Today’s guest is Nadine Manion who is an established and highly sought after singing teacher, vocal coach, presenter and researcher. In 2020, Nadine was awarded the Dr. Iain C. Medgitt Churchill Fellowship to investigate vocal technique and care of the transgender singing voice in the applied voice studio.

In this episode, Nadine discusses her research work in the field of transgender and gender-diverse singing voice and how this work has informed the practical approaches she has developed to train and support this group of singers. Nadine shares with us the significance of student-centric learning and she stresses that our teaching must be guided by the individual goals and specific needs of the trans singer and these must be addressed with care and sensitivity.

Nadine discusses many aspects of training trans singers such as the impact of hormone therapy on the voice, the vocal evaluation process for a transgender student, how to deal with expectations and perceived outcomes when it may become necessary to employ the services of a speech therapist, examples of exercises for range extension and there is so much more from Nadine. This episode is very informative for anyone working in the voice community and is helpful in creating gender-affirming spaces within our studios.

In this episode

1:08 – Introducing Nadine Manion

7:18 – Nadine’s Transgender Research

16:00 – Creating a safe teaching space

19:30 – Impact of hormone therapy on the voice

31:10 – Helpful exercises for voice exploration

39:09 – Finding an authentic singing voice

43:07 – Explaining the term cisgender

47:09 – Exploring gender affirmation

54:33 – Nadine’s advice for the teaching community

56:34 – Nadine’s upcoming workshop for teachers

 

Find Nadine Manion online

Upcoming workshop Supporting Transgender Singing Students – Online workshop

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Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  00:10

Hey, it’s Dr. Marisa Lee Naismith here and I’m so honoured to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you, listen and you will be inspired by amazing healthcare practitioners, voice teachers and music industry professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialised fields to help you live your best life every day. As singers, our whole body is our instrument and our instrument echoes how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally. So don’t wait any longer, take charge and optimise your instrument now. Remember that to sing is more than just learning about how to use the voice, it’s about A Voice and Beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  01:08

Today’s guest is Nadine Mannion, who is an established and highly sought after singing teacher, vocal coach, presenter and researcher. In 2020. Nadine was awarded the Dr. Iain C. Medgitt Churchill Fellowship to investigate vocal technique and care of the transgender singing voice in the applied voice studio. In this episode, Nadine discusses her research work in the field of transgender and gender diverse singing voice and how this work has informed the practical approaches she has developed to train and support this group of singers. Nadine shares with us the significance of student centric learning and she stresses that teaching must be guided by the individual goals and specific needs of the transgender singer and these must be addressed with care and sensitivity. Nadine discusses many aspects of training transgender singers, such as the impact of hormone therapy on the voice, the vocal evaluation process for a transgender student how to deal with expectation and perceived outcomes when it may become necessary to employ the services of a speech therapist. And there are examples of exercises for range extension and there is so much more from Nadine. This episode is very informative for anyone working in the voice community and is helpful in creating gender affirming spaces within our studios in the future. Without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  03:07

Welcome to the show Nadine Mannion. It is such a pleasure having you here. You are a singing teacher. You are a vocal coach. You are a presenter and a researcher and and we’re going to talk about a very important topic today. And something that is very sensitive as well. And that is Transgender, and gender diverse singing voice. So welcome, Nadine. And how are you going in New South Wales?

Nadine Manion  03:41

Thank you for having me. morosa Yes, it’s a little lonely down in New South Wales. We’re stuck in our houses. So I think it’s been five to six weeks and we’ve still got another three weeks or so. At least.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  03:54

Really? 

Nadine Manion  03:55

Yeah, my house is spotless though, which is nice thing. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  03:59

No dust mites?

Nadine Manion  04:01

No dust mites. Very happy. It’s you know, so swings and roundabouts. I guess.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  04:07

I think the people, well the creatures win out during lockdowns are definitely out pets. My cat definitely loves a good lockdown. We call it Yeah. And I so my cat loves a good ISO. Yeah, very true. Well, we’re going to talk about something rather serious and rather sensitive. And it’s an extremely important topic and it’s a topic that very few of us know anything about. And I’m going to put my hand up and say that I am extremely ignorant to this topic. I don’t know all the correct terminologies. I have not taught a transgender or agenda diverse singer. And so I’m going to make some mistakes in terms of some of the language that I may use. But this is not coming from any other place other than ignorance. And I have asked you to correct me along the way, because I believe that if I’m making these mistakes, other people in our singing community and and our voice community are going to be making those same mistakes also. So let’s start with how did you come to research this this area?

