The LGBT Resource Center has received a handful of calls concerning an article released by Campus Reform about voice feminization therapy for transgender clients that is provided on campus. Callers claimed that the therapy is a tax-paid college course, but it is a community clinical service offered by the Speech and Language Clinic at UWM.
According to the UWM College of Health Sciences page on the Speech and Language Clinic:
“The Speech and Language Clinic serves the university and surrounding community by providing clinical services as part of the professional preparation of students in the department of Communication Science and Disorders. All students have had the necessary coursework and are closely supervised by certified, licensed speech-language pathologists.”
Professor Marylou Gelfer leads the voice feminization therapy program. She says voice feminization therapy is a small part of the many things the Speech and Language Clinic offers. It serves people who have communication disorders.
The program has been provided on campus since Gelfer started working on campus 26 years ago.
A client usually takes the voice therapy after going through other steps.
“Voice feminization is actually a part of a much bigger medically sanctioned process of gender transition,” said Gelfer.
A client needs to be assessed by a qualified mental health professional, then can undergo three months of therapy. After that a client can take hormone therapy.
Gelfer said that clients are eligible for hormones if they have a “persistent well-documented gender dysphoria…they have the capacity to make fully informed decisions and consent for treatment.”
Gelfer said the clinic usually doesn’t want to see a client for voice feminization until they are far along the process of gender transition.
“The way we see our role, we are not part of the decision making process. We are part of the implementation process,” said Gelfer.
The majority of clients for the voice feminization therapy are older transgender women from the community. The clinic has had one UWM student in the program.
In voice feminization therapy, a client first decides on a desired pitch. Then the client practices sentences, syllables and phrases using acoustic instruments.
Gelfer explains how some transgender women have trouble getting over the “hump” of changing their voice.
“If you had to talk in a higher voice for a while, even if it was in the female range and you were still female, after a while you’d feel like you were kind of faking it, wouldn’t you? You would feel like this isn’t really you talking.”
It isn’t guaranteed that a client will be at the range they want to be by the time they have finished the therapy.
Voice feminization therapy is $300. It is a two one-hour sessions per week for 11-12 weeks. The client pays for it themselves.