My Gender Transition Comes With A Perpetually Sore Throat

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I look forward to the day when I don’t have to constantly think about myself and my body as “in transition” and a sore throat is just a sore throat.

CW: transphobia, testosterone, mention of trauma as a trans person

By Mateo Sánchez Morales

When I was a little girl, around 10 years old, I always liked getting sick with a sore throat because the sore throat would make my voice deepen. I wouldn’t come to understand myself as transgender until much later when I was in college. After this discovery, the joy of having a sore throat that deepened my voice made more sense. Even though I’ve always been a relatively quiet person and usually don’t like to speak, every time I had a sore throat, the rasp of my voice gave me a sense of confidence and gender euphoria that suddenly made me uncharacteristically vocal. 

I started on testosterone in 2018. The changes I’ve seen in my body since then have brought inexplicable amounts of emotion that I wish I could say were all positive. Unsurprisingly, the most relevant change to me has been the gradual deepening of my voice—something that 10 year old me would be ecstatic to witness. Three years after beginning my transition, and I’m almost never misgendered as a woman, especially when the first thing someone notices about me is my voice. 

Although testosterone has done wonders for deepening my voice, I cannot maintain this deepness while speaking loudly. In fact, even when I try, my voice only goes up to a certain volume before it feels like my throat is on fire. 

Speaking in such a low tone means that people frequently do not hear me and I often have to repeat myself. It almost feels as if I sacrificed volume to obtain the deepness in my voice when I decided to transition. 

Even in mundane ways, I become exhausted by my inability to communicate. When I’m at home with my partner and I want to tell them something, I’ve tried calling out from a different room, and rarely do they hear me without me having to repeat myself multiple times. At first, I would try to raise my voice, but now when I have something to say, I either wait until we’re in the same room or I don’t say it at all. When I walk down the street with friends and try to have a casual conversation, most of my cisgender friends can effortlessly speak over the sound of traffic. I cannot physically do that. I wait until the loud car passes. I condense what I have to say into shorter sentences that don’t dwell and get lost in the noise. Every time, it’s a sense of mild defeat coupled with resignation. 

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Much like when I was younger, I don’t speak much now, but for a different reason. With use, my throat becomes progressively sore throughout the day, and I slowly start to lose my ability to socialize and interact with others. Even as someone who likes to make jokes, have debates and engage in conversation with my friends, by the end of the night, I emit single sentence statements or one word answers to questions. In a vicious cycle, the more sore my throat becomes, the harder it is to speak up. 

Short of submitting myself to another medical procedure, I’ve practiced most of the exercises recommended by vocal coaches specialized in training transgender people to adjust their voices. When I am about to go into an anticipated social interaction, such as ordering food at a restaurant or meeting new people, I practice stretching my vocal chords so that I can speak loudly and clearly enough. But the effect is usually temporary. 

As part of my everyday routine, I alternate between exercises to deepen my voice and massaging my throat to sustain vocalization without much damage. What used to bring me joy as a child now makes me pained. In an ironic turn of events, I have given myself a perpetual sore throat. 

Every time I have an interaction with someone on the street and they can’t hear me, a part of me feels discouraged. 

I try to tell myself it’ll take a while before I can fully use my new voice to its truest potential. To what extent this is true, I’m not sure, but only time will tell. After all, my voice is only 3 years old. I don’t give enough credit to the fact that for so long I put my throat through strain to get a desired effect, and now my voice has given me a level of joy that even the irritation in my throat cannot suppress. 

When I first started taking testosterone, I kept voice recordings to document the changes in my voice. After a certain point, I stopped making them because the novelty was no longer there. I suddenly had a new voice I was growing into and I completely abandoned even the thought of the old one. 

In this new stage of my life, I would no longer have to wait until I was sick for my voice to get deeper. It would just be. 

I look forward to the day when I don’t have to constantly think about myself and my body as “in transition.” When I don’t have to look forward to something, because it will just be. The day when I don’t have to modify or strain myself to feel good. And the day that I can finally go to bed for the first time, without wishing for or trying to recover from a sore throat. 

Mateo Sánchez Morales is a bilingual nonbinary Latinx writer and organizer living in the SF Bay Area. Their writing is largely influenced by their experiences as a trans person of color from a mixed status immigrant family. Their work has appeared in Flowers of Ancestry, an anthology of trans and queer writers in the Bay Area. You can find them on various social media: @hijxdemimadre

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