Kicking It Off

When my phone rang, I quickly glanced around to gauge my chances at having a somewhat quiet call, although I had warned her that things can get a little dicey the closer it gets to nap time. My family room was strewn with toys, random kitchen utensils used as play items, long lost puzzle pieces, and couch cushions used as crash mats. My twins had crawled on top of the train table to get a better look at some family pictures, and this was as good a time as any to talk to my colleague about a client.

Although I was technically back to work after my maternity leave, I was teaching a lighter online course load for two universities, and was home full time with my twins. My daughter was in a part-time pre-K program, and my oldest son was in 1st grade. My plate was full and my private practice was on hiatus. My colleague’s email simply said she had a voice client that she wanted to pick my brain about. I had lived in this smaller, midwest city for over 10 years by this point, and knew that there were only a few of us around that specialized in voice, a specialty area of speech-language pathology. I always enjoy these types of consults –voice is my passion – and it’s fun to connect within our small professional community.

My colleague was calling from a university that was 2 hours south from where I lived, and quickly cut to the chase. She had been contacted by a trans female client seeking voice therapy to help her sound feminine. The client lived just outside of my town, but when her search for a voice therapist was unsuccessful, she was willing to drive over 4 hours round-trip to work on her voice! My colleague asked 2 questions: Was voice feminization something I could offer, and Would I be able to take this client on? The easy answer was, yes: voice feminization was something I had been trained in (very few speech-language pathologists are), have provided in the past, and most importantly was something I was comfortable providing (I know speech therapists who are sadly not on board with serving the transgender population). The answer to her other question was not so simple – I was at max capacity between my teaching jobs and my stay-at-home-mom job.

As I called around to local clinics and colleagues, it became obvious that no one else around was offering voice training for the male-to-female clientele, and the common response was, “No, sorry, I’ve never done that [type of therapy] before and I don’t know anyone who does.” Some even asked me what I was talking about. Yikes. I found one clinician willing to try, but admitted to only having read a book on the topic. This nagged at me. Where was the trans female client supposed to go? Why isn’t anyone offering voice feminization?

The more I thought about it, the more this upset me. Voice feminization is a crucial piece of the transition process, and not just for the voice-gender congruence element, but for the safety of that person as well. Never had the phrase “under-served population” rang so true.

I agreed to take this woman on as a client, and we set up a schedule that worked for us to meet in the privacy of her home. I remember ringing her doorbell that first day, and being greeted by the most lovely and gracious woman. I had no idea at the time, that this moment was the official “kick off” of my focused work in this area of the field. We taught each other a lot over the course of our time together, and I couldn’t have asked for a better nudge into all of it.

Dr. Joy Musser, Ph.D. CCC-SLP is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist by the state of New York and holds her national certificate with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She holds a doctoral degree from the University of Cincinnati and has over 18 years of clinical experience. Musser Therapies, LLC and Musser Voice were formed in 2010 with the goal to provide quality voice therapy. Dr. Musser specializes in voice feminization for the trans female population via telepractice. In addition, she teaches voice disorders and related course work online for several universities across the country.