Mavi Veloso is a Brazilian performer based in Amsterdam who works transdisciplinary, integrating visual art, dance, theater, music. Her work explores performativity, the relationship between performer and audience, trans feminism and decolonization. As a transgender and migrant from South America to Europe, Mavi seeks to embody and appropriate the transformation process, psychological, social and physical, conflicts and cultural adaptation procedures, as well as fashion, queer, trans and drag queen elements to question gender technologies, notions of identity, sexuality, placement and displacement. She is currently developing the project #iwannamakerevolution and has presented her work in venues and festivals including the van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Kampnagel in Hamburg, Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, Les Urbaines in Lausanne, 31st Biennial of São Paulo.
Raphael Daibert is a researcher who works in the intersection of curating, producing and art practice. He is currently completing his Master's in Art Praxis at the Dutch Art Institute. He is a founding member of Lanchonete.org, in São Paulo, and also part of the pedagogical and artistic experiment Free Home University, in Lecce, Italy. With Mavi Veloso, he developed the TravaLíngua project. From 2016-2018 he was part of ArtsEverywhere team. Photo by Mayra Azzi.
TravaLíngua and the interviews included below—conducted as part of Mavi’s Master’s thesis titled “Voice, Performance, Transition and other Revolutions”—are both part of the #iwannamakerevolution project
TravaLíngua is a project that researches vocal and performative practices, especially related to the femininization or masculinization of vocal change in people transitioning between genders or sexual identities. In Portuguese, trava-língua is the word used for tongue twister. But, trava is also the colloquial way to define travesti—transvestite, trans woman—and língua means language or tongue. Playing with these words, bringing together both notions of twisting your tongue and articulating a “trans language” (in a figurative and practical way) is how the project was born.
The project started in conversations between Mavi Veloso and Raphael Daibert, and was part of the research conducted for Mavi’s Master of Voice at the Sandberg Insitituut in Amsterdam, and initially presented during the online residency on ArtsEverywhere under the umbrella project #iwannamakerevolution. Beyond Mavi’s own male to female transition, the idea was to explore different ways of articulation, projection, tones, different pitches, and textures to perform voice.
Once it became apparent that most online voice transitioning exercises are in English, and that therapists that deal with this question are not found everywhere, TravaLíngua was then born as a collective experimental/performative exercise. Little by little, the dissemination of this knowledge is happening by the trans community to trans people via the internet. Through collaboration, Raphael and Mavi became inspired to work with Cursinho Popular Transformação to bring TravaLíngua to São Paulo as an experimental workshop, binding Mavi’s experience—as a trans person and artist—with the young trans community. Cursinho Popular Transformação is a collective and prep course devoted to young trans and non-binary students to prepare them for the Brazilian national university exam. Since Mavi is based in Amsterdam, the only way to do this was to organize a four-part online session about experimenting with voice. The participants were together in a room with internet access, led by performer and actress Lua Lucas as a local mediator while the sessions were conducted remotely. The videos presented here are Mavi’s creative documentation of the sessions.
In the first meeting, the performative exercise “This face is my motherfucker ID” was proposed. Participants were asked to elaborate fictitious or non fictitious characters, playing with items present in situations that demand identification, such as name, age, gender, profession, etc. Then, each person would introduce themselves impersonating these characters. In a second moment, other people should become or act by copying gestures, tone of voice, and speech modes from the first ones presented.
In the second meeting, we used a counting game to exercise and understand the different tones of voices each person could initially reach and what other possibilities each one could expand, from the most serious to the most acute and vice versa. Then, we proposed the Alphabet exercise, for the creation of texts / words with the sequences of letters (in Portuguese): a for love, b for kissing, c for city, etc. In a second phase, we would change tone of voice in each new round, from the highest to the lowest tone.
In the third meeting a “self interview” practice was proposed. Participants were invited to create and perform a self-interview, asking questions and creating scripts on how to respond. Here everyone was encouraged to develop characters with distinct voices. Each participant should incorporate previous practices where we exercised different possibilities of voice tones that each person reaches.
The fourth and final encounter was the most experimental and extreme. It was proposed that each person would choose a series of voices that they liked, voices and speeches of their daily life, voices and speeches of people close to them, artists who they admired, voices and texts used in advertisements, etc. Participants should listen to these voices and try to reproduce the best possible tone of voice, and ways of speaking. We used the whatsapp app for a long exchange of audio messages where each person brought in various references and also everyone would chose from the audios received other messages to play as well.
“Voice, Performance, Transition and other Revolutions” by Mavi Veloso
The accompanying series of interviews were firstly organized in my thesis with the title “Voice, Performance, Transition and other Revolutions,” for the Master of Voice under the supervision of Marnie Slater at the Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam. They are part of a research in performance and voice called #iwannamakerevolution. The interviews were conducted with various people who question gender, sexuality and identity: Sanni Est, Pollux Frei, Aerea Negrot, Geo Wyeth, Sladka Jerônimo, Íka Eloah, and Lucy Lazuli. My main questions focused on the particularities of changes in the voice within their transition, but we also touched on other aspects of changes in the body, social adaptations, how transgender issues are treated in diverse cities throughout the world, political implications, and especially performative practices of the voice.
For many of us trans fellows it is important to develop a voice that matches our appearance. Within hormone therapy for trans men the use of testosterone may directly affect the voice. For trans women it’s said that the use of oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone blockers do not change the voice. Changes can be reached through vocal chord surgery or by training. In the interviews we talk about both, but mainly about practices for feminization or masculinization of the voice, vocal therapy, and artistic practices that appropriate the transformation, as all the interviewed people are artists.
I started to transition between Brazil and Brussels about four years ago. I didn’t search for a doctor or vocal therapist to transition my voice. Instead, I have spent the past few years researching gender and voice, reaching out to each of the interviewees to talk about some common connections as well as the differences in experience that each one has. I wanted to know what it is like to go through voice therapy. Sanni started her transition about ten years ago in Berlin, and was always followed by her doctor—notably she had the coaching of a vocal therapist. Pollux is just starting her transition (also in Berlin) under the guidance of doctors. With Aerea, I was very interested in how she related her transition to her creative process. Knowing her work I always found her voice very experimental, having an interesting range from low to high pitch. As a trans man, Geo Wyeth, also through very powerful work with his voice, experiences hormone therapy in a very different way compared to the others. I was interested in understanding the impact of testosterone on the voice. Sladka, Íka, and Lucy live in São Paulo. I’d say it is easier to access female hormones in pharmacies in Brazil without the need for medical prescriptions. They started their processes very young, under less than idea conditions, such as not having much support from family. Many political and social conflicts of what they experience in a “wild” way makes it important to have their voices included here.