Nadine Manion  05:35

Yeah, look, I, I kind of stumbled into this area a little bit. So I’ve been teaching for about 15 years. And eight years or so ago, I had a student that came to me and wanted to learn to sing. And we’d work together for about a month or so. And the voice just wasn’t responding the way I was expecting it to respond. And so I was a little confused. And we had a bit more of a chat, and they let me know that they were undergoing hormone therapy, and that they were actually transgender. And that threw me for a loop a little bit, because I actually didn’t know how the hormone therapy affected a voice, I didn’t really know what to do, or even where to get that information. So I you know, as any good singing teacher, when I hit the books, I started looking around, and found there really wasn’t a huge amount of information for singing teachers about practical approaches to support and help our transgender students. So in that time, it’s now got a lot better and there’s a lot more resources. But I’ve had a lot more transgender clients come through over the years, and really felt like it was time to get an Australian perspective on what transgender and gender diverse singers actually need in our singing studios in our singing spaces. So that brought me to looking into doing a little bit of research in that area to see if we can get a better understanding of the current landscape in Australia.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  07:09

Okay, and at present, you’re involved with the Queensland Conservatorium. You’re an adjunct fellow in the research centre there at the Conservatorium. So that research that you’re doing, what is the aim of your research and and the objective of that research?

Nadine Manion  07:34

Yeah, so the aim at the moment, there’s currently no research that’s been done in Australia on the transgender singing voice. So this is really almost a platform for future research. So the intention is that we’re going to hopefully get a large group of transgender and gender diverse singers, not just professional singers, but anyone who has an interest in singing, and get some insight into their motivations and their experiences within the singing spaces in Australia. And hopefully, this will be a platform for future research. Because before we can look at how we can improve a situation, we have to understand where that situation currently is, from the voices of people actually in the community.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  08:19

Right. And when we talk about transgender and gender diversity, like, Is there a particular demographic that undergoes that transgender affirmation is is? Or is it sort of like any age group? Does there seem to be a greater age group?

Nadine Manion  08:47

Look, it depends. There’s, I think, um, the difficulty we have with a lot of research around the transgender community is that for a long time, and even in some cases, still, we’ve been asking the wrong questions. And we’ve been asking questions in the incorrect way. And so a lot of the research that we have about demographics and and things like that isn’t really something that we can trust at the moment. So there has been some research in Australia that says, on average, right, and this is with small samples, but on average, most people identified as transgender around that 14 years, that kind of age group. And we are seeing a lot more people publicly identifying as transgender now, but I think that probably says more to do more about the climate of acceptability in the public, and how people are responding to people coming out as transgender rather than the existence of more transgender people. In this time.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  09:53

It’s really interesting. You should say that age 14 is where People feel that please forgive my my language that they’re in the wrong body that they, they feel that they may have been born female, and they really feel that they are male and vice versa, because I have a student at present. And this might help other singing teachers as well. And this is why I’m bringing it up. But I have a student who left a school that I’m working at, and rather suddenly, and this student had been very troubled for quite some time. And she is around that age group, perhaps 15 years old now. And I didn’t realise that she found herself feeling that she should be male, and that she had been wearing a binder for quite some time, I didn’t know that either. The parents hadn’t shared that information with me. But the students seemed very down and out on life was suffering anxiety, all of a sudden left the school, and the parents contacted me because she still wanted to continue singing lessons with me. And it came out, the parents have told me all this information, she has changed her name. But with me, she’s still the same person has not told me that she has changed her name. She has not told me how she was feeling. So I’ve not had that discussion with her as yet. And the reason why she left the school sorry, this is where it’s because she didn’t feel supported, in terms of uniform wearing didn’t want to wear the school skirt. But that but because it’s a private school, it was it was enforced that they had to wear a skirt. These are the kinds of situations that transgender and gender diverse people are finding themselves in, especially the younger generation.

Nadine Manion  12:08

Yeah, look, I definitely don’t want to speak on behalf of the transgender community. Because as somebody who’s cisgender, I am definitely coming at it from an outside position. But I think there, it’s a really good example of how somebody who is in our singing class, a transgender person, they might be a lot of difficulties coming in all aspects of their life. You know, there might be difficulties that we don’t even realise they’re having with something like uniform at school. Yeah. And it really reinforces that idea that we need to be schooled, hopefully one day as well. But in our singing studios, we need to be actually creating policies around how we work with transgender students, gender affirming spaces, things like that, before our person tells us they’re transgender, before we have transgender students. So this student that you’re speaking about, while they may have come out now to their family is transgender, they’ve obviously left the school, because before they’ve come out publicly, as transgender, they already look at it and say, This is not a welcoming space, this is not a space where I feel I can come out. So I think that really amplifies that idea of having to create the space. If you build it, they will come kind of attitude, before we actually get those students standing in front of us.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  13:33

So as a singing teacher, who has has this student who is in this situation now where she has come out to her family, she has changed her name within that that family group, but not yet with me. How does a teacher then a voice teacher then approach the subject? Or what kind of conversation should we be having? Or no conversation at all until they are prepared to open that that discussion for themselves? 

