The Confidence I (Don’t) Have In My Voice

“Well, the good thing is, you already have confidence in your own voice.”

She meant it as a compliment. She had no way of knowing that so-called ‘male socialization’ is almost always used to delegitimatize trans women as women. My friend was just trying to be supportive in the moment of my disclosure to her.

What I couldn’t tell her then was that I’d never heard my own voice before. That the male-presenting voice I’d used up until then caused me pain. That the woman’s voice I’d been practicing in the early mornings gave more fear than hope.

So I said nothing.

Trans people who take testosterone for their transition have their voices transformed by hormones. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle. But, for trans women, hormones can’t help. I support my sisters who keep their deep voices and male-coded pitch and resonance. Their voices are women’s voices, too.

But I needed to change mine. I thought that being an actor might make me better at it. I was wrong. I struggle, I strain, I find it and lose it. I try to sing.

I talk less frequently in meetings. When I do speak, I try to say less. Sometimes, my listening is in solidarity, where I’ll wait until the people of color have spoken before speaking myself. More often, it is a survival tactic to avoid what happens when I do speak.

Because when I speak, things happen, and not all of them good.

People respond differently to my voice now. It’s hard to describe exactly how. It feels like my voice—the act of me speaking at all—somehow makes some cisgender people subconsciously defensive. And my new vulnerability feels like an annoyance or inconvenience to those who’d counted on me as an invulnerable white cis male ally.

It gets more complicated. I also have communications challenges that exist outside of my gender (if there is an outside). My words have always had a weight I never understood. They used to convey an authority I never felt and did not intend. My social transition seems to have taken away that false authority, for which I am grateful.

Yet even now, people still perceive a judgment in my voice that is almost never there. How can I judge anyone, having known so little of myself for so long? It makes speaking up about genuine microaggressions and discrimination harder, since I’m already worn out from the emotional labor that seems to come from speaking at all.

So when I have something to say, I wait in hopes someone else will say it (they usually do). I count how many times I speak in meetings and try to keep it under three. When I am asked to present, I try to come under my allotted time. I am asked to present less frequently these days, for which I’m grateful, even as the diminishment of invitation contributes to my self-doubt. Whenever possible, I write my thoughts after the fact rather than share them in-person.

But this last tactic can often make things worse. The written word may be a refuge for me, but the worship of it is also a characteristic of white supremacy culture. I have severely damaged collaborative relationships with carefully crafted emails that were intended to heal or bridge, not harm. This is where my power as a white person complicates my vulnerability as a trans woman. And so I always feel more comfortable advocating for others than for myself. Yet often when I’m silent around transphobia no one speaks at all.

It can feel like there are no victories, only mitigated defeats.

I do have relationships, within Flux and TCG, where I feel fully myself. Where I am in conversation with collaborators who have built a practice of sharing space over many years. When I make mistakes, I’m called in and change. And when I offer something useful, I am valued. I know there is another way because, in beautiful little pockets, I live it.

But I don’t have confidence in my own voice. I doubt it, I fear it, even as I love how it feels, finding its footholds of resonance in my body. It feels closer to me, and that’s worth the fear.

I’m afraid to write this post. Whenever I’ve shared aspects of my experience that aren’t positive, there’s always someone who offers a well-intentioned correction to invalidate it. And I’m ever more deeply conscious of the way my whiteness can make my voice harmful.

But last night, a friend inspired by Brené Brown reminded me of the power of vulnerability. My lack of self-confidence doesn’t help anyone, least of all me.

So here I am, writing what I could not say: no, I don’t have confidence in my own voice. But at least now it’s really my own. From that place of wholeness, I will find where confidence lives in my breath, in my body, in my voice. My strength will come from my vulnerability, not in spite of it. And I will be gentle as I can with myself along the way.

Published by CorinnaSchulenburg

Artist and Activist

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