Interview with Sanni Est & Pollux Frei
transition (WTF?!), a relative thing
Mavi Veloso: Sanni, during your transition did you go to a voice therapist right away?
Sanni Est: Yes, I did voice therapy.
Mavi: In which phase of your transition process?
Sanni: I think It was a year before I had transition surgery, sex reassignment surgery.
Mavi: Had you already been in transition for a long time?
Sanni: Guuurl, it depends on what you consider transition, because I’ve looked androgynous since I was 19. I’ve used makeup since I was 14 years old. I never had a visible beard, you know?! I always shaved, always waxed, always did makeup.
HRT and medical aspects
Mavi: How did you first get into voice therapy in Germany?
Sanni: You need to have citizenship in Germany. Then they give you everything.
Mavi: Do you need to do psychological therapy first?
Sanni: Yes, you need to receive a diagnosis.
Mavi: To be accepted and get access to a doctor that will follow you, you mean? Do they also organise the voice therapy?
Sanni: No… I’m not sure. well…
Pollux Frei: They do now.
Sanni: Now they do right? Yeah, I did it all ten years ago. I was one of the pioneers, it was different.
Pollux: Now there is… I’m going to this clinic, I already received a diagnosis. When Sanni did this they would provide hormone therapy much faster. Now they hold back. But they have everything. There’s a group of psychologists—the one I go to is a trans woman—and apparently they help with everything, such as voice therapy, a professional to do treatments on your beard, etc… So there’s a…
Sanni: A network, like a system.
Pollux: When Sanni did it there wasn’t such a network, right? She would have had to search in different places for each thing.
Sanni: No. I had help, support. I also sort of had a network, somehow. I didn’t go to a clinic, it was a Beratung, like an NGO, and they recommended a person who does laser hair removal. That person, Dagmar Harmsem, is kind of an ambassador for trans people in Berlin. She’s an incredible woman, super professional.
Sanni: She is autonomous. And she has the machine to do the laser at her place.
Mavi: In São Paulo, there’s this woman—also trans—named Lala. She also does laser for trans women.
Sanni: I don’t know this one in São Paulo, but this woman in Berlin, she is cisgender.
Sanni: And she got everything for me. She got the medical prescriptions, she has the contact for psychiatrists, she can get contacts for gynecologists for trans people, etc. She can get you a good price for everything. She does laser hair removal for half price for trans people.
Mavi: Wow, that’s nice!
Mavi: Does health insurance in Germany cover the transition process?
Sanni: Not laser.
Pollux: But it is possible to fake it. So they can put it on paper as if it was a therapy. So insurance is already paying the laser for all the girls. I’m already doing it, paying myself. I get the receipts and after I ask for reimbursement. Depending on the circumstance they can also pay for voice surgery.
Mavi: What do you gurls think of voice surgery?
Sanni: From what I heard about it, vocal chord surgery is not what brings the voice to a higher pitch, but rather it prevents you from going further to a lower pitch. Maybe it raises it only one or two tones at the most. I don’t think it’s worth the risk. It’s very dangerous; you could lose your voice or make it weird.
voice, therapy, hormones, changes
Mavi: I am interested in the difference between voice therapy with a therapist and a more informal or self-taught transitioning of the voice. Do you feel that you received more technical content with a therapist?
Sanni: For me—it’s funny—I don’t separate things in this way. I don’t think only about what voice therapy did for me. I always worked with my voice: always sang, danced, etc.
Mavi: This brought you an awareness of the voice?
Sanni: Yeah, totally.
Mavi: Like how to make a high pitch, or a lower pitch, a thinner, softer voice?
Sanni: Not necessarily, but I always had an idea of my voice. As a singer or songwriter, before singing, when I used to train, I always enjoyed the screams and shouts. Well you’ve already seen my show, that’s the cool thing, so you know I love to scream! So I always trained for this. I studied classical singing and people put some terror in you, right?! Like, your voice is a very serious thing! You can fuck it up. So we’ve been scared into paying attention to what we are doing with our voice. I think in this sense it’s always good to have the help of a professional. Sometimes there are details that the person will say that may make a big difference.
Mavi: Not necessarily just for the sake of voice transition but more for a sense of care, maintenance?
Mavi: So if you already had an understanding of voice because of working with music, why did you feel the need to search for a therapist?
Sanni: Looking for a therapist was really because of the transition. For me, I did not have satisfactory daily female voice development at all. I felt my voice was not feminine enough.
Mavi: Do you think with the therapy you managed to achieve it?
Sanni: Yes, for sure. The therapy was essential.
Mavi: What steps, phases, and exercises in the therapy gave you that voice awareness and transformation?
Sanni: I think it was the exercises.
Mavi: Little details and the repetition of things?
Sanni: Yes. Well, I think a person who has never worked with voice before would have learned even more with voice therapy, like developing an awareness for projection, learning about the different areas of the voice, finding your own range, and learning what each person can reach. All of that was also worked on during the therapy. These weren’t new concepts for me, since I already had some knowledge, but it was good to train again. For me, it was the little details, because then it was adding to what I already knew and was not already training every day.
Mavi: Together with doing the therapy, did you also study alone, using voice exercises from videos?
Sanni: Well, for me it was very clear that I would have a good passability as a woman. But that’s not sufficient, right? It never is. I was doing research and I couldn’t find reference of a trans person without the typical “trans voice,” let’s say. I wanted a trans person that would have a feminine voice, period. One that would not stay in this limbo, right, of the “witch” voice, of the tranny, the nha nha nha like, bitch nha nha nha. I could only find it with this woman who does the “Finding Your Female Voice” program. Deep Stealth is her channel on YouTube.
Mavi: Which aspects do you think you would get from the sessions with a therapist that were not in the video exercises?
Sanni: The fact of having a professional that studies voice therapy and will know if I’m fucking up my voice or not. Watching on YouTube, you don’t have the feedback of a professional. You do what you want and then…
Mavi: So in a certain way you…
Sanni: Ah no, wait, I remember now. My voice therapist got the “Finding Your Female Voice” program. She bought it online, and she used it on me.
Mavi: Oh, wow. What a trickster! (laughs) You were saying that in the beginning the therapist didn’t have a focus on voice transitioning. You made her do it. How did this process of you sort of teaching the therapist impact your needs?
Sanni: It wasn’t me, teaching. I think it was something we did together. It was a mutual process of discovery. Of course she somehow took the lead; she was the professional. I felt safe with her.
I think the vocal therapy of a trans person is also an aesthetic matter. It’s the person’s style, the voice the person wants to have. So I’ve seen several trans people that had voices that I didn’t want to have for myself. I had a very clear aesthetic sense about how I wanted to sound. The most important thing for me was to have a sort of cis passability with my voice, so I was not worried about having a high-pitched voice. I was more concerned with having a natural voice that I could express myself with. I think the question of being cis or not being cis, or cis passability… it is related to feeling a certain spontaneity in the person’s voice. You can see when someone is forcing their voice. That’s what I was terrified about. I didn’t want to spend my life trying to talk like…
Mavi: …you were forcing your voice.
Sanni: Yeah, and it has happened lots of times. I still get embarrassed, you know, with my own voice when I think I’m forcing. Or when I really force. Or when I get too deep with my voice, whatever. It’s something that I have to watch out for.
Mavi: It is daily maintenance, right?
Sanni: Yeah, it’s learning small details to take care of. Really small ones, like drinking water, you know?
Mavi: Do you remember what things were forbidden in order to have a healthy voice?
Sanni: Not forbidden, but vital things. I don’t know, I don’t drink cold stuff. I can have ice cream sometimes. You saw. Even the whisky I was having yesterday, I had without ice. I hate ice. Ever since I’ve been involved in theatre, since I was 14 years old. It’s about little things. I don’t know, bad food. The click is that what is bad, is bad for everything. And what is good, is good for everything, right? In summary, when there are things that are good for the skin, it is good for this and that. It’s good to have a good mood and it may be good for the voice also. This is something very beautiful.
Ah, but one thing that is forbidden for me is clearing the throat with a scratching sound. No no. You’re supposed to slightly cough, you’re not supposed to scratch the throat like rrrrrrrrrr. Anyway you gotta learn some little things, and really practice your exercises. I think Deep Stealth is really awesome.
Pollux: Yeah, babadeira.
Mavi: Thinking of voice therapy… it helps not only in the transition process, to a female or male voice, but also in cultivating a voice that’s healthier.
Pollux: I was going to do voice therapy to lower my voice when I was younger. They tried several times. Imagine if I had done it younger?!
Mavi: Did you want to?
Pollux: No, it was my family and at school… They tried several times.
Mavi: How old were you?
Pollux: It started very early. My voice was always problematic, even when it lowered naturally. When I hit puberty and my voice became the voice of faggy Cid Moreira travesti, you understand? The Jovem Pan. Which is the way I am today. I wonder what it would be like if I had… Imagine how different things would be, if I had done therapy to masculinize the voice?!
Mavi: You didn’t do the therapy?
Pollux: No. I always accepted my strange voice as an aesthetic, something of mine. And even I was always afraid to change. It was a real resistance. Like, a faggot voice?! Yes, I’ll have it! Imagine if I had done it?! I would do voice therapy today to feminize my voice, and I’d go like “Hi?! Now I want to reverse the process.”
Mavi: And even without therapy your voice lowered?!
Pollux: Yes it did, a lot.
Mavi: And your family was happy?
Pollux: Oh yeah, of course, a little bit. But you girls, alternative people, trans people… everyone finds my voice beautiful. But normative cisgender people usually find it too nasal. I have a voice that irritates people. It’s a big dilemma. It’s a man with a strong low voice who has this nasal thing… My voice is read like a faggy voice.
Sanni: Aaaah I see, the pronunciation, etc?
Pollux: Everything. So if they could… When I was 21 years old, my mother still said “Don’t you want to do therapy?!” And it was really to take the faggy sound out of my voice. I think the whole damn problem was more that.
Mavi: Do you feel comfortable speaking your voice more in the nose like you do?
Mavi: It doesn’t hurt?!
Pollux: I think my voice is a bit fucked up. I think I need some… whatever… It’s bullshit on top of bullshit. But at least it’s a voice that sounds like me. This was always something kind of… myself.
Mavi: (laughs) “Do you have a male or female voice?” “I don’t know, I have my voice.”
Pollux: But now I want it to be more feminine.
Mavi: Do you believe there is such a thing as a trans voice?
Sanni: I believe there is a trans quality for voices, which is not necessarily something a trans person does. I’m talking about music, you know, voice manipulation like Sofia Reta, the Knife, you know? But, yeah, maybe a trans voice is a hybrid voice.
Mavi: I ask this because in my researches I have found lots of material—on YouTube for example—especially American trans girls—who focus on how to find your female voice…
Sanni: To stop it being a trans voice, isn’t it?
Mavi: And the trans voice isn’t a possibility.
Sanni: I think the reference to the trans voice always comes in a satirical way. For example, in the exercises from the “Finding Your Female Voice” videos, she shows the most typical trans voices as mistakes. There was the Miss Doubtfire, the falsetto, the Minnie Mouse voice, the witch voice that talks like “nha nha nha nha.”
Pollux: Me. (laughs)
Sanni: No, to have a witch voice, you have to be trying to change! If you’re speaking with your normal voice, that’s different. Anyway, you don’t impose your voice, it is a voice that you have to impose and stay like “nhe nhe nhe.”
Pollux: There’s an interesting thing about trans voice in this thing that you say, which is with trans boys: they always have a faggy voice.
Mavi: Trans boys?
Pollux: Yeah, trans boys, masculine, just like, all the guys that I have met always have a social reading of a faggot, just like me. That’s why I’m coming to agree with the existence of a hybrid voice. I have a friend, he gets pissed off. I mean, he says, “Oh my god, I did therapy and I got a voice that… like… it’s a boy, g g g.”
 HRT – Hormone Replacement Therapy. When hormones are administered to transgender or gender nonconforming individuals for the purpose of more closely aligning their secondary characteristics with their gender identity.
 Babadeira (babado or bafo/bafoneira) means fights, confusion, gossip, hot news, something fun or very good, cool, awesome, amazing, incredible, shocking depending on the context. This term comes from from pajubá, a language used by queer and trans friends and communities in Brazil. The language is based on several african languages initially used in umbanda and candomblé terreiros. It was assimilated and transformed by transvestis, becoming also a strategy for communication and defense on the streets.
 Deep Stealth describes themselves as “Media by and for trans people.” One of the heads of the production, Andrea James, collected several exercises and created the program “Finding Your Female Voice” to train voice and brain in order to help transgender women speak and sound more feminine.
 “g g g,” meaning gay boy.
Interview with Aerea Negrot
transition (WTF?!), a relative thing
Mavi Veloso: Aerea, how did your transition process happen? Your experience in your body, social relations, and in your voice?
Aerea Negrot: Well… I always knew from a very early age that I wasn’t 100% right. I didn’t understand what it was. I always thought that I was from another place, but I only knew one place. I mean, how is it possible to think you’re from somewhere else when you only know one place?!
I started performing when I was 16 years old, singing in the streets of Amsterdam. I was pretty broke and the idea seemed fun. Singing was my way to escape. Escaping also meant allowing a hidden part of my personality to come out, something other than what my forced masculinity would ever allow. I suddenly felt that femininity would come to my rescue.
I have a very funny story. When I was 8 or 9, we had problems visiting some friends, because one of the sisters hit herself while playing with my sister and I. Her mother was like “You can’t be here every day playing!” We were banned in that house. After a few days, I really wanted to see this friend, so my solution was to put on a wig and makeup, and go to the house pretending I was a twin sister. Of course, everybody knew right away who I was, but it was like putting on a wig and adding lipstick was the solution to all my problems, always. For me, it was like having super powers.
I always thought that my feminine persona was my most powerful side. And as a young boy I felt very powerless. But how can you expect to have another gender when you only know the gender that you are born with?
Back to Amsterdam when I started performing… my discovery of power had to do more with performance than with gender identity. I was 22 when I actually realized that the anxiety and sadness I had felt my entire life had to do with me not identifying 100% with the male gender I was born into. So, I started transitioning. In the beginning it was a very external change. I started wearing earrings when I went to music school and started wearing more feminine clothes. It was only later that I had procedures. I had breast implants when I was 27. And only then that I decided to go on hormone treatment.
Mavi: First you did external things like breast implants and then after that you started hormones?
Aerea: Yeah, because first of all I was still very young and I always had a little bit of fear toward hormones. Also, I had a friend in London—unfortunately she’s not with us anymore—who used to say that hormones are not a beauty treatment. They actually play with your head and cause a lot of changes! Because of her—I knew that she was very serious—I didn’t want to experiment with anything until I thought “okay, now it’s really necessary. If I’m going to live this my life like this, then I guess I should really transition and see what it feels like, and make my own decisions.”
And much to my surprise—well, not surprise—it was actually true what she had been telling me. Taking hormones really influenced the way I was thinking and acting. And they influenced my mood and the way I would react to situations. My drive changed completely. A lot of my friends didn’t… they weren’t happy with it. I was actually… I think I went a little bit crazy.
Aerea: Yeah, because you’re kind of recreating menstrual periods that you didn’t have, you know. So if it’s a very complicated thing for cisgender women, you can imagine that it’s also complicated for anybody putting themselves in that position. They go through a lot of wanted and unwanted changes.
So that was when I was 27. And I stopped when I was 29.
Mavi: You stopped?!
Aerea: I stopped and then I continued on and off for a year, until I realized that, for me, medication is definitely not the best thing, you know?! Considering that I also have a creative process and that I have to be very motivated!
For me motivation was one of the biggest problems with hormones. And I guess also… When you’re finally in the right place with yourself, you stop giving a shit about a lot of stuff, you know. When you arrive at the end of the trip, then you’re like “okay, maybe I don’t need to do this.”
So, that’s a brief description of my transition. I think transition is something that never ends. We are transitioning now and always, from when we are young until we are adults.
voice, therapy, hormones, changes
Mavi: How do you relate to voice therapy that’s directed toward trans people?
Aerea: Well, to be honest, I have not been through therapy at all. I think it is important, especially for people that don’t sing. When you sing, you know, more or less, about your vocal functioning, your head voice, your chest voice, and even the pitch of your moan. But with people that haven’t been exposed to this kind of exercise, they’re new to systemic changes in the voice.
hormones and changes in the voice
Mavi: Do you think that the hormones affected your voice? Usually with estrogen treatment they say it doesn’t change the voice. But I think you started experiencing hormones early?
Aerea: Yeah, I was 27. I think of course there might be mechanical reasons why doctors say that there is no influence whatsoever. But I think there are psychological aspects that do influence the sensitivity of your voice. Or also the projection of your voice. Or the intention of the voice. Everything changes through psychology.
Mavi: What you are saying is great!
Aerea: Especially the intention. When I was performing on hormones my voice became even stronger, I think because the aspect of fear goes away a bit, you know. When you are in the body and the mental state your body is supposed to… It feels right, you project a lot more, you feel more secure about yourself. So, it’s a question of how your own psyche and body are telling you what is right.
voice, training, performance, experimentation
Mavi: You did music school in Amsterdam?
Aerea: No, actually, the first time I started studying music was in London. It was a vocal training and music production
Mavi: In London, but you’re from…?
Aerea: I’m from Venezuela.
Mavi: When did you move to Europe?
Aerea: When I was 20, around 2000.
Mavi: I thought I had read somewhere that you started studying music and voice at an early age.
Aerea: Well, I was actually a ballet dancer; I did ballet for many years. I come from a family of dancers. My mother and father were ballet dancers, as well as my grandmother, so I thought I was also going to be a ballet dancer too. Or at least I did, until I had an accident with my knee and I had to stop. I think it was a good opportunity to know what I really wanted to do. I wanted to make my own music. I always had an interest in performing and singing.
I remember a friend had a choir that he would organize and I was singing with them. And he told me that I had talent, but I didn’t know I had it, so I was just, you know, just singing. But basically all I did my whole childhood was repeat the operas my grandmother would play. I was recreating that sound. So I think I developed a trick to use my head voice, and how to use my chest voice. It was more of a children’s game.
Mavi: When I bumped into feminization of voice by diving into the exercises that trans girls share on the Internet, I was like “Wow, this is training for singing and theater practices!”
Mavi: I found it very performative. The intention there is a bit normative though. It’s always “How you go from a male to a female voice.” And then people just lose the in betweens. That’s what I find very interesting when I hear you singing. It’s not just female or male. It is something else.
Aerea: It’s a spectrum, you see the whole spectrum…
With using my whole range I learned two things. I learned that, one, I have capabilities which I am very thankful for, and, two, I learned about the classical music system, which I wanted to be part of. In the academic context, you have to decide which area you’re going to focus on: if you want to be countertenor, you’re considered a mezzo-soprano or you’re considered a tenor. But to have something right in between is impossible. They discourage you. So here in Germany when I was having my tests, I was preparing areas and material for both male and female parts and performing to this teacher that was supposed to get me into the conservatorium. She discouraged me right away: “I think you will be such a good tenor.” But that for me was somebody telling me “You should stay a man,” you know, without the benefit of the doubt.
Mavi: The benefit of the doubt, I love it!
Aerea: So basically that was the start of doing what I wanted to do. I mean, I had very good inspirations. Yma Sumac had always been an inspiration. She was a woman with one of the most unbelievable voices in history. She could perform extremely low with her pitch and also extremely high. Also Sainkho Namtchylak, who has one of the most prodigious, broadest vocal ranges ever. It’s very stunning what she can do! It’s something like a range of eight octaves, ridiculous. She’s still alive. You should hear what she’s doing. She is the other side of this voice transition. She’s a cisgender woman… I still don’t get along with this cisgender thing. She’s kind of a priestess, a music goddess… someone that just wants to use the aspect of spirituality and voice projection. Her deepest voice is just mind blowing.
Mavi: So, when you bumped into this problem of having to define things, you decided to go more experimental instead?
Aerea: Yeah. I remember being asked “What you want to do?” I said, “I want to be able to use my whole range. I want to be able to have classical training in order to do my own music.” I was already producing music, composing. And this person just said to me “Classical music has already been done. You should already be performing. I think it’s too late for you. I encourage you to do your own thing.” That was very discouraging. But it was the trigger for me to start doing something else. Actually, the positive aspect to what I do now is that because I don’t have classical training, my lack of knowledge was compensated by my need to experiment.
voice, gender, social sphere
empower / weapon
Mavi: Thinking about the performative aspect of the voice and gender, in the artistic field we experiment, but how is it for you in daily life? What concerns most trans girls is the importance of having good passability. How do you see this in your social sphere?
Aerea: I think every experience is one hundred percent personal and valid. I am very much in the middle. I do use my voice as a weapon. When I need it, I talk really deep. When I go to the hardware shop, or whatever, and want to show character I can switch to a very high pitched voice, and be way more gentle. I think voice is a weapon. A manipulation weapon! For me, it has become a way to use situations to my advantage.
Interview with Geo Wyeth
Mavi Veloso: You said that after three weeks your voice changed. Is the voice one of the first things that changes?
Geo Wyeth: Yeah. But what actually happens… Generally, the first thing for trans guys when you take testosterone, is that your genitals get bigger. And you get erections and these things that didn’t happen before. You want to have sex with everyone in the world. So that’s the very first thing that happens. Within a week I felt that starting to happen.
Mavi: The sensation of wanting to fuck all the time, does it last for a long time?
Geo: It calms down. I think because of many reasons. As someone that is considered to be a feminist, I found it difficult to accept how much the testosterone affected me, you know? I didn’t want it to be the reason that I was stronger. Or that I wanted to have sex more. Because I wanted to believe that as a woman I could be anyone I wanted. I could be as strong as them, you know. And this process of being on testosterone gets you crazy, wanting to fuck all time… It mellows out after awhile, but it mellows out partially because you learn how to subdue it. You learn how to put it into something else. And you jerk off a lot, and… whatever, you figure it out. But I think for me it definitely went down when I lowered my dose.
Mavi: You reduced testosterone doses?
Geo: Yeah, you’re supposed to double it in the beginning and then lower doses once you have experienced the effects of the hormones and once your levels even out. When they say “even out” I don’t really know what that means. I still don’t know what it means to have a “normal” dose.
HRT and medical aspects
Mavi: Did you follow a doctor or do it by yourself?
Geo: I went to a clinic in New York which is really amazing. And it’s very easy, you can go… It wasn’t that easy; it’s easier now, actually. You have to see a therapist, you talk to them, etc.
Mavi: There was a sort of procedure to follow then?
Geo: Yeah, and to make sure that you’re not going to go crazy or something. But it’s all so complicated because in order to get the hormones, up until very recently, you had to say many things that would make you qualify as a “sick person,” somebody who is mentally ill. I had to say things that were against my politics in many ways.
Mavi: Like what?
Geo: I had to say I’ve always felt like a boy, because when I was child I would play with boy’s toys and I like the colour blue… really stupid shit, you know what I mean?! I didn’t like pink, boys don’t like pink, you know, really basic stuff.
Geo: Yeah!!! This is not what’s up. This is not what people are like. This is not what I wanted gender to be. I also had to say I am a man trapped in a woman’s body. I had actually to say that phrase, which I think is just crazy.
Mavi: Oh my! Why do we have to say those things to convince the world?!
Geo: Exactly! That’s what I said! But look, the truth is that I want to take this drug because I think it will make me feel some more comfortable in myself. And I don’t know why. There are probably very complicated reasons that have to do with perception. Your emotions, your inner landscape, are more affected by how people see you. I think to myself that if I lived in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, all I would hang out with would be bears and plants… But I actually take this drug, I don’t know, I mean, I don’t like that word… I’m not sure. It has a lot to do with navigating in the world. The exhaustion that comes from being gender-nonconforming, which I know you’re familiar with. Like going to the bathroom. I think some people can navigate this very skillfully and with great strength, but I couldn’t. It was really hard for me. I had a really difficult time. I couldn’t just be. I couldn’t let go of what people would say about me. I didn’t go to the bathroom because I was afraid. Basically, I was afraid of going to the women’s room and them calling the police. Which happened a few times. And the other way around. Go into the men’s room. I’ve did that a few times because it was just easier, you know? Men don’t really talk to each other, so it’s easy. Unless they want to have sex. But it’s very very stressful.
