Journal spotlights interdisciplinary approach to gender affirming voice training

UW–Madison’s Colleen Conroy is a co-author of a new article published in Voice and Speech Review that is titled, “An Interdisciplinary Approach to Gender Affirming Voice Training.”

Photo of Colleen Conroy

Conroy is an assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Theatre and Drama. She and her co-authors on the article — Owen Karcher, an art therapist, and Kevin Pasternak, a speech-language pathologist — teamed up in Feb. 2021 to offer a series of virtual, community-based voice feminization workshops for trans women in Milwaukee.

In developing the workshops, the three saw an opportunity to combine knowledge from their respective disciplines that are traditionally siloed. “We thought we probably had a lot of information to share (with each other),” Conroy says.

Conroy guided workshop participants through exercises she uses in her theater arts classes. “In my field we’re really looking at expression, and how to tap into one’s authentic expression — and expressing one’s identity — using the techniques that I’ve learned in my field. So lots of imagery, and physicalization, and embodiment,” she says.

Additionally, Pasternak led vocal exercises based in his clinical knowledge of vocal science, and Karcher helped ensure a safe learning environment. The article describes their process and results, sharing specific exercises and including recommendations for practitioners wanting to offer similar programming for transgender people seeking vocal training.

The desired outcome? On an individual level, Conroy says, it is an individual feeling happier and more at ease with their voice.

Alex Corona, the transgender program coordinator at the LGBT Community Center in Milwaukee, says the workshops made a huge difference for her clients. 

“Many trans women feel deep dysphoria about their voices but live with this pain because they don’t know that voice therapy is possible. (Through the workshops), we were able to break down the barrier that this sort of thing is out of reach and make the already difficult lives of transgender people a little bit better.”

To learn more, check out the full article in Voice and Speech Review.

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