The first time I went through puberty, I developed a problem with my “r”s in both of my languages. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household meant that we spoke Spanish, English, and Spanglish at home. Everyone knows the infamous rolling of the Rs in Spanish, yes? Well, when your adoptive family is Puerto Rican but your biology is mostly Irish, saying “el carro corre per la carretera” properly is impossible. At least it was/is for this zero-Latinx-blooded person.
That doesn’t account for my inability to say “run, Rabbit, run” in English, however. Which didn’t deter the speech therapist from asking me to do so once a week when she pulled me out of English for my therapy sessions. It also didn’t help that my favorite song at the time was that catchy ditty by the Steve Miller Band, “Abracadabra.” I sounded like an Elmer Fudd version of the song whenever I would forget my impediment and sing out “Abwa Abwacadabwa; I want to weach out and gwab ya.”
It is only at this very moment occurring to me that my speech impediment showed up at a particularly stressful period of my childhood. I was on the “wow I survived all of that now what” end of a series of traumatic events and entering into the “what is happening to my body” period without anyone to talk to about any it. In a family that despised the idea of therapy, speech therapy was bad enough but tell-me-about-your-feelings-and-family therapy? Being a delinquent would have been more acceptable.
I did, thankfully, manage to get my English Rs under control the vast majority of the time. If I’m tired, or drunk, all bets are off. As for “el carro…” I stopped speaking Spanish altogether while I was still a child.
This past year the relative isolation of the pandemic has made my world very quiet. While I speak to myself regularly, the conversations aren’t particularly extensive and the vast majority of my day is spent in silence. So when I do need to talk to someone else extensively, my voice often fades. I’m working on it. Working on strengthening my voice.
And realizing that the voice is part of the body. My voice is part of my body. It requires my breath, my abs, my ribs, my chest, my tongue, my throat. It is tethered to my shoulders my neck, my jaw, my back. It reverberates through every chakra. My voice is to my breath and body what poetry is to words and language. While not 100% necessary for basic survival, it is a much-needed and natural expression and expansion.
I had always wanted a deeper voice so when my voice first started to change, I was giddy. It started early in the process of my medical transition and was soon cracking at odd moments and completely unpredictable and unreliable. I laughed, or at the very least smiled if I had to restrain myself, every single time my voice shifted mid-sentence. I sounded like a teenager going through puberty. Half of that sentence is accurate. I was, indeed, going through puberty but it was my second go-round and I was thirty years beyond being a teenager.
Since going through Puberty 2.0 and the deepening of my voice, it has been harder to speak, even before the pandemic isolation. Physically, I mean. My vocal cords have thickened and the rest of my body is not accustomed to pushing through their new form. My throat tires if I speak too much. My face does as well. I don’t know why that is but I suspect it has something to do with my sinuses.
9 months into being on testosterone, I had to stop. I did not want to stop but I ran into some health complications that made continuing injections highly problematic. And the one potential result that I wasn’t keen on was moving from potential into reality: my hair had started to thin. I knew that going bald was a possibility, even a likelihood given my biological family’s tendency for early balding. And while I was willing to take the risk, I also knew that due to a long scar I have that runs from ear to ear, being bald would bring its own set of issues. I had hoped it would be delayed long enough that I could get a good understanding of what being on testosterone would be like — and that perhaps my voice would deepen enough by then. Both of those were true.
I miss having T in my body. I don’t miss the weekly injections, the health issues that arose because of them, or the fret about baldness. But I miss how I felt. How I was fully 100% in my body for the first and only time in my memory. I was aware of my arms, my legs, my stomach. Aware of my pelvis and hips and shoulders. I could feel the space I took up in the world and not feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. I did not shrink, or attempt to shrink. My shoulders felt wider, my posture was straighter. In short, I became a confident, self-possessed version of myself.
It was amazing.
Over time, without testosterone, that confidence and feeling of being present have diminished. I don’t know if it is psychological or physiological. It just is. And I feel less like myself as a result. Even with a deeper voice.
Lately, it is that voice that has reminded me of what it was like to feel like my body was mine. I’ve committed to exploring it more, to strengthening my body to better support it. To deepening my reserves to fully sustain it. I’ve committed to taking up space again, even if only through my speech, even if only in my own presence.
The past couple of days I’ve been doing a meditation that focuses on using one’s voice. Today we were guided to allow our body to vocalize on the exhalations. In whatever way it wanted. Over the 10 minutes or so, the meditation guided us to let our voices become louder until the sound was felt externally and within.
First, I feel the constriction in my throat. Deepening the pitch, it shifts into my chest and allows my throat a reprieve. Instinctively, I begin to rub my chest, to tap it reassuringly, to let it know it is safe to be present, to be known. The intonation, my intonation, gets louder. The vibrations extend from the body and into it. An openness, an expanse, where the constrictions were just seconds before. The breath, my breath, exhausts itself. No, that’s not accurate. Only the exhale is fully exhausted. Now is the time for an inhalation. To bring the world back in.
An inhalation is merely the relaxation of the body enough that the air that wants in so badly is allowed to do so. We do not “take” a breath as much as “allow a breath.” The air pressure outside of us wants to expand into us. We dance with it and take turns entering the world at large the body at intimacy and out again. For the entirety of our lives. Sometimes the dance comes easier than others.
When I chant and my chest expands and my throat and face relax, I know that this is who I am. And I am still here, breathing the dance, dancing the breath.