Singing Therapy with Aneesa Chaudhry

I met Aneesa Chaudry through the Clare Project support group. It turned out she was there doing voice therapy through the medium of singing. From the first few moments, it became clear what a wonderful radiant person she is… As cliche as this sounds she has this infectious field of happy positive energy around her. Her appointment didn’t show up and so I found myself stood in a room in the church that the support group is held in making ahhhhhh and ahhhhh-aaaaaahhhh noises. It was a really nice experience as she treated me as female even though I had come in boy clothes straight from work.

Voice is one of those things that can derail a good day for me… Get up. Get dressed. Go to the shops. Don’t pass. Don’t care. Meet friends. Have fun. Order a taxi, get Sir’d. 🙁

After a few weeks I decided that it could be fun to actually learn to sing and learn a more feminine voice as a nice by-product. After all just doing voice therapy is work and this could be a fun new hobby for me.

I reached out to her and booked a lesson. A few nights later I was in her home for my first lesson. As an aside – I’m aware of a very male trait that I have around the desire to get down to the task at hand – in this case – get in there and do singing. Patience Amy. The format was not at all what I expected.

We sat and chatted for most of the hour – and I suppose if I were to describe the first session I’d describe her as a gender transition coach combined with singing, or maybe a sister that’s teaching you to sing or something. /shrug: Labels. We talked about my timelines & setting daily goals – stuff that I could do every day to move my transition forward. This obviously included practicing voice, but I set myself a bunch of other smaller goals around woking on being more graceful (something I can still practice in the office) and making more time for the transformation from boy to girl in the evenings. The latter is a great example of her skills as a coach. I’d mentioned that I was finding it harder to switch back and forth all the time (I’m basically only boy now when at work and with my children). She suggested that maybe there were things I could do to make switch less jarring and to make the girl time more special. We talked it through and came up with a few ideas.

Towards the end of the lesson we ended up singing along to Aladdin’s A Whole New World. Which was initially cringey, but then really good fun. I’m seriously looking forward to my next session with her.

How did I get here? Pt1: Ten little lies I told myself to make transition seem impossible.

I’m 34. I first felt the first twinges of gender incongruence at around 3 or 4. I’ve spent 30 years feeling uncomfortable with my life and who I am. The degree to which this has been the case has been somewhat fluid, but it’s been the single biggest influence in my life so far. It’s made me so miserable I spent years thinking “I wish I could just get cancer, so I could have a few months to say good bye and then I could die and not feel this way”. I apologise if this upsets people that have been affected by cancer, but I only share it to illustrate how strong this noise in my head has been.

Why didn’t I do something about it sooner?

Good question. Now I sit here with clarity asking myself the same question. But I have to recall all of the seemingly insurmountable reasons that made even thinking about it impossible.

  1. “I’m not fully trans”
    The reality is I’ve lived as a male very successfully. I have a good career. I got married. I have children. Nobody knew. My assumption was that proper trans people simply couldn’t cope living in this way. Therefore I must have only half a dose of whatever it is that makes people trans. Certainly not enough to “ruin my life The solution was obvious – just muddle on and keep it a secret. “I only need to do that for like another 60 years, then I can die and be rid of this feeling”. Looking back – I marvel at my stupidity and how strong I was for so long.
  2. “I’m too tall”
    This one can be lumped into all concerns around passing. But I’ll focus on height for the sake of simplicity. I’m 6’1”. That’s over average height for a man and massively over average height for a woman. “There’s no way I could ever pass”. I’d worry about this issue to the point I’d be walking past a tall woman trying to figure out if she was as tall as me. Or if a tall woman would walk into a room I’d be mentally tagging where her head came upto on the doorframe so I could compare on the way out. The physical attribute I’d fret about would vary from month to month. I reached the conclusion that I’d just be exchanging being a freak on the inside to being a freak on the outside. Not worth the bother – after all “I’m living successfully as a male – I must not be fully trans” – See 1.
  3. “I don’t want to ruin my life”.  “I want my career”. “I don’t want to be poor”.
    I always somehow imagined that being transgender was such a shameful thing to be – I’d immediately be fired from my job and the very best I could hope for would be something minimum wage if I was lucky.
    I even had “facts” to back this up. I witnessed a number of transphobic and homophobic incidents in my past work place. I even came out to my boss at the time and his words were “but you’ll ruin your life”. It seemed apparent that I would not be able to continue on this path there. Maybe not anywhere. I did’t want to throw away my creativity and professional fulfilment. After all – I’m miserable about my gender – is it enough to trade in happiness on the one hand for a lifetime of feeling so unfilled? Further – “I’m probably not fully trans” (see 1.) & “I’m just going to look ridiculous” (see 2).
  4. “I don’t really feel female. Just not male. Just odd. Whatever”.
    The standard Trans narratives are: “I was a young child and I realised I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. I just had to do something about it”. I never really felt that way. I felt deeply uncomfortable with being male. I wanted with all my heart and soul to have been born female. Therefore I’m not really trans (see 1).
  5. “I don’t feel like what I’ve seen on TV” (So I can’t be trans)
    The Two Ronnies - The Worm That Turned

