How I Became a Transgender Transition Coach
Like many stories, this one opens with the words, “I was just trying to help a friend.” She was also a colleague, who at the time presented as male. Me? I do public speaking of all kinds – I was a DJ for close to 20 years, I was a reporter, a public spokesperson, and I still do voiceovers in my home studio.
All she knew was that I taught government officials how to act when on TV, radio or in a newspaper interview – usually under hostile conditions. My pals ran the audio visuals and one day asked,
“Can you teach me to speak like a woman?”
I did my best not to take the job. I had just gotten my masters, had great research chops, and I was sure someone, somewhere had experience and the skills she needed. So, I looked. I got no joy. I consulted speech pathologists, mental health professionals, communication and nonverbal professors. Still no joy. Finally, I told my pal, “I can’t find anyone but I’m willing to give it a shot, if you want to try.”
Well, hell, I thought, DJs change gender all the time and they do it for money. I have voices that sound likeold ladies, little kids, sexpots and yes, men. I’m not the best, but unlike most DJs and voiceover artists, I took anatomy/physiology in high school and got a BA in communication. Both helped.
What, exactly, does a Transgender Transition Coach do?
For me, it started with pitch work and gender-centric vocal behaviors. But pitch is just the start. Volume, speed, pitch variety and conversational turn-taking behavior are also needed. Soon, I added nonverbal behaviors like walking, getting in/out of coats, wearing high heels and walking/ standing like a man/woman. More recently I’ve added hair, make-up, shopping trips and going out in public as my clients start presenting as their desired gender.
My client worked hard, did homework, practiced breath placement, opened her mouth and lowered her tongue, among other things. After getting many compliments in a TG group run by a social worker, the social worker got in touch with me to ask if I took referrals. Even after I told her I was a novice, she persisted. We both knew nobody else was out there.
Flash forward a few years and my TG client count rose. I’d always had a freelance voice/marketing business, so I billed that work as image management. No advertising, no website, just word of mouth. At the time it was plenty; I was working full-time.
Finally, one day I felt called to put my name out there.
I was already writing a green column for a monthly, local LGBT freebie published by a pal. By then, the Internet showed ads promising to “change your pitch in a day or week!” I saw too many clients who followed the bad advice and presented strained throats and laryngitis. Yeah, these are MY people and they are getting ripped off and sick. That article is still a free download on my website.
Meanwhile, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area was slowly recognizing and honoring the transgender community. The oldest gay bar only allowed “drag” on Halloween and one other day (Mardi Gras, maybe?) It helped that another gay bar, which did allow drag opened nearby. Open hearts or open wallets? The outcome was the same. Everyone wore what they liked. Victory!
Most of my gay pals found Durham more affirming than Raleigh.
So, it seemed natural that Durham-based Duke Medicine was the first to create a child and adolescent gender caregroup for transgender youth under 18. What a great service! So, I was both nervous and proud when they invited me for a chat. I drove home in a daze, because they wanted to send me clients, too!
“I guess we HAVE come a long way, baby” said my accountant. “Before you schedule any youth, we need to get to work. Split this work from marketing, create a separate business and incorporate it. Get liability insurance, make a websiteand, oh yeah, can you pass a background check?”
So, I did all that. The liability insurance cost me, but if you routinely place your hands on client’s necks, throats, hips and pelvises, you should get some, too. Toss in youth under 18 and teaching adults to walk in high heels, gracefully, up and down stairs and I found myself ready to write a check.
Sadly, as Duke moved forward, North Carolina regressed with the HB2 bathroom bill.
The statedeservedly lost money as a result. Big money. They’ve since loosened it up, but that bill needs to go. Retail outlets went in the other direction: signs like, “Pee where you please” and “Ya’ll means ALL” cropped up everywhere!
In the past 19 years,
I’ve seen the growth of closed Facebook groups where mental health professionals, speech language pathologists, and the transgender community learn and comment on research and insurance codes. I was interviewed in a podcast, too. Recently, the mood has become more critical. That’s a sign of a maturing market, but dang! In the past 90 days one speech language pathologist questioned my membership and qualifications. A Trans/Ally group commenter stated I was “not qualified to coach because I was an AFAB cis-gender person. “
I can kind of see their point. But I also ask myself “Where the heck were these folks in 2000?” I’ve yet to meet anyone offering my services with my track record. If you can, get in touch!
I may never get rich, but I am in awe and in love with my clients. Last week, after three months of hard work, one of my clients found her “head voice.” I’ve worked a lot of gigs, but never felt moved to whisk any client into a fierce hug singing “we are the champions” and dance in circles ‘til we get dizzy. Guess I’ll stay in business a bit longer.
Chrystal lives and practices in her Raleigh, NC home. She has a B.A. in Communication, an M.A. in Public Relations from N.C. State University and recently became an associate WPATH member. She saw her first client 19 years ago. Today, Transgender Transition Coach works with youth and adults. In her free time, she enjoys reading, Scrabble and singing in a rock band.