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September 28, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
Ever been asked to step outside your comfort zone? You may recall some inner dialog before making your choice.
After a transgendered coworker requested help learning the speech and nonverbal behaviors of another gender, I first questioned my abilities, capacity, and lack of experience. Then I remembered 1 Peter 4:10-11: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.” Using this command as my staff, I took my first, stumbling steps, over the border.
“So,” my computer tech asked, “I overheard your media training class today. It’s cool you work with people’s voices. Would you mind giving me some tips on mine?”
I was dead tired, three months into a challenging job, in a state office whose outdated technology was rivaled only by its abysmal tech support. The only thing stopping me from suggesting a quick trip to Toastmasters was the fact he (now she) had saved my technical bacon more than once.
“What do you want to work on?” I asked. And just like that, I slipped over the border.
Fifteen years later, I’ve crossed the transgender border so often I may qualify for frequent flyer points.
It wasn’t a planned destination. After an initial consult, I reviewed graduate texts on gender communication and nonverbal behavior, consulted voiceover artists and – for lack of any available syllabus – created my own.
No one ever taught me how to help people change genders, but I come from radio. Most air talent can change their voice– for at least 30-60 seconds – to sound male/female, younger/older or - depending on the copy – like a drunk frog with a French accent! Gender, shmender, the best “old lady voice” I know lives in a 50-ish male. He gets paid very well to do it, too.
Turns out we both had a lot to learn. I offer specific, research-based gender communication behaviors to adopt. Things like varying pitch, rate and volume, using 30 percent more adjectives and adverbs than men and that’s before nonverbal work! I’m a tour guide, too, to what I call “Eclectic Ladyland.”
My clients teach me vocabulary. If a new client calls herself a “pre-op, post hormonal MtF pre IRL client,” it helps to know what that means! Then there’s GG (that’s me!), TG, TV, cross dresser, E-moods and oh the politics! Like the fight to turn LBGT into LGBTQ (and whether or not the Ts and Qs feel more or less represented by the larger organizations).
Vocal work requires talking about something, right? I talk about glottals, projection and the fact women blink 30 percent more than men. Clients discuss the cost and pain of electrolysis, bathroom dilemmas, and the cost of women’s clothing.
All image management work requires trust. CEOs, shy Asian executives, people working to lose (or gain) a regional accent. Changing people’s voice and bodies is intimate stuff. But many TG clients have good reason not to trust anyone. I’ve learned the fastest way to create trust is with my own body.
Take pitch work. To start, I literally wrap my client’s hand around my throat and put the other on my solar plexus. Risky business, right? But my next move is to wrap my hand around their throat and touch their solar plexus to measure progress. As an icebreaker, you can’t beat it.
Practice Makes Perfect
Vocal practice is tough, time-consuming and requires motivation to keep trying, over and over and over. Non-verbal work is repetitive and physically taxing. One 30-year Army veteran client compared learning to walk, elegantly, in high heels, to boot camp!
Sadly, TG clients struggle finding safe places to practice. Confidentiality, privacy, and basic personal safety are unique and valid concerns. I can’t fix my client’s isolation or make family or work more accepting, so my response is to find or create “safe places.”
Both my church and bar are welcoming and affirming (draw your own conclusions from that!), my husband and friends feel the same. But I got a shock when I began inviting clients to dinner, drinks, or my annual Thanksgiving Orphan’s Feast. They were so amazed at the invitations, I had to repeat myself. I found myself surprised by their tears.
Spanning the Boundary
I never set out to be a transition coach. I’m just a hetero GG (genuine girl) with lots of L, G, bi or (as I was later to learn) closeted TG pals. But I must be doing something right – my clients pass!
Thank goodness, despite their isolation, my clients talk about me to social workers, endocrinologists, psychiatrists and other transitioning folks. I’m honored by their referrals and references.
I’m also sad to see them go. I’m just a temporary visitor and tour guide. Once adopted behaviors become automatic, I’m out of a job! Until the next phone call or email. Just like that, my next journey begins.
Chrystal Bartlett runs a full-service marketing and public relations company in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has a BA in communication, an MA in public relations and years of broadcast experience. To learn more, contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.