who’s been on testosterone without vocal training. It’s easy to pick up if you’re in the know: the sound of a voice in the practice of speaking from the head rather than the chest despite having dropped an octave and a half in fifteen months, simultaneously deep and nasally like the opposite of a helium balloon inhale. My voice has stopped dropping so, theoretically, I could take the time to trace it down the back of my throat into my chest. For now, though, I will keep holding my cell phone speaker up to my mouth and leaving myself notes, letting myself smile when I hear him speaking back to me.
Lee Anderson is a nonbinary writer from the American West with an MFA from Northern Arizona University. They have been published sporadically but with zest, appearing or forthcoming in places such as The Rumpus, Columbia Journal, and Unstamatic Magazine, and currently serve as the Author Liaison at Sundress Publications. Their piece was written as part of the Mountain Writer-in-Residence program in Crested Butte, CO.