    When I grew up there was very little in the way of trans coverage on TV or films and what there was was not exactly positive. I remember The Two Ronnies had a regular sketch called The Worm That Turned. It was a spoof sci-fi thing where the Women had taken over society by taking the trousers away from the men. This was basically as good as it got in terms of gender non-conforming in the 80s. I secretly loved it. But somehow what was being portrayed wasn’t me. I didn’t want to wear a dress – I wanted to be a girl. This is just one example, but all of the trans examples in TV or film were either used as comedy or as some kind of insidious creepy individual. I had nothing to relate to. As a child I thought: “Maybe I’m the only one that feels this way?”
  6. “I could never just turn up to work in a dress one day”
    I didn’t really understand transition. I had imagined you had to go from man to woman overnight, but without the benefit of a magic magic lamp to physically transform you. I just imagined that I’d have to tell work I wanted a sex change and then after the laughter had died down I’d come to work as an obvious man in a dress. (see imagery reinforced by number 5.). I knew there was no way I could be brave enough to do that.
  7. “I’m straight”
    I’ve been attracted to girls my whole life. I remember a girl in primary school who I thought was so beautiful. I had a girl friend throughout most of high school. I had a few girl friends throughout my 20s and ultimately married a woman. Now in the interests of full disclosure I’d definitely had gay thoughts & fantasies, but never acted on them. And in order to keep my fragile male-straight sexuality together there was a pile of weird kinky stuff in there just to sort of contort my mind into becoming turned on, but despite all that… I’m straight… a straight man, so I can’t be trans”.
  8. Everyone will reject me
    I felt that being trans was such a shameful thing to be that it was utterly obvious that everyone I care about will just shun me. How could they not I’ve just confessed to being a serial killer transgender. Which is basically just about the most awful thing a human being can be. (/sigh)
    Dexter's dark secretAmusingly I was totally into Dexter, which was a show where the main protagonist was a serial killer. I felt like I could relate to his “dark secret”.
    This was reinforced when my father came home one day and talked in a half horrified, half offended way about a colleague that “was getting a sex change” and he made it very clear he wanted nothing to do with her (“him”).
  9. “Everyone will laugh at me.”
    Whereas number 8 was about people I care about. Family, friends and close colleagues – I also had an irrational fear of people at the fringes of my professional network gleefully gossiping in the pub. “Have you heard… {old male name} has decided to get a sex change”. Cue lots of group laughter and ridicule. This extended to worrying about people in shops or restaurants laughing at me for being trans. What makes this one so ridiculous is I don’t even care about these people.
  10. “Where are they?”
    I’d never knowingly met trans people. One heard stories like my father’s colleague at work. But they were always referred to like mythical beasts. They were like unicorns. If they’re that rare – what are the odds I’m one? It’s pretty much impossible.