Identity

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Identity

Your voice is your identity – Coming home to yourself

Your Voice is Your Identity

Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series uses this line in The Blood of Olympus. He goes on, “If you don’t use it, you’re halfway to Asphodel (Hell) already.” I have friends who’ve been scared to transition so as not to lose their voice or desperate via hormones or surgery to change their. I made the opposite decision, to keep my voice, but not other things. I had several partners who actually voiced their nonchalance with regard to my genitals, but said, “keep your voice, it’s part of who you are”. And so I did. 

“Your Voice is Your Identity”

I guess I’m renowned for talking, ad nauseum sometimes. I blame being born briefly silent for 7 minutes, making up for lost time since, and my mother, from whom I inherited an insatiable desire to both read, engage, and talk, much to my father and her husband’s chagrin. Yet, he too, has a lovely voice, as an actor and when doing poetry readings.

Speech Therapy

I remember in the Christian Union at UCL, long distant left behind days, that three-quarters of the members were women, and three-quarter of them were speech therapists. I went to innumerable post-college weddings, was even the photographer, best man and groom at some, but also one funeral, of a young Uni friend – a speech therapist. 

Katy Went Transgender Voices NHS NSFT photoshoot
Katy Went “Transgender Voices” NHS NSFT magazine photoshoot

Speech therapy is available to some MTF/AMAB trans women, others augment with vocal chord tightening and Adam’s Apple shaves.

I’ve continued to go to demos, deliver speeches and interviews, or appear on the Radio – can one appear? Surely, one announces and is heard but not seen.

There lies my dilemma, I did a lot of Radio work and still do but as Katy Jon, as that saved the explanation of why Katy had a deep voice – because she/they was also Jon, but at the same time. I still get the shocked apologies when Radio presenters introduce me and are not sure of the gender to go with the voice or name.

People say it’s all about the breasts or the beard, the skirts or the trousers, the long hair and makeup or shaved hair and stubble. It is, until you open your mouth. 

On aeroplane flights I’m frequently offered a “drink, madam” as they approach from behind, only for me to request a Whisky or red wine with a deep voice and them to say, “so sorry, I meant, ‘Sir'” and I reply, “No, you were right the first time”. They’re more embarrassed than me.

What irked me about the speech therapy for trans was training you to talk like a female cast member of Neighbours, allegedly, “because women’s voices go up at the end of a sentence”. 

Women with deep voices

Some, maybe, but I googled singers and “actresses with deep voices” and realised there were plenty from black jazz singers to husky female actors appearing in everything from the African Queen (Katharine Hepburn) to Star Trek: Voyager (Kate Mulgrew). In fact, google that same thing now and one of the top entries is a feminisation secrets blog page about the “Top Ten Women with Deep Voices“. Maybe Google knows I’m trans.

For some women, smoking and even the menopause and the resulting decrease of Oestrogen can lower one’s voice. For others, it’s a record of their life. I remember the before and after versions of Marianne Faithful’s voice, I actually liked the latter “whisky soaked” version.

“The rough, cracked, even scarred instrument that Faithfull possesses is as responsible for her legendary status as is her sordid past. Her voice is testament to that past, a lifetime of self-destructive behavior that included years of drug abuse and heroin addiction. The smoky rasp Faithfull now wields is hardly recognizable from the gentle, lilting teenage soprano that first put her on the charts in 1964, at age 17, with her rendition of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ ‘As Tears Go By.'” – abc news

As a teen, suffering from an endocrine condition that meant a delayed puberty I was teased and bullied for my high pitched voice. I was still paranoid about it in my 20s, so I practised deepening it, and slowly grew a goatee beard to pass better as a man. I noticed deeper older voices got listened to, got treated with respect. Indeed, studies show this to be true.

The irony was that I didn’t feel what I was pretending to be, certainly not the stereotyped version of manhood. Nor would I end up its polar opposite either. So, I am both “my voice” and “not my voice”.

When I think of singers whose voices are part and parcel of their identity and yet they make me question and reflect on that inner and outer journey of identity, I think of Antony and the Johnsons, Lady Gaga and several others besides, “I am what I am” by Gloria Gaynor but sung by John Barrowman, or even “She’s Not There” by The Zombies. Their songs so often give voice to my inner voice or like Lola by the Kinks perpetuate the confusion of myself or others.

Charlie Peck singing “Home”

My decision to keep my voice, as an unchanged part of my identity, is mine alone, and not a comment on those who transform theirs. My reflection, on this, in fact, came about because of seeing a YouTube video of a trans guy Charlie Peck who recorded their voice before and after 9 months (apt, the period of pregnancy and giving birth) of Testosterone. 

I cried at this, twice, three times, ok I’m still crying.

Contrary to this video, other parts of me changed, but I get the coming “Home” to oneself, and being both different and yet the same. This is something non-trans people may never get, but transitioning for most of us is like coming home, finding ourselves, doing what we have to do to accept ourselves, be ourselves.

Charlie writes:

“This video is a true ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. I am singing a duet with myself where one voice is recorded my first day on testosterone treatment (16th of May 2016) and the second voice 9 months later (16th of February 2017). The song is a tribute to the trans* community, but also to myself. It is a reminder that things actually do get better.”

Here’s another beautiful singer’s pre and post-T voice comparison, Nikolas Lima:

Voice has [no] Gender

The Greek musical composer Yiannis Chryssomallis, aka Yanni, said, that:

“There is no gender to my music. There’s no male or female voice, no trite lyrics or poetry. It’s much more abstract, so it lives with you longer.”

And yet, also:

“the human voice too can be the most expressive instrument known to man. There is power to it.”

