Monday, July 23, 2007

Passing in the night

Among women on the internet, the big "M" word is "Married." On SL, among men, it is "man." Men passing as women that is. Well this is Lillie going where angels fear to tread, over the weekend I talked to two MtF (Male to Female) transexuals about passing. Both took time to talk about their personal journeys and why they did as they did and how it felt. Both underlined that "passing," that is being taken as ones new, as opposed to birth, gender, was an important part of the process, as important to many transexuals as anything else. Acceptance in the social context, and that is public, means as much as looking down and seeing the right geography.

"The journey is passing," said one "because you are passing from your old self to a new one. What kinds of passing are important to you, have a lot to do with how you came to be there. Acceptance by friends, getting them to shop and talk with you as your new self, is more important that just being able to use the right restroom for many people."

One had a particularly helpful analogy: adulthood. We all, as teenagers, are trying to pass as adults. We all get, in the parlance of transexuals, "read" as being not adults from time to time. Being an adult physically isn't enough, it is being accepted as an adult that is just as important to us. There are various levels of being taken for an adult. One is going places and not being seen as a teenager. There is also the "toddler test:" which is to say, when toddlers take you for being what you want to be, then you have reached a degree of passing.

There is also passing in different ways. One is simply not drawing stares, the other is being able to interact with people and not have them "out" you. Both brought up the point that just because you aren't outed, does not mean you weren't "read."

I turned the topic towards voice, since voice is the place where people who want to "read" avatars have flocked, and have openly declared their hatred, disgust and antipathy towards people who are gender different.

Before talking about the mechanics, I was treated to a more in depth explanation of passing, from the inside. The first thing about passing is self-consciousness, the awareness of the person of not being what other people want them to be. Self-consciousness was described as the killer of all attempts to pass. Freezing up makes a person revert to old habits and familiar patterns. It is also the emotional killer of passing. Panic is an emotion that you know you feel, know you felt, and it brings shame forward. And that shame infects everything, including the old shame of being transexual in the first place.

Voice, both agreed, was the area of passing which was the most important to changing how they felt about themselves, hearing a feminine voice that was "me," and thinking in that voice. Surgery, I was told, can give you many things, but not a feminine voice to go with a feminized body.

"It takes years to get a feminine voice that passes in all situations, because it isn't just voice, it is mannerisms and word choice. You have to think differently, and change your habits. You have to change what you want, as a person, not just the pitch of your voice."

I asked for more detail on this particular point, because there seem to be people who seem "masculine," even in text, let alone in voice.

The summary was this. Men speak in highlights, the "punch" their words to give emphasis using volume. The slur little words together, drop more vowels and consonants, to get to the next highlighted word or thought. Men play sports, even in words: it isn't a sentence until they have hit all the bases.

This was the big point of agreement.

The actual mechanics there was some disagreement: one said that pitch was not so important, instead, it was getting rid of the man's chest voice, while the other talked about finding the lowest falsetto that worked, and gradually learning to control the voice there. Neither knew anything about pitch shifting software, no use for it in the real world, but did point out that many Transexuals used computers to read their voice patterns and improve the shape of their sound.

In reference to SL, while both were aware, one very aware, of computer worlds, both said that sl was only of limited use in learning to pass, because so much of passing was about walking, moving and gesturing. Taking up space the right way was something both mentioned.

When we talked about voice being a way of reading men playing women. Both said that it would be, until men playing women got smart and took some lessons and worked through "finding" the feminine voice. "I pass in what you call real life every day, even though I am still read often enough. A voice can be trained, especially after the mind has been trained. If someone thinks and moves like a woman, then the will get that feminine voice soon enough. It's just a matter of practice, and then practice, and listening and then practicing again." And noted that recording was like a mirror for the voice.

They both said that the internet resources were pretty bad, and that anyone who wanted to do voice training, would have to go to specialists and have lessons. They giggled about people who were sure they could read people. "Lots of false positives that will get, there are women at the office who took lessons to be more masculine and effective at work."

And the "sing song" marker, that so many place faith in? "Not the best, as soon as you learn to keep your dynamics even, your pitch will start to move up and down to emphasize words, and you just imitate women you hear to get the right musicality. Ennunciation is a better give away, so is word choice.

Another remark that was accompanied by a giggle was "people are fooled in the flesh, and they want to be sure over the internet? I know a man and a transwoman who met at church..."


  1. A well researched post!

    Gender identity fascinates me -as do all concepts of self.

    I wish Second Life would leave voice to Skype and let us be whoever we want.

    I don't care if the lovely ladies in Second Life are men or women or a house plant in Idaho.

    Next we will need cameras to see if we really "look like that".

  2. I think voice has a place in SL. It is also very clear to me that there is a rising tide of in world bigotry. I look at how furries are being talked about as another example.

  3. Being a Transgendered person not currently transitioning (but that is another story) I've thought about what voice means in SL and I have worried a bit.

    Hearing a male voice come from an avatar can unnerve people. In part I think because some don't understand "why" someone would play a gender other than their RL one.

    Also I'm a bit of a fashionista, will people think that someone like me "can" be one or that I have a "right" to be one.

    I've played with voice morphing software that works with SL but I probably won't use it. Anyone who looks in my profile can find out my background.

    But so far I've not used voice enough in general areas to get a grip on what sort of reaction I might to get.

  4. Do you use your regular masculine voice? Or do you modifiy it in someway with the voice training techniques that are out there?

  5. I've not done any voice training yet (it's on my list of things to do) so any voice you hear would be my regular day to day voice.