Voices at an exhibition

Fascinating analysis of gendered voice performance.

language: a feminist guide

Last week I went to see the Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition ‘This is a voice’, which explores, among other things, ‘how the unique grain of the voice locates us socially, geographically and psychologically, and how the voice can be dramatically altered by treatment and training’. The exhibits relating to this theme deal with subjects ranging from accent reduction to ventriloquism. But in this post I’m going to concentrate on two pieces which consider the way voices are gendered.

In Chris Chapman’s 2016 video ‘Voice and identity’, Adele, a trans woman, and James, a trans man, talk about the way their voices changed during the process of transitioning. Their personal reflections are intercut with explanatory commentary from a speech and language therapist, Jen Read.

One of the first points the video makes is that altering the way they sound is much more difficult for trans women (who make up around 85%…

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