Nadine Manion  14:10

Look, I think my personal opinion, yes, I’d say if you’re speaking to the stuttgarter students, parents, it’s a good question to pose to them. Because they will probably have an insight into what their child would prefer or, but I personally wouldn’t have any conversation. I think you can be a little clever around it. So you could say things like, Look, I’m updating my information. Could you please fill out a new student enrollment form for me? Just because I want to get everyone’s new details and make sure that you’re asking for pronouns and that really gives people the opportunity to let you know if they want to. They still this student may still want to be referred to as she her in your classes, because they may not be ready to be yes. out for lack of a better term in all areas of their life. So it’s important not to, to put them in a situation where they feel they have to have that conversation until they’re ready.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:09

Yes. And this student is clearly really comfortable in her present situation. I haven’t seen her so happy and laughing with great joy that as what she is right now. And that, that really fills my heart seeing that.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:30

Okay, so we don’t we wait for the students that we already have to have that conversation with us? What if it’s a new student? And we have a student who identifies as a transgender or a gender diverse student? What kinds of conversations and questions should we be asking those students when they hear us,

Nadine Manion  16:00

I think pronouns is a really great place to start. I’ve actually had some students start with me and say that the reason that they started with me was because they can see that I use pronouns on my website, right. And something as small as that is basically saying, you can see in my little zoom title, that I’ve got my pronouns there. And by announcing your pronouns, either in that way, or verbally with your students, when you first meet them, you’re basically saying that these are my pronouns, feel free to offer yours, and they’re going to be respected in this space, I’m not assuming to know your pronouns just based on what you currently look like. So I think that’s a really great place to start and having that in all your forms as well. One of the tricky things a lot of people ask about is what? What do teachers need to know? And what is personal information? Yes, yeah. And, and that’s a really tricky line, because there are things that we would prefer to know. But we don’t necessarily need. So in all my forms for all students, not just trans students, I asked them pronouns, I’ll ask them singing experience, have they got any issues with their speaking voice, any concerns with their speaking voice, which I think is really important, particularly when working with the trans community, that if they’re having trouble with their speaking voice, we want to bring a speech path on board, as well as singing teachers, asking if they have any experience with the speech pathologists, and then asking as well, if they are taking any medications or hormones that may impact their voice, and asking them to elaborate if they’re comfortable. So some students won’t tell you. But I think that way, it really gives people an idea of why you need to know that information for one. And it gives them the opportunity to, to divulge that if they choose to, yes, things like binders, which you mentioned. So for anyone who doesn’t know, binding is basically using some form of a compression garment to compress chest tissue, which a trans male person might do, or a non binary person might do as well. Personally, I don’t ask about that. I think that’s like asking someone what kind of underwear they wear, even though it does may impact their singing voice and their their breathing. I just tend to work around the parameters of what a student can manage. And if they tell me they’ve got a binder, we can have a conversation. But usually they they don’t. And I don’t ask and we just find a way around. Yeah, yeah.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  18:39

Well, there’s two things that you’ve said there. Firstly, will in terms of the binder, a lot of students wouldn’t think, to to divulge that information, even though it may affect things like breathing when it comes to breathing, but they wouldn’t think to bring it up anyway, because they wouldn’t relate singing and binded that there would be an an impact. And the other thing is when you talk about medications, I mean, all of us need to we do ask that question anyway, don’t we? Because if students are on some kind of medication, we need to know what that is. Because if there’s something going on with the voice, it could very well be the medication that they’re on. Okay, now, in terms of hormone therapy, how does that I’m kind of, I’ve got like a million questions going through my mind. So I’m trying to calm down and take a breath. Yep. But in terms of hormone therapy, what kind of impact does that have on the voice?

Nadine Manion  19:51

So, hormone therapy is a big topic. And I think the first thing to know is that hormone therapy is something that Some people may choose to undergo, but not all trans people will. So trans men, trans women and non binary people, they all may choose to anger with undergoing or may not. And that doesn’t necessarily make them any more trans or less trans than each other. It’s just a personal choice. So generally, when a student comes in, it’s really important, particularly with men to know if they are undergoing hormone therapy, or if they ever have. And if it is a trans male person, then the main component is going to be testosterone of that hormone. So if somebody is taking testosterone, there’s lots of different dosages and ways to administer it and different responses. But the general information we know is that when somebody takes testosterone, it causes the vocal folds to become thicker. So and that will lower the pitch by approximately an octave. Wow, for everyone. Okay, yeah. But generally, that’s around the the area. It doesn’t cause the larynx or the vocal tract to grow. There is a little bit of research out there that says, there’s a suspicion it may cause a little bit of growth in the larynx. But it’s mostly no for the moment stage. That may change. Very interesting. Yeah, so because we have this larynx that doesn’t grow, the vocal tracks, the vocal folds become thicker, but don’t become any longer because there’s not space for them to grow any longer. So we can end up with something that resembles a cisgender, female flowerings with cisgender male vocal folds. Something similar to that. So which you can imagine that’s obviously a lot of the pedagogy we have as singing teachers is not based on that makeup. No, we have to Yeah, we have to adjust the way that we’re working with a voice if that’s what’s happening with their voice with the testosterone. While people on testosterone, in general, the first year can be pretty up and down. So voices will go through periods of mutation and stability, which basically means periods where their voices changing very dramatically, they might have issues with matching pitch, their voice might get very hoarse, lots of fatigue, and then I have periods where they voice kind of plateaus for a little bit, and you can work with it a little bit more.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  22:30

So almost, Sorry, it almost sounds like an adolescent male.

