Our lives have turned upside down in ways that we never could have imagined. Life was so different just four months ago . . . Wearing a mask in public would have been perceived as odd rather than the norm. Your home would have never been a therapy room for clients. Trips wouldn’t have been cancelled because of a global pandemic. A national uprising through protests and riots to combat racial injustices weren’t on the immediate horizon.
The pandemic also completely altered my graduate capstone project . . .
Vocal Health and Gender Affirming Voice Therapy for the LGBTQ+ Community
As 2019 was coming to a close, my graduate capstone project hovered over my future like a black cloud. For the multilingual/multicultural certificate program at Arizona State University, it’s required that students serve culturally and linguistically diverse families, so I needed to incorporate that into my project. I’d been bouncing around different topic ideas for the past year, but nothing stuck. Nothing ever felt right. Then it came to me—vocal health and gender affirming voice therapy for the LGBTQ+ community.
As a queer individual, I always wanted to give back to my community. While I haven’t shared the same experiences as transgender individuals, I know what it’s like to be the victim of discrimination. From the time I was a young boy, people have mistreated me simply because I didn’t fit the mold of a heterosexual, gender-conforming student. Working with trans individuals would be an invaluable opportunity to help those, like me, in the LGBTQ+ community.
My mentor and former supervisor, Myra Schatzki, MS, CCC-SLP, went above and beyond to help me execute my project. She taught me the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and amplifying trans voices, which we were able to do by bringing in a trans social work graduate student as an invaluable part of our team.
We decided our best approach would be a workshop to give trans youth healthy tools and strategies to help them use their voice to change the world—their actual voice and their inner voice. For trans youth, parental support is vital; so, we made sure parents attended our training too. Our target audience were families in the immediate Phoenix area and the workshop would be 3 hours long. We got approval from the ethics committee and were preparing to advertise to the community.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Changing Our Approach
With the whole world living in uncertainty, we wondered if our workshop would be cancelled, or if families would even want to attend. But we found the silver lining—we could actually reach a wider audience through a webinar than an in-person training!
We had 10 families from across the United States attend. Most were from small towns along the East Coast. They shared with us that they had a hard time getting access to these types of trainings because they lived far from big cities. In fact, this was the first training any of them had ever received on vocal health. I introduced 8 topics to them during our 70 minute workshop:
- Vocal health
- Non-verbal communication
- Mental health
The most rewarding part of this presentation was that it was for LGBTQ+ individuals, by LGBTQ+ individuals. My co-presenter Jonah and I stood as role models for these youth. We spoke to them knowing what it was like to be bullied . . . but we also know of the joy that comes from making a difference in others. It was vital that Jonah and I emphasize how our internal voice and our physical voice are interrelated. As we find peace and power within ourselves, we find the power to speak up and be a voice for change. All of the families in attendance commented on how grateful they were to learn about mental and vocal health at the same time.
Making a Difference in Trans Youth Lives
Presenting to these families altered the course of my career. At the end of our workshop, each family expressed deep gratitude for the information we shared and emphasized the importance of continuing this work. Even though I’d been the one who taught these families, they also taught me the importance of advocating for trans youth.
After finishing the workshop, I knew I needed a job where I could continue to serve the trans community. I took a private practice position in Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m working with my company to open a gender diverse voice and communication program for trans youth and adults. While I originally saw my workshop as one of the final steps in my graduate program, it turned out to be the beginning of my career as a trans-affirming speech-language pathologist.