Mavi: Did you find it different when you moved to Holland?
Geo: I‘ve had a hard time finding a doctor in Holland. It’s mostly my fault to be honest. I’m just lazy. I called the trans clinic, and they said the waiting list was like a year, and I was like “fuck that shit.” So I didn’t follow up.
Mavi: But how do you get the drugs?
Geo: Actually it was crazy. When I moved to Holland, I was like, “I’m going to stop taking testosterone.” I stopped for a whole year
Mavi: Wooooow, how did it feel?
Geo: It was insane. I mean, it was great actually. I did so much work. I went into this crazy space. I hadn’t got my period in ten years and then I got it again and it was crazy!!! I was having great big falls, like somebody got murdered, you know what I mean. It was like somebody going out of my body. So it’s all very good in a way. It’s kind of a release but then…
Mavi: You’re saying that it gave you creative power?
Geo: In a weird way, I felt very lucid for the first time in a very long time. It seemed everything was there, clear. I felt like there was a person inside me that was sort of chilling in my liver and my kidney. That person just came up to my eyelids, you know, like it came behind my eyeballs and was like PLOCK!!! Open. Everything came forward. It was this really amazing experience of letting go of a lot of things. But then after a while I had to take testosterone again, because when you take hormones for a long time your body forgets how to make them itself. You know, women’s bodies also have testestorone, and my body forgot how to make it. I lost all my ability to produce testosterone. I was just nuts. I would cry all the time, I never wanted to have sex, you know. It was just like…
Mavi: Oh, I know how that is!!!!
Geo: I was just like a depressed dead creature. It was terrible! I was like “Oh my God I got to go back on that shit. This is nuts.”
Mavi: When you went back did you take a smaller dose?
Geo: Now I take a gel. It’s very low dose, so it’s cool. I still menstruate, which is fine actually. It’s better that way, then I’m cleaning out every month. But I still have a sex drive. I feel good actually. I’m in a good place. I’ve been on that for about two years.
I got it! It was so easy! I went to a regular doctor in Amsterdam. I said to him, “I’m trans, I need this prescription.” And he was like “Okay” and filled it. He didn’t check anything. (laughs) I’m legally female, so it was easy to prove that I was trans. I said, “Look, I’m like this, I menstruate, I have a vagina but I look like a man and I need to take this hormone.” And it was actually really funny, the old Dutchman. He was so excited to have a trans person in his office. He put his hand on my shoulder, which really scared me, actually. It was just weird. And he said, “It’s gonna be okay, we’ll get you what you need.” And I was like “Okay, you don’t need to get all personal, I mean, you’re not my dad. You’re a doctor. You’re a professional and I need help.” But then later on I thought about it, and I realized he was just trying to be nice. It wasn’t actually weird, but I reacted to it at the time.
voice, therapy, hormones, changes
adding / taking off: hormones and changes in the voice
Mavi: Can you talk a bit about testosterone and the effects of it for you?
Geo: I’ve been told that when a female-bodied person takes testosterone it’s like adding something else to the body. And when a male body person takes estrogen it’s like trying to take something away, which is much more difficult to do. That’s why trans women take testosterone blockers. You actually have to wear off testosterone if you want to achieve a particular level of what we’re calling “feminization.” I put that in quotes because I think all of these things are very relative. The standards by which we are judging ourselves are limited. It’s a whole long conversation. So, because it’s adding something else, it’s very fast, in a way. The changes happen extremely quickly. Within three weeks my voice changed.
Mavi: Oh my God, in three weeks!!!
Geo: Yes! It didn’t change completely, but it started to break and I could no longer sing. It was really shocking, but at the time I was so excited! It was Christmas, I was so happy! I was so high on this feeling of making a big decision and then having a sort of body rush of quick change, which I love in general in life. Part of being on testosterone, I realize now that I’m older, is a kind of high actually. The similar high that I have from getting a tattoo or getting a piercing, or modifying your body in a particular way. There is some kind of rush or high that you get from cruising, going out, and these sort of things.
That book that Paul Preciado wrote, Testo Junkie, I didn’t like it initially, because I felt sort of… I’m a bit skeptical about things that feel trendy or sexy. And he made going on testosterone seem kind of sexy. It is very sexy, but I don’t think sexy is that interesting. I can’t live without sex, I love sex, but it’s also the most mundane thing in the world. I feel it’s a bit complicated… that is, describing being into testosterone just like being on this sexy drug. That said, even though I was critical of the book, it is a very charging experience, particularly with the voice.
voice, training, performance, experimentation
Geo: I was lucky, my mother is a singer. My whole life was learning how to sing.
Mavi: Did you have classes or were you just taught by your mother?
Geo: I sang in children’s choirs a lot, in church and also outside of church, and had choir classes all the time. So I had been singing for a very long time. Then I had a few voice lessons with an actual vocal teacher… Mostly my experience came from singing with my mom and dad. My dad can’t sing that well, but he writes songs. So we sang all the time in my house. It was a big part of my life growing up.
Mavi: When you started to experience changes from the testosterone, did you feel the need to try to keep something from the voice you had before, the possibilities to sing?
Geo: Yeah, I told myself that I would sing. I was persistent. At the time that my voice started changing, I was coming up as a performer in this kind of cheesy, but very interesting and funny cabaret scene. It’s mostly connected to the theater world in New York. It was hot in the 1990s and early 2000s. I was living in New York and was 20 or 21 years old. I started taking hormones, and these performers were taking me on tour. They were all older drag queen performers in their 40s and 50s. Some of them are really amazing, like career performers, people who perform at dinner parties or in dinner clubs for rich people, you know what I mean. I was performing with them a lot, doing this act where I was singing with an accordion. It paid really well and was really fun. I got to hang out with these amazing people. And my favorite thing about it was just being backstage with them. It was fucking amazing. I was really performing a lot and then my voice started to change. “Well,” I thought, “that’s going to have an effect on my income.” (laughs)
Mavi: You had a higher pitch and then it changed. How did you start enjoying it and using it more in your performance work?
Geo: In a broader or philosophical way, taking hormones, for me, was a way to put things together. The hormones made me create a form, a formalization, of a lot of different conflicting emotions, desires, and impulses. And hormones did something to my voice as well. And as a performer at that time, my performance became formalized. Almost in a very unshakable way.
Geo: Yeah, it formed an identity that I had at that moment in my early twenties. I was a musician, not in the art world at all. As my voice became lower and more masculine, my body and my performance did too, and it became a form. It became stagnant eventually. I think it became kind of calcified in this very masculine way.
Then something happened. It was right before I stopped taking hormone when I said, “I can’t do this anymore. This isn’t right, it’s not what I really had in mind.” You know, just to be this man, this musician, with a really boring kind of normal voice. So I broke that, I broke my voice. I broke my work as well. I kind of turned my work in on itself. I started performing as a character and when I did that it allowed me to create in different ways, to experiment with my voice. So I started to sing higher. I started to sing really loud, like if I was in a teenage punk band. I really pushed my voice to different limits, and tied to find the limitations of it as an instrument.
Mavi: And you already had a technique for that.
Geo: Yeah I think so. You’re right, I definitely did. It’s subconscious though. At the time it just sounded like emotions. I had an emotional need to break my voice and I fucking needed to sing. In order to take apart what had become so formalized. What had become so calcified in this sort of masculinity. I was like “Fuck this. This is not right.”
When I went off hormones it really blew up. I was singing anyway. I didn’t care anymore. I thought “I’m not a man I’m not a woman, I’m not, and just… I’m nothing, whatever. It doesn’t matter, this is my voice.” And I really started using my voice fully. I really felt like it was the first time ever. I was like, I don’t care what it sounds like. If it makes me sound like a girl, if it makes me sound like a boy, or a fruity boy. I don’t care. I need to sing. I need to fucking sing or I’m gonna go crazy. So it didn’t matter to me. That’s when I started really using my training, I think. It was actually in the last few years. Now I do a lot of warm ups, and I really try not to treat my voice as a gender thing. I just treat it as whatever it is. And I warm it up as I would with any instrument. And I try to have the most flexibility that I can.
Mavi: Did you think about training to somehow keep higher pitch? Or maybe to make it lower, to sound more masculine? Is there therapy to masculinize the voice?
Geo: Maybe there is this somewhere. Actually there is this thing that trans guys have, we call a “trans voice,” which is like this kind of frog voice, which I also would call the inside-out voice. A lot of trans man are like, “wew wew wew.” We would joke around with each other that we are trying not to get the frog voice. “Dear Lord please don’t give me the frog voice!” It’s like your voice becomes lower, but not really. It gets kind of nasal and it doesn’t really sound masculine. Some guys that I knew back in the days when I was transitioning… there were a lot of trans man around me that were really butch presenting, very masculine, and very straight presenting. I think it’s so much better now, such a big variety, fluidity, you know. All the kids are just like “I don’t know what I am. I’m a man, I’m a woman. Who cares?!” It’s so much better than it was ten years ago in New York.
Mavi: Do you go to the gym a lot to try to keep a body?
Geo: I had a gym body, yeah. I would workout somtimes with Norie, my friend, who is now an MMA fighter. He was tough as hell, a really tough dude, but also a total sweetheart. And he now has a baby and a wife, like a straight guy. I felt a kind of pressure. Not pressure, but that’s who I was around, you know. I think there was pressure on each other to perform a particular kind maleness and masculinity in the voice, in the body. And it took me a while to understand that I didn’t have to do that. That I could just be my own version no matter what.
voice, gender, social sphere
Mavi: About male voice, is the idea of imprinting respect something you feel? In your experience, did you notice changes in the way people treated you as your voice changed?
Geo: Oh my god yeah, masculinity holds power in the culture that I was raised in. Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, in some ways. I would say women have the hardest job because they have to be masculine in certain aspects in order to gain the respect of men. Let’s say a woman is going into a job interview, she has to perform a certain kind of assertiveness, or sharpness, or strength in order to get the respect of these assholes. But at the same time she’s also supposed to be feminine enough and not threaten them. It’s fucking hard, it’s impossible, actually.
To answer your question, I think there is an obvious privileging of masculinity, meaning a certain privilege for a lower voice or a stronger voice… I would say I feel it more in Holland, in a weird way. Definitely, and also in the States. I will say though, it’s all relative. Being in New York where there are many, many representations of masculinity and femininity, like far more, I think you can still get respect and be recognized as powerful. And I think that in Holland it’s actually really… I’m not masculine enough here, which is fine with me. I don’t care. But I do notice, for example, that sometimes Jay gets more respect.
Geo: Jay, my partner. She is masculine and feminine. But she has very strong masculinity. So she will be more respected in some ways even though she has a higher voice, and she’s a woman, because she’s being read as more masculine. She’s like a tomboy. Whereas with me, because I’m being read as a man and I’m like, wearing rings and painting my nails, you know…
Mavi: The queer one.
Geo: Yeah, I like talking with my hands and that kind of shit. I’m read as more feminine and I definitely get less respect from men. I mean, I would say if I walk into a bike shop and I’m like, “Hey, I need help,” they are big assholes with me. And they make fun. It’s super crazy. I’m like “Really? Come on.” And then I’m just left alone. Then I say “Okay, that’s fine I’ll fix it myself.” So to answer the question, I think it depends on where you are.
empower / weapon
Mavi: Do you think experimenting with hormones and all the changes empowered you to open the range of your voice, of performance, of gender, of identity?
Geo: Yes. It opened everything, my mouth, my legs… it opened everything, ok?! (laughs) It was like, wooow!!! Before that, I had dated all these high femme women. And I was super butch, with my clothes and every kind of shit. I’m being very personal with you now, It’s just how this shit is. And I trust you also because you understand. I get asked these things often, but it’s usually straight women who are asking. Especially here in Holland. They’re like “Tell me about your change,” and I’m like “Fuck you, I’m not telling you shit. Why don’t you change?!” And I love when they say “But if you change your gender why do you look so much like a normative man? Why not be more experimental?” And I say “Why don’t you be more experimental? You look like a normative woman. You wake up every fucking day, and you put on your lipstick and your high heels. I don’t judge you. You could do a lot of shit. And I do, actually. I’m a fucking artist. I can do whatever I want.” Anyway.