Nadine Manion  22:36

Yes, that I, yeah, almost, I think that’s the key word. So because there’s a lot of a lot of things out there that are saying it’s similar to an adolescent male, the biggest difference we get is that when you have an adolescent male, they’re receiving this certain dosage of hormones over about, say, three years or so. And they’re receiving it in conjunction with the growth hormone. So because it’s over three years, and it’s gradual, they actually can adapt a little bit better to the changes that are happening structurally, the resonance changes. And the growth hormone is causing all the other elements larynx vocal tract to grow, approximately at the same rate. So when we’ve got a transgender male voice that’s undergoing hormone therapy, we’ve just got that testosterone. And it’s often being administered that three years worth is being administered in about 12 months, Oh, my gosh, and no growth hormone. So you combine those kind of changes with other elements of changing your voice, and having to relearn pitch matching, it’s a much more complicated situation. So I personally, I think, while it is, there are some similarities. I think it’s a bit of an oversimplification, to attribute it to an adolescent voice as well.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:59

Right? Yeah. makes total sense. And what about transgender female and hormone therapy? 

Nadine Manion  24:07

Yeah, so in a good and bad way, there’s less impact on the voice. So transgender women or a non binary person who wants to undergo more of a feminising voice therapy, the main component is Eastridge in there. So unfortunately, it doesn’t really do much to change the pitch or quality of the voice. Once something’s grown, we can’t shrink it, we can only make it grow more. So the only real differences that we kind of get from that are vocal health settings. So the East region can cause a little bit more mucus production and a thicker mucus production, which if not hydrated, properly, can lead to some vocal fatigue and things like that. But generally, somebody’s wanting to raise the pitch of their voice that’s done through speech therapy, not through hormone therapy,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  24:59

right? Okay, so when we have a student come to us, a trans student. Okay, so they they come to us they fill out the form, we then do a vocal evaluation with our students that first lesson, what kinds of things are you looking out for? When you have a trans student come in that in that singing evaluation?

Nadine Manion  25:28

Yeah. So in the first session, I’m looking for basically any signs of vocal difficulties in their speaking voice or singing voice. So that’s really important that because we’re dealing with voices that are often pushing the limits of what their instrument is capable of, we have to be really hyper aware of any hyperfunction in the voice, any bad vocal hygiene habits, etc. And if that’s happening in the speaking voice, my first thing would be to try and bring a speech pathologist on board, I work in conjunction with them. When, when we do have trans people coming into the studio, as I mentioned before, there’s many ways to be trans, and there’s no right or wrong way. So what you can often get, and I’ve had a lot of experience with this is I’ve had trans women coming in who have a beautiful baritone voice, and they don’t want to sing higher. That’s not their intention, okay, they want to sing empty chairs, empty tables, and they sing it beautifully. And that’s really what they’re looking for from me. So this element of their gender identity actually, isn’t that involved in the way they want to express their voice. And their voice matches that. Yes. So I think it’s really important to start by actually ascertaining the goals of a student, and what they’re comfortable with. So some people, you will probably be the same that my previous attitude was, you build the whole voice, even if somebody doesn’t particularly want to sing high, a healthy voice is building the top and the bottom and in the middle, as much as you can get. Whereas some transgender people won’t feel comfortable accessing certain parts of their range. So I really have a bit of a conversation about what they’re comfortable with what they’re not comfortable with. And let them know that it’s okay to stop me if they don’t want to do something.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  27:25

Yes.

Nadine Manion  27:26

Yeah. And just have fun in the first lesson. I’ve stopped being as analytical as I used to be as a singing teacher. And I think it’s the first lesson is all about the fun and what they can get out of it. And then I start to analyse a little more in the subsequent sessions.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  27:40

Yeah, well, it sounds to me that you’re actually the approach that you’re taking is an approach that we should almost take with all our students to I mean, it sounds really student centric. And isn’t that what we’re here for at the end of the day is for our students, maybe perhaps we just have to be a little bit more sensitive to their needs, and to their goals and to listen, a little closer. But should we do that with all our students anyway? I think it’s a good approach to have with with all students, and fun is something that we forget about, too.

Nadine Manion  28:22

Yes. When you’re so right, that’s something I’ve I’ve started to really focus on more and more and more is that when I first started learning about transgender voice, I was looking at all the differences. And while there are some important differences, so much of it is just the same. You know, it’s just about finding authentic voices, voices that aren’t perfect, but that make people feel like they can express themselves, and doing things that make our students comfortable enough to play around and enjoy that singing. So there are a lot of similarities. And we know alot of the pedagogy that we already need to know.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:01

Yes, yeah. It sounds like it all makes, like, it’s just make sense. And it’s common sense.

Nadine Manion  29:12

Yeah, look, I think in some ways it is. But there are a lot of people who, who don’t know a transgender person who’ve never really come across a transgender person. And it can be a little confronting in the sense of, it’s always confronting to learn how little we know about something. And it’s really scary to change. And so I think, learning the basics about how you make a transgender person might feel more comfortable in your session, how you start a session might just make one single teacher out there feel a little bit more comfortable taking that student on?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:50

Yes, yes. But is it okay? And I know this is just your opinion, but maybe there you may have some briefs or experience to back this up? Is it okay to say to the student, I’m, I, I’m new to this, but I’m really keen to work with you. I totally support what you’re doing. I’m here to help you. Let’s work together to make this a great experience for you. Is that okay to say something like that? 

