Gender-affirming voice program 'extremely empowering'

June 9, 2022

Demand grows for Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital service

EDMONTON — Trans and gender diverse people are finding a voice that matches how they see themselves thanks to guidance and support from speech language pathologists (SLP) in the Voice and Resonance Program at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Parker Pothier, who identifies as a non-binary transgender person and uses they/them pronouns, learned of the gender-affirming voice program through a local Facebook group. Pothier discussed the option with their family physician, who then referred them to the program.

“When I got excited or energetic, I felt like my voice was breaking and that I didn’t have stability,” says Pothier. “My job is largely on the phone and I found it very stressful in situations on the phone where I was misgendered. I was struggling to perform my job while being able to represent myself in the way I wanted to be heard.”

Once referred to the program, SLP Teresa Hardy assessed Pothier’s voice and communication characteristics, including vocal pitch, resonance, intonation, loudness, voice quality and articulation.

“My job is to present options for voice change and guide clients through exploring different sounds and manners of speaking to find one that feels right for them and to do so in a way that promotes healthy voice function,” says Hardy. “Voice treatment is also offered, as needed, to address pre-existing voice difficulties.”

Awareness of the service among referring providers and patients continues to expand. Over the past decade, the program has seen referrals increase from five per year to upwards of five per month. Today, the program receives referrals from a variety of practitioners, including family physicians, endocrinologists and psychiatrists. Training with patients can include a mix of individual and group sessions.

For Hardy, helping individuals feel comfortable and confident in their day-to-day interactions is incredibly rewarding.

“Many of the people who come to this program have experienced marginalization at home, school, work or in their community. Many have experienced harassment or physical harm at the hands of others because of the way they communicate,” says Hardy. “For some individuals, making their voice and other aspects of their communication congruent with their self-described gender identity and/or desires for gender expression can be life-saving.”

Pothier is eager to help create awareness about the service at the Glenrose.

“For each trans person, each non-binary person, each queer person, their experience is so unique. To be able to have the power and control to tailor your experience for what works for you is extremely empowering,” says Pothier.

“Although it isn’t talked about very much, there are a lot of people struggling with their voice. Having access to this program and working with people like Teresa helped me feel validated, and that my voice is important.”

Gender-affirming voice and communication training has been available at the Glenrose for more than 20 years. The service is also available in Calgary.

June is internationally recognized as Pride Month. AHS strives to create an environment that values diversity, and welcomes and respects people’s contributions. Creating safer and more welcoming healthcare increases the quality of care and experience AHS offers to everyone.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.