SunMum is a UK parent with kids who have been affected by gender ideology. She can be found on Twitter @Mum3Sun
One of the poems Thomas Hardy wrote after the death of his wife Emma in 1912 is called ‘The Voice’:
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
We instantly recognise voices – whether those of our loved ones or an actor we vaguely know doing the voice–over for a commercial. I still sometimes hear my mother’s voice, even though she died almost twenty years ago. A voice seems to contain the essence of the person.
Maybe that’s why when my son tried to talk like a woman (rather, like the parody of a woman in his head), it hurt. I hated his altered voice. I would tense up at once. But I also knew I was lucky because oestrogen does not change the male voice, and his effort to sound like a woman never lasted long. How much harder must it be for mothers of trans-identified girls when testosterone begins to change their voices? Do they hear the voice of a lost daughter, as Hardy heard his wife, ‘Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me, /Saying that now you are not as you were’?
I started this piece thinking about the mothers I know who have daughters affected by the trans ideology. But then I read Mary Beard’s pamphlet, ‘Women and Power: a manifesto’ (Profile Books, 2017) and a penny dropped. I realised that the voices of women who speak in public have been criticised, since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans to today.
According to a familiar story, Elizabeth the First had to deny her own femaleness to ensure that her troops would take her words seriously: ‘I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman’ she is supposed to have said, ‘but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too’. Margaret Thatcher, Beard reminds us, ‘took voice training specifically to lower her voice, to add the tone of authority that her advisers thought her high pitch lacked.’(p. 39) In the second century, a lecturer called Dios Chrysostom asked his audience to imagine what would happen if
‘an entire community was struck by the following strange affliction: all the men suddenly got female voices, and no male – child or adult – could say anything in a manly way. Would not that seem terrible and harder to bear than any plague?’ (p. 19)
And then I remembered something I had forgotten for several decades: that I had hated the sound of my own voice as a young woman. Hearing my voice on an answerphone would make me curl up with embarrassment. As a student in the 1970s I used to wonder how women could possibly be taken seriously when they spoke in public or addressed a crowd – those squeaky high-pitched voices, I thought, were inevitably ridiculous. Maybe young women still share these feelings.
Given the negative associations of high voices, it’s not surprising that boys and men attract criticism for voices that don’t sound sufficiently male. Shon Faye reveals in his video for Tate Britain that he was bullied as a child for his ‘shrill’ voice. Dios Chrysostom would have sympathised: ‘Would not that seem terrible and harder to bear than any plague?’ For men trying to transition, hormones don’t help and although gender identity clinics offer voice training, leading trans women now seem not to bother. Listen, for instance, to Riley J. Dennis, whose voice has nothing of the acquired high tone of Christine Burns, a trans woman from an earlier generation heard here in conversation with gender clinician Stuart Lorimer. ‘Have you heard how low my voice actually is?’ asks Shon Faye. And then he answers his own question: ‘Yes, of course you have, because now you never stop mentioning it. Yes, suddenly I’m no longer a girl, I’m a man, a thug in a dress.’
Shon Faye’s voice reads as low within a female range rather than high in the male range. But as a trans woman he was invited to make a film for Tate Britain’s 2017 exhibition “Queer British Art 1861-1967.” Mary Beard noticed that Elizabeth I had to claim to be a man to be heard by her troops. Tate Britain offers the same quotation as an example of queer identities in history. Call it queer and we won’t notice that the female voice has disappeared:
‘Under Elizabeth, English drama flourished and often reflected this idea of gender as a role to be performed. According to the conventions of the time, in the theatre all parts were played by men, but this very restriction prompted playwrights – most notably Shakespeare – to create plots in which boys play girls who play boys to win boys.’
That’s right: ‘all parts were played by men’.
It cannot be coincidental that the ‘brilliant trans voices’ that Owen Jones wrote about in the Guardian in 2017 were all natal males: Shon Faye, Paris Lees and Munroe Bergdorf. Has the ‘onward march’ of history taken us back to the 16th century?
Maybe our trans-identified daughters (and sons) are onto something. With their hormonally lowered voices, our daughters hope at last to be heard. Our trans-identified sons tell us not to complain that their low voices don’t sound feminine. They know that they will still be heard.
How can women’s voices be heard, asks Mary Beard: ‘rather than push women into voice training classes to get a nice, deep, husky and entirely artificial tone, we should be thinking more about the fault-lines and fractures that underlie dominant male discourse’. But some of our daughters can’t wait for that uncertain future time. Hormones allowed Alex Bertie to publish ‘A brave and ground-breaking first-hand account of [his] life, struggles and victories’. Would his struggle have gained a publisher if his voice had not broken? The trans voice mirrors age-old assumptions about the voice of authority. What disappears is the voice that is known and loved, the irreplaceable sound of the woman much missed.