The School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (SCSD), together with McGill's Student Health Services, McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office and Project 10 have developed outreach projects delivering voice and communication training workshops for the transgender community in Montreal.
Developing the voice workshops
Transgender voice is still new in speech language pathology, but the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders has started to focus on this population in the last five years and has a much better idea now of how to help them. Dr. Nicole Li-Jessen tasked students in her voice disorder class to develop and deliver the voice workshops for transgender populations as both a class assignment and part of their community outreach.
Each hour-long workshop includes a combination of presentations that introduce the anatomical structure of the voice and how it is important in terms of gender identity as well as small group exercises and vocal exercises to help with their voice transition.
“The voice work is like learning a new language in this case,” explains Dr. Li-Jessen. “It’s a long process. You have to do exercises and you have to realize that it’s not like surgery that can change your voice in one day.”
A successful pilot program
The feedback from the first workshops was positive on all fronts. “We got feedback the day of the workshops from each of the participants and it was positive,” said Tynan Jarrett, Equity Education Advisor at McGill’s SEDE Office. “People really found it informative and got quite a bit out of it. On top of that, the students who presented put so much work into it. They were so enthusiastic and excited and they kept talking about how happy they were to be learning about this. So in addition to meeting a need among trans students, we have the added benefit of ensuring that this segment of the next generation of speech language pathologists are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to serve trans populations in a meaningful and respectful way. ”
Developing a community of support
Tynan says that the landscape now is very different from what it was ten years ago in terms of the space in society for discussions about gender-non-binary people or transsexual, transgender people. “We see for example more representation of trans people in the media and we see a community that is increasingly asserting its right to exist and thrive – and this kind of thing creates more space among youth to reflect on their own gender. So we actually see a lot more kids transitioning than ever before, and also parents, families, schools who are supportive of these kids.”
Based on survey data culled by Student Health Services, about 1.5% of McGill students identify as trans or gender non-conforming. “Even as a base number that’s a significant number of students and these numbers will increase in the future,” explained Dr. Hashana Perera, Director of Student Health Services at McGill. “We have to make sure that we’re set-up well to provide care and the voice and communication training workshops are an important element to that.”