“We don’t make assumptions that female voices sound a certain way, or male voices [sound] a certain way. [We] talk with the individuals about what they’re looking for to help them really feel comfortable in their ability to communicate and that their communication aligns with their gender.”
Gender-affirming voice therapy is a service not normally discussed for aiding with the security of gender identity. By participating in a voice therapy program, transgender and gender-nonconforming people can work with a therapist towards attaining a voice that best reflects their gender identity. Considering there is a lack of expertise in transgender voice care and a high price on services that are not often covered by health insurance, the service is not readily available in many communities and universities.
On January 28, the DePaul Speech and Language Clinic announced the arrival of a gender-affirming speech therapy program. The process of gender-affirming voice therapy at the university was previously reported in depth by The DePaulia.
The DePaul Speech and Language Clinic is a donation-based clinic managed by faculty members with speech-language pathology degrees. DePaul graduate students, who are overseen by DePaul faculty members, provide services at the Speech and Language Clinic and help individuals to feel more comfortable in their voice.
Director of Clinical Education Ann Fennell explained that there is an important connection between the sound of one’s voice and their gender identity, “Now, not everybody chooses to do this, it’s their own choice. But a lot of times the reason that people do it is that it aligns with their gender. So they feel, you know, like a whole person. And then also they can be safer out in the community as well.”
Voice therapy is not something every trans person wants to do, but having the option is important. It is a resource that is often overlooked, but it is treated with extreme care by Fennell and her team.
The process of voice therapy is to make the person feel most comfortable in the voice they feel matches their gender identity, not the voice that is expected from them. Fennell describes the process of working with a new client.
“What we do when someone comes in, we talk with them about their goals, and what they want their voice to sound like,” she said. “So we don’t make assumptions that female voices sound a certain way, or male voices [sound] a certain way. [We] talk with the individuals about what they’re looking for to help them really feel comfortable in their ability to communicate and that their communication aligns with their gender.”
Clinicians analyze the pitch and intonation patterns within a voice and determine how to manipulate it. Not only is verbal communication inspected, but nonverbal communication is as well.
While discussing voice therapy options in Chicago with Fennell, it became obvious that programs like these are not commonly offered at universities.
After being asked whether there are other Chicago universities implementing voice therapy programs, Fennell replied “I don’t actually think so. But I’m not sure. There are a lot of private practices where they offer these services, but they’re pretty expensive. So someone has to pay hourly. And it can get quite pricey.”
A benefit of the program at DePaul is that the gender-affirming voice therapy program is free of charge, and a referral or health plan is not necessary.
“It fits with our mission to be able to provide these sorts of services and particularly in a donation-based clinic, where [patients] don’t have to worry about fees,” Fennell explains.
Voice therapy programs are rare in general, but one where clients don’t have to worry about the stress of fees and referrals is very especially unique, as well as encouraging for students to actually be able to utilize the service.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Queer, Asexual and Ally Student Resource Center at DePaul has its own programs and resources for transgender and queer students as well. Spectrum is a student organization that hosts events and meetings regularly and is open to LGBTQ+ students.
While not every institution provides gender-affirming voice therapy, there are many other organizations/universities in Chicago that provide trans individuals with behavioral-health services, hormone therapy and support groups.
A form for new client intake at the DePaul Speech and Language Clinic can be found here.
Other Chicago University Transgender Resources
Most Chicago universities provide programs for LGBTQ+ students transgender students. Several, like the University of Illinois Chicago, include health-related programs, but most are focused on supporting the transgender community through clubs, resource guides and counseling.
Northwestern is one of the few universities in Chicago that has a voice therapy program. The Northwestern University Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning in Evanston (NUCASLL) provides individual or group therapy options. Northwestern has a Gender and Sexuality Resource Center as well.
University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)
The UIC student health insurance plan includes gender-affirming surgeries within its benefits, although there are several stipulations that have to be met to qualify for certain procedures. The UIC School of Law pro bono clinic provides resources for name changes. UIC also has a Gender and Sexuality Center. The center has their own trans resource guide, as well as “weekly kiki’s” over Zoom.