Nadine Manion  30:25

Yeah, look, I think it’s everyone’s different. And every, every student is going to have a difference of opinion as to what’s okay and what’s not. Personally, I try to take the, the transness out of the equation, it doesn’t need to be

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  30:43

yes.

Nadine Manion  30:44

In the same way that I wouldn’t say to another person, that I haven’t worked with very many males, but I support you. And we’ll work through this. I just learned to work with my wife. So I think it’s good to support people. But, you know, if we don’t have to bring that into the equation, if we can just keep it about singing. Okay, I think that’s absolutely fine, too.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  31:08

Okay. All right. So you had that vocal evaluation, you work out the goals. Let’s just maybe I don’t want you to give away too much, because we’re going to talk about this later. And that is your workshop that you have coming up. But what is some of the exercises that you would use? So with a transgender female and a transgender male?

Nadine Manion  31:33

So I guess, if I had a transgender female person who is wanting to raise the pitch of their voice, so if that’s something they want to do? I know everyone says this, but I love a semi occluded vocal tract exercise. Oh,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  31:52

Can’t beat the S O V T.

31:56

I know, isn’t it great to have one exercise that works for everything, thank you in good pizza. I think using using S O V T is a really great way to explore a range safely. So if someone’s wanting to sing higher, obviously, as we know, range extension is an exercising in patience, and moving through it very gradually. So I feel like sov tees are a really great way of sliding up to notes, not sustaining them, and then dropping back off. And it’s a good way for people to start exploring that upper range. So I really love those for for both trans men, trans women, sis men, sis women, for everyone really. And it also really helps to avoid hyperfunction, which is something that’s really common in a lot of trans voices, is people just working a little bit too hard over adapting the vocal folds. And so that straw just is kind of hits that sweet spot and fixes a few things along the way. which I love.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  33:00

Yes. You can’t beat a good straw.

Nadine Manion  33:05

So true. We should get that and printed on T shirts, I think I think so. There you go. You could sell them after the podcast.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  33:12

I like hey, my second job, actually third. Perfect.

Nadine Manion  33:18

Yeah. And I think if I was working with a trans man who would like to sing lower resonance is really important. And that’s particularly if somebody has been undergoing hormone replacement therapy. While we do pit dropped the pitch that does drop the pitch of the voice, it doesn’t change the resonance at all. And that’s something that really gives a different perspective of how the voice sounds. So does it sound stereotypically masculine, or stereotypically feminine? resonance plays a really big part in that not just pitch. So working on basic resonance exercises, anything on an M or an N is fantastic. to really explore that lower range, I find that really helpful to start with. Yes. And then we work on extending that range out a little bit. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  34:10

Okay, so you would just start in there, testator, whatever that may be, and then just work from there. Yes. So in that first year, though, where they’re going through hormone therapy, do you find that it’s like an adolescent voice where they will come in one week, and the voice is behaving a certain way and then the next week, their voice will be behaving differently? And maybe that testator is different from week to week?

Nadine Manion  34:47

Yeah, absolutely. It’s, that’s a very good analysis of that. It’s, you will find when they’re going through those periods of mutation, that the voice changes quite dramatically. The biggest change It does change in pitch, but the quality is changes a lot. So you might find they sound almost like they’ve got a cold some weeks. And it’s very difficult to know the difference between a vocal health issue and a normal progression of testosterone. So that’s something you have to be quite mindful of as well. But yeah, it’s I have a lot of songs that go around six notes, five notes, that kind of range. Yes. And we always have those in our back pocket. So if someone’s not having a great week, range wise, we can pull out a song and still sing that without pushing the voice too far. Yeah. And then when they’re stable, we extend further.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  35:40

So it’s really important to to have a really good transposing tool as well.

Nadine Manion  35:48

Yeah, absolutely. That for any student, I think that’s that’s the case, I transpose almost every song that give to a student.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  35:56

Exactly. Okay. And I understand that you have, you will have a student that will come in, they will have a particular perception, or an idea of how they want to sound. How do you deal with those perceptions? And if a student is not happy with the end result of how their voice is sounding, like if someone’s they wanting their pitch to lower, or their pitch to go higher, but they’re, it’s not what they perceive their voice to sound like, after having therapy? What Yeah, how do you deal with that?