“the voice is the netherworld, the darkness, where there’s nothing to hang onto. The voice comes from a part of you that just knows and expresses and is.” – Jeff Buckley

A Voice for the voiceless

I prefer to ignore the gender in my or other voices, I know trans men who haven’t taken a drop of T yet, meanwhile, I’ve never seen or heard them as anything other than male, and often their voices match that perception even without the aid of hormones. The same goes for many trans women, I don’t notice the pitch of their voice, rather I concentrate on what they have to say. That should be true for all of us.

In addition, the most powerful thing we can do with our voices is to speak up for those without one. Don’t be silent, don’t be afraid of your power, whether yours is a voice of creation or assent, let it be for good, whatever its pitch.

 

 

Identity

Kurt Cobain, RIP 23 years on; On Being Yourself and too much Empathy

Being Yourself by Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain - the Day the Music Died
Kurt Cobain – the Day the Music Died, 1994

Kurt Cobain, was born in 1967, and died 23 years ago today. He flitted between narcissism, empathy, love and pain, trying to enjoy his life and simply be himself, but not feeling it, instead feeling everything else instead. He’d have been 50 now, just a month older than me. 5 years ago, I also attempted suicide, after a lifelong struggle with identity and feeling too much.

Whilst Cobain is in nirvana now, where are we 20+ years on? Still struggling for identity, as individuals, and a generation? Cobain struggled with being seen as the voice of a generation. His band, Nirvana, was labelled “the flagship band” of Generation X, and Cobain himself proclaimed as “the spokesman of a generation”, something that did not sit well with him.

Faking it, Being Someone Else

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are.” – Kurt Cobain

Cobain was trying to work out how to be himself amidst the pressures of fame, parental divorce, love and loss, and mental health conditions including bipolar mood swings between depression and mania, as described by his cousin, a nurse, who noted his childhood diagnosis of ADHD and as an adult Bipolar (unconfirmed?). Several relatives had also committed suicide in the same way. 

He struggled to feel what he thought he was meant to feel or enjoy. He couldn’t fake the enjoyment of fame, or life itself.

“I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it” – Kurt Cobain, suicide note

“The worst crime is faking it.” – Kurt Cobain

Empathy and Fame

Kurt Cobain suicide note
Kurt Cobain suicide note

He mentioned empathy four times in his suicide note, and the struggle between feeling too much and yet not feeling anything – or what he thought was the right thing, at all. 

“I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus, man, ‘Why don’t you just enjoy it?’ I don’t know!” – Kurt Cobain, suicide note

Nirvana sold over 25 million albums in the US, and over 75 million worldwide, but fame and success do not fill the void. He hated the fame, and was envious of Freddie Mercury and how he seemed to relish it.

“We’re so trendy we can’t even escape ourselves…I really miss being able to blend in with people.” – Kurt Cobain

Reading, Writing & Lyrics

Cobain “occasionally took refuge in the counter-cultural writings of authors such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Samuel Beckett and Charles Bukowski”. Yet, described himself as having the “tongue of an experienced simpleton”, and hating the Freudian analysis that people subjected his lyrics to. Another reason, to explore him in his own words, not the interpretation of others.

“I’m not well-read, but when I read, I read well.” – Kurt Cobain

“I like to have strong opinions with nothing to back them up with besides my primal sincerity. I like sincerity. I lack sincerity.” – Kurt Cobain

Sexuality

Kurt Cobain was seemingly bisexual, though gave mixed interviews on that side of his personal life, calling himself “gay for a while” yet “more sexually attracted to women”. As a teen he was arrested and fined $180 for graffitiing “Homosex Rules” on a wall. He once said, “I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn’t.” It is not clear if he ever consummated this part of his persona, despite saying:

“If I wouldn’t have found Courtney, I probably would have carried on with a bisexual lifestyle.” – Kurt Cobain

Whilst Generation Y, born early 80s to 2000, followed Cobain’s Generation X, we are now on the Gen Z cohort, born since the Millennium. A group happy to be neither gay nor straight, to question gender and express it fluidly.

Women’s Rights

Cobain wrote about women’s rights in his songs, including concerning the rape of a 14yo girl after a concert (not one of his). 

“I definitely feel closer to the feminine side of the human being than I do the male – or the American idea of what a male is supposed to be.” – Kurt Cobain

“He was himself”

Canadian musician and writer, Dave Bidini, in an article for the National Post entitled “Kurt Cobain, who died 20 years ago today, wasn’t a hero, martyr or vampire. He was himself” ended with this comment:

“He looked like he didn’t care (because he didn’t) … His arms hang down and he turns sideways from the crowd, as if he’s trying not to be seen, even though 20 million people have their eyes trained on him. In a society where ‘bringing it’ and ‘all or nothing’ and ‘going for it’ are sicknesses pumped by fools who aspire to drive people apart rather than draw them together, Cobain’s sense of oblivion was, in a way, brave and confrontational, and that’s why he cracked even the hardest edifice and ate through misplaced pop culture like a creeping disease. In the end, he made an enormous impression for someone who wasn’t even there.”  – Dave Bidini, National Post

Cobain did escape, “Rather be dead than cool”, others need not take that route if they can follow his other wisdom, to be yourself and find someone you can be yourself with and talk to.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” – suicide note

Remember him alive though, here’s an awesome unplugged hour-long Kurt Cobain MTV concert in NYC November 1993 just months before his suicide, my favourite line of which was “like this is my third cup of tea already” – how Rock’n’Roll!

I will remember him, as much for the angst music of a tortured soul, as the desire to find and be himself, a journey I am also on, aren’t we all to a degree?

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain