I was disconcerted in a good way when I heard what must be the most perfect example of a ‘gender construct’. It was the voice of a trasgendered woman, once a Miss Universe contestant and now the star of a reality TV show. What I heard in that voice was the essential feminine, every word artfully crafted and pitched. It was self-consciously breathy and youthful.
And it does take a conscious and studied effort to sound like that, like a slightly steelier Marilyn. The how-to vocal coaching videos and instructions are many. What I thought I heard in her voice was confirmed by the online teaching materials: the breathiness, the drawling vowels and careful softness of the consonants are all deliberate. To sound feminine, you must “start and end sentences slowly and gently” as opposed to men who use ” the hard attack” on their first syllable, You should “use plenty of air to get a breathy sound”, “hold your mouth in the right shape, a slight smile helps, and is the ‘resting’ facial expression for a woman anyway.” Round your lips into “a slight pout”.
And as for speech content: talk about people’s feelings and desires, be ready to relate. A lot.
Watching the trasgendered who’ve mastered all of these techniques, especially when they demonstrate how they used to sound as men, is the vocal equivalent of morphing. Thinking about the artful but disembodied voice of Miss Universe and the training behind it had the effect of a reveal: I had the impression that I could now see everyone’s gender hovering like holographic masks over their faces.