Nadine Manion  36:44

Yeah, look, that’s, that’s a really tricky one. And I think I think that’s the case with all students, I have a lot of students that I feel like they want to be this big belter, but they’ve got this really light, melismatic voice and trying to align that identity with that expression. The way that I really try to work through it is, as we know, the voice is a lifelong journey. So it’s something that we gradually change over our entire lives, I definitely had points where my voice doesn’t feel like it’s expressing what I want it to express. And that’s a journey that I keep going on. But it’s really important to find beauty in the journey, and value in that journey. One of the things I’ve noticed just with my, my personal students and clients I work with, I was actually really surprised at how few of my transgender students listen to transgender singers. Right. And there are some great singers out there. Flower create is based in Sydney Courtney act is fantastic. There’s so many great ones out there, some really great opera singers as well. And I think that that’s a really great place to start. Because that is a realistic expectation as well. And getting them to listen to the beauty in these voices, you often find when they listen to someone, they go, Okay, well, I actually do sound a little bit like that. And that’s an amazing voice. And it gives them something to model towards. That being said, this is such a new field. And even when science says that a voice shouldn’t be able to do something, there are 1000s of exceptions to the rule that we never really know what someone is totally capable of. And I actually had a really good trans singer Tell me once, that having the attitude of no limitations of if you just dream something, if you don’t believe that your voice has limitations, then that’s how you surpass those barriers, that really changed my way of teaching as well. So when people ask me what a realistic expectation is, I just say, I don’t know, no idea anymore. Just whatever you can achieve is your realistic.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  39:05

It’s almost as from what you’re saying, as they start to align with their true authentic self. That’s when the voice becomes the most comfortable. And that’s when the sky’s the limit perhaps.

Nadine Manion  39:22

Yeah, and it’s it’s always a journey, I think, finding it not authentic singing voice for all singers. Mm hmm. And that’s always a lifelong journey. So I think that’s, that’s the beauty in singing is, the journey is is such an exciting and beautiful process. And we’ve got to enjoy the journey rather than just worry about the destination, I guess.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  39:45

Yes. Well, that’s actually something that we can all aspire to in every aspect of our lives because I think with our lives, you know, we as a society, we’ve forgotten about the the importance of the process. It’s all now about the destination. And a lot of what you’re saying just makes sense. from, you know, we need to be student centric, we need to enjoy the process. I think a lot of that has been forgotten, you know, they can be a lot of ego there can be a lot of this is how much I know. And it’s about me as a teacher and what I know, and it’s all about the science. But what about the person in front of you, and this is, I think this serves as a really important reminder that we are dealing with human beings, and every human being is different. And we need to listen to what they’re telling us. And we need to meet their expectations. It’s not always about our own. Yeah, maybe this is a place to start. And, okay, now you have, this is where the brain keeps going. Okay. So you had the student, you have that conversation, let’s just see where this takes us. You have done all the work you can possibly do to help them with their voices. And they’re still unhappy? What are the options? I know there are surgeries? And there there are vocal therapies, what are some of those options that are left? Once you’ve done as much as you can do?

Nadine Manion  41:29

Yeah, look, there are surgeries that people can undergo, I think there’s, they do happen in Australia, but a lot of people, I think it’s Korea, or there’s a lot of people going overseas for those. So the difficulty with those is one, they can be cost prohibitive. But the outcomes quite varied. So I think if somebody was quite serious about their singing, or really valued their singing voice, that that could be a little bit of a gamble. So it’s definitely an option. But it’s not something that I would necessarily recommend to somebody if they were really valuing their singing voice and wanted to keep that as safe as possible. There’s a fantastic, Latrobe transgender voice clinic is fantastic. And they do a lot of work. They do have a bit of a waiting list. But the work they do is really, really good as well. So I’d say that the best route is to go speech therapy. Yeah. Yeah. And then a lot of it as well as I think, playing with people’s voices or playing with your own voice. We always discover a lot when we’re actually playing ourselves, obviously, within moderation. But I think experimentation is a really great way to find what your voice is capable of. So yes, I’d say those are probably the best options and surgery is, is there but I’m not the person to speak to that.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  43:03

Yes, fair enough. And I just also I didn’t ask before and the term that you used, and I’m not sure what that term is, and I’m sure that other people aren’t would know the term either. What do you mean by sis bytes? You said sis men and sis what what what

Nadine Manion  43:22

do you mean by Yes? My apologies. So cisgender is basically we’ve got transgender were somebodies itself experienced gender is different to what they were presumed at birth, right. And cisgender is somebody whose self experience gender aligns with what they were assigned at birth. So I would be cisgender or Sis, right? Female. Just meaning that that aligns.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  43:50

Right. Okay. Okay. I didn’t know we had a term for that. Why is there a term for everything now?

Nadine Manion  44:01

Yeah, I think it’s been around for a while. And it was actually used in chemistry. To mean, Cece was on this side of and trans was on the other side of, or something similar to that. So it’s just kind of been used in a different context, but the the term has been around for a while to mean different things.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  44:22

Okay. What about voice manipulation? Do you find that transgender singers may try to manipulate their sound in order to sound like someone else? Is that something that you find to be a common issue? No more than other singers in my experience? Yeah. Yes. teenage girls wanting to sound like Adele.

Nadine Manion  44:49

Yeah, yeah. And I think I think imitation gets a bad rap. Sometimes. I think there’s some really great elements of imitation in more of an exploration sense. I totally agree. Yeah, I don’t think you necessarily live there and live in imitation. No. I had a singer for we were working on finding kind of a quite a high belt quality. And she was really struggling with this concept. And I think after about a month or two of working on it, she rang me up. And she said, I found it. And I said, Well, how did you find it? And she was singing a really high Whitney Houston song in the car, something that was way out of her normal range. But she wasn’t thinking about singing, she just imitated it, and just lightbulb moment. And so we ended up using this Whitney Houston song as a way to access this time, and then brought it somewhere that was more comfortable for her. But the breakthrough was through the imitation. So I think, yeah, I think imitation can be really helpful. Yeah, to find some of the qualities we want, and then we find our comfort within those qualities.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  46:03

Yes, that’s interesting. You said that about belt. Because as a young, young person, myself, that’s how I learned to belt was mimicking. And I didn’t realise it was such a big deal till till I went to the conservatory and 30 years later. And it was, I discovered it was a dirty four letter word at the time. So you know, but that’s another discussion. Let’s look at some of the technical aspects or issues of trans singers. So do you find that there is more tension in some of these singers through maybe the hormone therapy? Or maybe because they’re going undergoing transgender affirmation therapy of some kind or not?

Nadine Manion  47:03

Yeah, so I think the term you’re looking for is gender affirmation. So and a gender affirmation kind of covers any steps that somebody does to affirm their agenda. So people like you, or I putting on a little bit of lipstick, I’m doing that as a way to affirm my gender and the femininity that I want to feel. So it’s any steps, not necessarily surgeries, or therapies or anything like that? Yeah, look, we hyperfunction is quite common, particularly in trans male voices, but also in some trans female voices. So again, there are a lot of voices that don’t have hyperfunction. But it is something to always be quite aware of. So things like the the onset, so the way that the vocal folds come together, yeah, that’s often something that I’m working on with, with trans singers to really find a balanced onset. Yeah. And avoid that over adaption, or really coming together and aggressive way. Mm hmm. Interesting. Yeah. And they’re actually in some speech therapy elements. When working with trans women. One of the elements is to use an aspirant onset, so allow a little bit of air through. Yes, a breathy voice can be perceived as more feminine. And that’s, that’s a bit tricky, because while that may be the case, do we want that in singing? example? The title we know? Yes. Yes. You know, moderation. So. So yeah, really finding that balanced onset, and making sure that we’re not overreacting or under reacting? We’re not sure if that’s a term. So making sure we’re not going either side.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  48:53

Great. There we go. We’ve just we’ve just copyrighted Yeah, new one new one people beauty term alert.

Nadine Manion  49:02

Yeah, so making sure that you’re not kind of falling either side of that. I think that’s a really great technique to focus on. And breathing, proper breath work also really helps avoid that. hyperfunction. So I really focus like to focus on that the dropped belly kind of approach or really releasing the abdominals to really make sure that people are using breath appropriately as well.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  49:28

And does the binder create a problem? with breathing?

Nadine Manion  49:36

It definitely can. So there’s a lot of different types of binders. There are purpose built binders, and the purpose built binders. As in they’re built for that reason. They tend to not be as bad and people can, okay, they’re very comfortable in one that’s bought from a proper store made to fit them properly, etc. Right, the trick comes when we start when people use other things. So like, yeah, we were that’s maybe a size or two too tight bandages, things like that. Yes. Because again, it’s cost prohibitive to be buying expensive binders for some people. So, yeah, so it definitely can. It can make it difficult to expand the ribs, and actually cause quite a lot of discomfort if somebody tries to expand the ribs. So generally, I just try and work around it, which is why I like to go for more of that releasing the abdominal area approach. Because if someone is wearing a binder, then that’s often still quite achievable for them. And I don’t have to have the conversation. Are you wearing a binder? Yeah, we just go with that kind of breathing. And that seems to work for most people. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  50:53

Yeah, yes. What about postural alignment? So for trans men and women? Do you find that there are common issues with with postural alignment?

Nadine Manion  51:09

the only ones I’ve personally seen as a bit of a pattern is that sometimes transmission will have quite a dropped sternum. So and that can just be because people are uncomfortable with the perception of their chest region. So that dropped sternum, and using a binder might do that as well. Again, I guess when we things like problems with alignment like that, I think it’s really important to respect that there’s a really good reason why somebody might be standing like that, why somebody might be using a binder. And that reason is very personal and very, very valid. So while people like you, and I think singing is the most important thing in the world, it’s really important to put the person before the singing. If somebody has a chest that strapped right down, I think it’s very reasonable to say, you know, the higher your sternum is, the easier this exercise is going to be. So lift it up as much as you feel comfortable, and leave it at that. And if they don’t feel comfortable lifting it up even further, then, you know, we’re teachers, it’s our job to find a way to work with that parameter. Rather than asking somebody to do something they’re obviously uncomfortable with doing.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  52:30

Yes. Have you had any singers that are professional performers that are trans men or women? And how have you had to work with non communication with them, like stage performance? You know, like, gestures, that kind of thing.

Nadine Manion  52:55

I have had some professional singers. I haven’t worked specifically on the stage performance and gesture element of it. Because generally, those the singers that are working at really high levels are actually pretty good at that already. Yeah. And they’re and I think, yeah, and I think we’ve, we’ve movement, movement comes from emotion. So agreed. There’s, I think the line, that gender binary, the line is being blurred with performance. And that’s one of the great things about performing is you look at David Bowie, you know, you look at all these performance, idol. He very good idol.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  53:40

I was I was in his fan club as a teenager. Really? Yes. I’m a bad David Bowie fan. Loved it. Yes.

