Biology, socialization, and identity: Accounting for the voices of female-to-male transsexuals

Lal Zimman


Although dissimilarities between men’s and women’s voices are often attributed to biological differences between the sexes, a great deal of research shows that many of the phonetic indices of speaker gender are socially learned. A number of questions remain, however, surrounding the exact process through which speakers acquire these features. In this paper I present findings from an ongoing study of the voices of English-speaking female-to-male transsexuals. Although the voices of male-to-female transsexuals have been studied fairly extensively, work on female-to-male speakers is virtually nil. However, these speakers’ voices present an ideal testing grounds for understanding the relationship between biology, socialization, and identity in the development of phonetic styles associated with women and men. My findings, which reveal that female-to-male transsexuals’ voices are in most ways comparable to other men’s, demonstrate that identity, along with biology and socialization, makes a crucial contribution in shaping the gendered characteristics of the voice.

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