University of Chicago (UChicago)
The UChicago Medicine Voice Center focuses on the LGBTQ+ community and their services include voice feminization, voice masculinization, and Adam’s apple reduction surgery. Here, the health professionals focus on managing the voice therapeutically surgically.
Loyola University of Chicago
Loyola has two active LGBTQ+ clubs: PRISM, which is centered towards Queer and Trans people of color, and Rainbow Connection, which focuses on educating communities on LGBTQ+ issues.
Columbia College Chicago
Columbia College Chicago has various programs that benefit the trans community such as the Trans-Informed Gender Equity Initiative and their LGBTQ+ Office of Culture and Community.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
SAIC provides gender-inclusive health insurance for students. The benefits include counseling, surgery, and hormone therapy.
Non-University Transgender Resources in Chicago
Voice therapy is provided outside of Chicago universities as well. Other trans-specific health-related services, workshops, community centers and behavioral health programs are provided from various organizations.
RUSH: Affirm (The Rush Center for Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Health)
RUSH Affirm is a center specifically made for providing care to LGBTQ+ individuals. Their services do include voice therapy, but also behavioral health, gynecology services and gender-affirmation surgery.
Speech IRL offers various forms of speech therapy, including transgender voice therapy and voice feminization services. A referral from an ENT is usually required prior to enrolling in voice therapy at Speech IRL. After April 2022, Speech IRL services will become “out of network” for all insurance plans. Consultations are free, but sessions can cost $150, and discount packages are available.
The Juniper Center
The Juniper Center is a psychotherapy clinic that offers mental health services for LGBTQ+ people and their families. The center offers individual and group therapy, as well as recreational services like yoga, art and meditation.
Brave Space Alliance
Brave Space Alliance is a Black-led and trans-led LGBTQ+ center on the South Side of Chicago that provides several resources to the LGBTQ+ community, specifically BIPOC individuals. One of the services they provide are gender-affirming rooms dedicated to transfeminine and transmasculine people of color that include free items like makeup, binders and wigs. The rooms affirm individuals’ identities by allowing them to express themselves in a safe space .
Planned Parenthood provides gender-affirming hormone therapy at 17 different health centers across Illinois, with telehealth programs available as well. Hormone therapy plans are divided into two general categories: feminizing therapy and masculinizing therapy.
Howard Brown Health
Howard Brown Health has services such as hormone therapy and counseling for those interested in gender-affirming surgery. They have a focus on providing healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community.
Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois
The Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois is an organization focused on advocating for and assisting low-income transgender people. They provide various workshops, resources, and legal services.
Center on Halsted
Center on Halsted is committed to providing for the LGBTQ+ community by working towards more LGBTQ+-friendly health and wellness, visibility and diversity. They have various community programs, counseling services, recreational events and trans-focused workshops.
Translife Center at the Chicago House
The TransLife Care program at Chicago House provides free healthcare, legal counseling and social services to trans individuals. They have a TransHousing program to provide housing across Chicago. Their TransHealth program offers hormones, check ups and trans safe STI/HIV screenings.
Translife line: 1-877-565-8860
The Translife line is run by trans people for trans and gender-questioning people. It can be used by those in crisis, or those who just need someone to talk to. The hotline is open 24/7 but a guaranteed response from operators will occur most likely from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Central. There is also a hotline for the family and friends of trans people.
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
The Trevor Project has a 24/7 crisis hotline available for LGBTQ+ youth.
The LGBTQ+ National Help Center: 1-888-843-4564
The LGBTQ+ National Help Center is a national hotline available for LGBTQ+ individuals to chat, gain resources and learn about LGBTQ+ identities, coming out and safe sex information. They are available to talk Monday through Friday 3 p.m. to 11 a.m. Central and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central.
Header image by Samarah Nasir