Nadine Manion  53:49

So you look at David Bowie, and he doesn’t necessarily perform in a masculine way or feminine way. No performs like David Bowie, exactly. It’s an expression of who he is. So I actually think that, in general, most of the people that I’ve worked with seem to be quite good at knowing what their expression is. And if we do have to work on it, it’s generally it’s just the same as I would work on with any student find the emotion work from there.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  54:20

So it’s all common sense and being student centric once again.

Nadine Manion  54:25

Yeah, absolutely. Student centric is the main thing person before the voice.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  54:30

Yes. And what’s the best piece of advice you could offer? A teacher who is is working with a trans singer?

Nadine Manion  54:43

Um, oh, that’s a big question. I think one of the thing is is to really and this is not an easy piece of advice, I will preface Yes.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  54:52

But yes, that’s okay.

Nadine Manion  54:55

is to really take some time to look at Your own prejudice, I guess, in your mind, what we’ve been taught by society is this gender binary. I think that’s a really hard thing to unlearn unless you look directly at it. And it’s a confronting thing to do. I remember one of the things I used to do a lot, which I am not particularly proud of now is talk about for female singers, when we’re singing low about not dropping the larynx because I’m a contemporary teacher not dropping the larynx. Yeah, because then it gives an overly masculine sound. And I really had to look at the fact that why, like, why does that sound masculine? Who told me that sounded masculine. And so without meaning to I was actually projecting my ingrained opinion of what gender expression should be of what gender is. I was projecting that onto my students. And I didn’t mean to, and I definitely wasn’t my intention. But without really looking at that innate kind of belief, and challenging it. We really can’t service our students as well as we should trans students, or cisgender students, any students. Yes. You know, I think if we take that gender, binary and gender assumptions away, that actually opens up this whole world of creativity for all students, and will benefit all students.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  56:23

I love that, Nadine, that. No, that is great advice. That is fantastic advice. I really appreciate that. And we can all learn from that. Now you have a workshop coming up very soon. Yes, I do have a workshop coming up. Okay. So tell us about the date and and all about the workshop. We’re keen to hear about it. So we can, we can tune in.

Nadine Manion  56:51

So so I’m running a workshop, a two hour workshop on the 21st of August. So it’s an online workshop. So it’s available to anyone. And it’s basically going to be an introduction into working with trans and gender diverse singers, really focusing on culturally responsive practice focusing on appropriate pedagogy, repertoire choices, all those kinds of questions that people have. And really, there’s, unfortunately, there is no real training in Australia for singing teachers on transgender and gender diverse singing voice. So I’m hoping that this will start people actually thinking about these topics. Yes, and then move into some bigger badder workshops down the way. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  57:37

That’s fantastic. And I hope today, in this episode, it has been a little bit of a tease for people that they will want to know more. And they have somewhere now they can go to where they can learn more, I think more and more, we’re going to have transgender males and females coming to our our singing studios. And we must be equipped to offer the best experience and the best knowledge that we can provide for them and that safe space. So it sounds like your workshop is going to help us navigate all of that. We’re going to post information about that workshop in the show notes so people can find your workshop, they can find you if they have any further questions as well. But this has been fantastic. And I feel really selfish in a way because this is something that I wanted to learn more about and having my own show I can I can pick and choose who comes on here. And I went, yes, I must have Nadine. But I’m sure that a lot of teachers will benefit from this. So thank you so much for being really generous with all the information that you’ve you’ve shared, you’re being very gracious. And I appreciate you. All thank you so much for having me. It’s lovely to chat with you. As always, as always. Take care, and we’ll look forward to your workshop all the best for the future. And we look forward to hearing about the results of your research and in the time to come.

Nadine Manion  59:18

Yeah, I will definitely let you know when that happens. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  59:21

We’ll have to have you on the show again. 

Nadine Manion  59:23

Sounds great.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  59:24

Thank you and take care, Nadine. 

Nadine Manion  59:27

Thank you.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  59:40

Hey, I hope you enjoyed this episode have a voice and beyond. Now is an important time for all of us to spread positivity and empowerment in our singing voice community. It’s time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow. So you can show up for your students feeling energised, empowered, and ready to deliver your best. Be the best role model and mentor you can possibly be and watch your students thrive as you do. Thank you so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please make sure to share it with a friend or a colleague who you think will be inspired by this, copy and paste the link and share it with the people you think will enjoy listening to the show. Please share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. If you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would love to know what it is you enjoyed the most about this episode? And what was the biggest takeaway for you? I promise you there are many episodes to follow as I’m committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one. I’d like to finish up with my final thoughts. Remember that to sing is more than just learning how to use the voice. as singers. Our whole body is the instrument and our bodies echo what we feel physically mentally and emotionally. So singing is not just about the voice. It’s about a voice and beyond. Please take care of yourself and I look forward to your company next time.

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