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Helping Transgender Women Find a New Voice

Felicity Huffman's Oscar-nominated performance in Transamerica features her as a woman who used to be a man. Like many transgender women, Huffman's character has to work hard just to sound female.

To prepare, Huffman worked with two transgender women who help others find their female voices. She found Andrea James and her business partner, Calpernia Addams, who teach techniques for feminizing the voice. They've also sold thousands of instructional DVDs.

Many transgender women opt for one-on-one voice coaching. Speech pathologist Sandy Hirsch isn't transgender, but specializes in helping women who are.

For more than a year, she's worked with Cathleen Eryn, who is now pretty happy with her voice after a rough start. She now returns for maintenance sessions.

Hirsch goes beyond the voice, helping with body language and other feminine traits. She believes the way people move is related to the way they talk.

"One of the things Sandy has said frequently is... voice is an instrument," Eryn says. "It's amazing what a person can teach themselves to do."

In Eryn's case, that was the dramatic decision to be herself.

"To me, transition was unzipping the guy suit and stepping out of it and going 'I'm here now,'" she says.

Since her transition, Eryn has left her job as an electrical engineer and started a new career as a medical receptionist. She has a new body, a new outlook on life... and a new voice.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Douglas Hopper