Ash Trebisacci
VOICEMA[LE] TO MYSELF

There’s this podcast that I love. The host’s voice is unmistakably, gorgeously trans. It purrs, crackles, ekes out phrases like a song I know by heart but can’t quite get the tune of when I sing it myself. I yearn for my voice to scratch like a record, to hitch at unexpected times: one more checkmark off my trans bucket list.

I listen to an interview where a speech coach explains how to stretch and compress muscles to refine sound. I can’t picture the anatomy, but I try, like a kid who wants so badly to whistle, who puckers and sprays and gets red in the face until:

whewwwwwwww!!!
the sound he’s been waiting for.

What is the sound I’ve been waiting for? I don’t know, but I am curious enough to go in search of it.

I’m unsure about starting T, but I want to try it more than I don’t, so I make the intake appointment, imagining how my voice might deepen and shift. I’m a writer—supposedly good with words—but when the receptionist picks up, I blank on what I’m supposed to be asking for. “HRT?” I squeak, unwilling or unable to say anything more than the acronym out loud.

That same week, my writing instructor gives me an assignment: “Turn on the voice memo app and just speak,” she says, all certainty and Midwestern optimism. “This is writing. And listening back will spark revision.” I trust her, so I do it, the speaking and the listening.

At first, I use like and um and I don’t know while I decide what I want to travel from my brain out my lips. I’m surprised by how much I can say when I take my time, let myself wander-talk. A couple minutes into a recording, the self-consciousness fades. I change my I don’t knows to you know whats, expand and explode them into more words, more sounds. I continue, even when I don’t know what I am saying.

A surprise: I like the voice I hear. I have a distinct sound, one I can appreciate even as I feel ready to change it. I sound girly, yes, but I also sound like me: a person with a slight drawl, who drops the occasional r. I mimic trans voice, drag out that vocal fry, shapeshift tone and speed and annunciation. I recognize elements of friends’ speech that I’ve adopted: sharp t’s, shushing s’s. It’s not the whistle I expect or the whistle I aim for, but it’s more textured than I’d noticed before.

“It’s weird and wonderful,” I write in my journal later, in a voice-of-the-page I know better than the one replaying from my phone.

As I wait for the hormone that might inform my sound/self, I transcribe my voice notes into a Google doc. I add; I cut; I rephrase. I listen to the pharmacist say again that the prescription hasn’t come through, that it’s being held up by insurance. I tell myself that I’ll like whatever comes from this: the speaking and listening, the writing and rewriting, the changing and being changed.


Ash TrebisacciAsh Trebisacci (they, she) is a writer and study abroad advisor based in the Boston area. Their words have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Off Assignment, and JMWW, among other places. When they’re not trying to discern whether their voice has dropped, they’re likely drinking tea, taste-testing their wife’s baked goods, and watching women’s gymnastics. Find Ash Trebisacci on Twitter until the bitter end @ishmish17.

Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Issue #46.

Submit to Cleaver!

Cleaver Magazine