News

PSU launches public clinic to empower transgender, gender-diverse people to find their voice
Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Posted: October 2, 2018

Are you living with a voice that doesn’t match your appearance? Do you want to sound more masculine, feminine or somewhere in between? Portland State University’s speech-language pathologists want to help you.

 They are offering a free public lab to help people who identify as transgender, gender fluid, non-binary or anywhere on the gender spectrum develop a voice and communication style that best suits them and their gender identity.
 

The Gender Communication Lab in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, part of the school's Oregon Scottish Rite Speech and Language Clinic, will offer free nine-week sessions every school term. The first session begins Oct. 3.

Jeff Conn, a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist and associate clinical professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences who runs the lab, said it addresses a significant need in the community.

Though speech and language therapists have been working with transgender clients as far back as the 1970s — and the number of services has grown in the past decade — Conn wanted to provide a service that was accessible and inclusive.

For people who are transgender or gender non-conforming, meaning they don't always identify as the sex they were assigned at birth, Conn said their voice can often feel like a betrayal.

"Their voice doesn't match who they are, who they want to be and who they're trying to present as," he said. "But if we can shape their voice into something that is more congruent with who they are and who they're presenting to be, it's no longer a betrayal. It becomes more them."

The sessions will be divided in two, with six participants spending about an hour in a group setting and another hour in individual sessions with a partner and graduate student clinician. 

Conn said there's more involved than simply changing a voice's pitch. Participants will work on everything from breathing to intonation, articulation and learning how to use their voice efficiently. Conn said it's important that they learn how to change their voice without harming their vocal cords.

"I do not want to tell anyone what they're supposed to do," he said. "I just want to present options to them so they can play around and experiment and figure out what feels right for them. It really is meant to be a safe space that's educational, instructional and hands-on for people to play around with different communication styles."

The lab has been in the works for nearly two years. Conn worked in collaboration with the NW Center for Voice and Swallowing at Oregon Health and Science University, Kaiser Permanente's Gender Pathways Clinic, the Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center and the Oregon Trans Health Coalition, among others, to help him develop the lab and to better understand the community's needs. 

Those interested are encouraged to contact Jeff Conn at connjc@pdx.edu. The sessions are open to the public, but some spots will be reserved for PSU students, faculty and staff.