An experimental musician, Hennies says that the program’s vocal exercises reminded her of music that she had previously made, and presented an opportunity to create an artistic space specifically for transgender women.
“If you don’t have any frame of reference for what any of these people are doing, then it really doesn’t make a lot of sense,” says Hennies. “To me that seemed like a miniature example of how a lot of cisgender people see transgender people, which is that they find it very hard to accept and it doesn’t make sense to them. I’m basically creating that situation in a way that puts trans people in a place of power.”
Clients in the Voice and Communication Modification Program receive specialized counseling and vocal training to modify and expand the range of their voices. Josie Zanfordino, the program’s supervisor, says that while some transgender men have their voices changed by hormone therapy, transgender women’s voices are unaffected. She explains that having a voice that does not closely match one’s gender expression leaves transgender people more susceptible to harassment and violence. It can also prolong and intensify gender dysphoria.
“We want trans men and trans women coming to the world with a sense of confidence, the way everybody else does, so that their sense of themselves as a person is honored,” says Zanfordino.
Graduate students in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology help to run the program. After completing training sessions, they work with clients in individual and group therapy sessions.
Alex Blanca ’16, M.S. ’18, worked with both transgender men and women clients during the fall and spring 2017 semesters.
“It was really eye-opening,” says Blanca. “It was a great experience learning about a community that I didn’t know my career would affect.”
The Voice and Communication Modification Program for People in the Transgender Community is a joint project of the Sir Alexander Ewing-Ithaca College Speech and Hearing Clinic in the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance and the college’s Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services.