Interview with Íka Eloah, Lucy Lazuli, and Sladka Jerônimo
performative voice training processes in São Paulo
Mavi: Before we started with TravaLíngua, was the idea of voice feminization a subject for you?
Íka Eloah: For me, no, I didn’t think about that.
Lucy Lazuli: It’s an issue that’s often been on my mind.
Sladka Jerônimo: I see girls exchanging things in a lot of Facebook groups. Saying things like, “The most annoying part of the transition process is the voice.” Some girls that have a very good passability, but when they talk, that passability ends. It goes from princess to dude, you know.
Mavi: So this crisis really exists?
Íka: Yeah that happens, and the alternative we found in the project TravaLíngua is wonderful. Because all the girls have huge financial difficulties in accessing voice therapy.
At the same time with those funny videos we share with each other on WhatsApp, we notice some voice manipulation. There’s experimentation and some ways that girls are sharing knowledge… not teaching, but making jokes or imitating one another while making femme voices, or trans voices. But voice therapy for trans people is not yet popular in Brazil. I’ve seen that it’s possible to find something in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but it’s still only a few limited initiatives. Most material spread on video through YouTube is in English, and unfortunately girls don’t speak English in Brazil, so they don’t have access to those techniques. So, I was wondering if girls are interested in understanding a bit more about their voices. And how much do you think that process with TravaLíngua opened things up?
Lucy: For me, it gave me more curiosity about my voice, a desire to try to reach other places with it. I always had difficulty speaking in public, so I really felt like participating in the workshop encouraged me to try to talk more.
Mavi: It’s nice to hear that. Because it’s not only a question of feminine or masculine voice. Also, because I think you girls started taking hormones early, (making deep voice) you didn’t have the effects of testosterone making your voice deep as I had.
Sladka: I had it, I have been taking hormones for only three months.
Lucy: My voice is a little bit in the middle. Before taking hormones, some people would say “Wow your voice is so feminine!” After, other trannies would say “Uhuuummm, it’s not like that.” And I didn’t know my voice was like that.
Mavi: What age did you to start to take hormones?
Lucy: One year ago, I was 18.
Mavi: Me too.
Íka: For me, it made me aware of and able to change my voice depending on the context. Yeah it’s like a weapon. On the telephone, in a microphone…
There is something related to the feeling of fear. Because you’re afraid sometimes to open your mouth. All this experimentation, not only in a daily process to talk, but also the experimentation of it. Sometimes I feel very scared, for example, in the morning. I arrive in the bakery and the guy asks “What do you want?” and then the voice comes out like “grrrrrr.” The guy spoke, and I didn’t reply at first, I only smiled. I directly pointed at what I wanted instead of speaking. But then I had to say which one I wanted, and the voice came out like a monster. The guy looked at me shocked, stupefied. (laughter) From that point until our last minutes of contact, I didn’t speak a single word. I paid, I said thank you with my head and then I went away. That was at six or seven in the morning.
Lucy: Yeah, me too. Several times on the street I have avoided talking because I’m afraid. The person says good morning and I don’t say anything. We only speak when it’s necessary. I keep waiting to not have to present my voice. I avoid a lot of conversations because of this.
Íka: That’s very ironic, because with trans boys the voice changes naturally. Even if it doesn’t get so much to the point they want, as deep as they want, it’s a fucking remarkable the change.
Mavi: Beyond the voice issue, being a trans person or non binary person brings other complexities. The multiplicity of gender and identity is more and more present in the world. I see in some places in Europe a more silent movement of trans and queer communities. The fight exists, but sometimes it’s done in a quiet and formulated way in comparison to Brazil where numbers still show a lot of killed people for their expression of gender and sexuality. In times of crisis in economy, closing minds, and more and more censorship, we see at the same time an explosion of queerness resisting. Is that a fight? Many of our sisters are doing very nice stuff in music and the arts in general, empowering a queer, trans, non binary discourse. How has this phenomenon manifested in the past years?
Ika: It’s about occupying space. Different places in different ways. There is this musical movement—very powerful in Brazil. For example AS BAHIAS E A COZINHA MINEIRA, two trans women singing MPB, creating albums that reach those cult, elitist classes, bringing that poetry more Caetano Veloso like. Those classes will end up giving value. It’s also empowering. They really nail what they do and cement it; it’s strong. But what interests me more, for example, are girls like Linn da Quebrada, Jupe do Bairro, Danna Lisboa, because what they do is something more direct and confronting. It’s more of a daily thing that relates to all of us. I’m not gonna have the power to change things alone. We need to occupy streets, the MPB, and the academy as well. Personally knowing Linn and Jupe, I’m grateful to see them getting good results now. In a certain way, they are having a good harm reduction. They are able to work and get a good income. Two girls that were super fucked up in relation to money, you know. This harm reduction is maybe the most we can hack from this shitty system. Because it’s almost impossible in this fucking horrible system, the prejudice é babado! We’re all operating in this schema, harm reduction. (laughter) We all want acué!
Mavi: We are all selling our body in one way or another.
Ika: Yeah, exactly. That’s the way it is. There’s no other way to do it. Not that we don’t like it—we like sex, so we do sex work as well.
Mavi: Do you do street?
Ika: No I do sex work through the internet, as an escort. We somehow also hack the internet schema. There are these websites, and you have to pay to have advertisements. But if you do profiles, you go in as a masculine escort or massagist. The understanding of it is also dumb, but it brings us some benefits. As women escorts you pay, as male escorts no. Trans escort are put in as male—bad shit, horrible—but it helps that we don’t have to pay to be there.
 TravaLíngua, in Portuguese means tongue twister. But trava is also a colloquial word for travesti – transvestite, trans woman. Língua is language or tongue. TravaLíngua, língua das travas, tranny tongue, tranny language. TravaLíngua is a performance and voice research appropriating vocal practices related to feminization or masculinization of vocal change in trans people. In July 2017, we did weekly sessions with guys and gurls from the Cursinho Popular Transformação in São Paulo, experimenting with performance scores for both feminization and masculinization voice practices. It was a collaboration between Lanchonete.org and the Cursinho Transformação.
 Acué (pajubá), word for money.