Katie is 6 foot, 1 inches tall. Her height was the first thing I noticed about her when we met. How could I not? She towers a whole 6 inches above me. The second thing I noticed? Her voice. She has this deep voice that took me by surprise. It’s soothing, smooth, and in control. I strongly associate stability with it, the even pitch and low tone rarely raised in anger or frustration. The melodic rhythm of it, the anticipation of watching her think through her thoughts in hopes of hearing her speak, have wrapped me in comfort since Katie and I met, making me laugh as I observe the juxtaposition of this deep, manly tone alongside her often nerdier, child-like interests. You’d probably have to meet her to understand, but if I had to list the top 5 things I love about my wife, 1 of them would be the notes that sew together the melody of her voice. I love everything about it.
Katie’s dysphoria has been in full swing, with very little respite. Everything from her hairline, to her chin are up for grabs, subtle reminders of things that may have been different had she been born in a different body. It’s so difficult for me to watch the ease with which the person I love and respect is nit-picked and denigrated, beaten into the dark solitude of loneliness and discontent by their own brain chemistry. I don’t see the things she sees, which makes trying to comfort her complicated.
Last week, Katie was severely dysphoric about her own voice, my second observation, my security blanket. I felt so defeated as she told me about it, detailing the tones she doesn’t like and how it doesn’t match who she is. How do you fix your voice? Your voice is your voice, isn’t it? Estrogen doesn’t transform the male voice to be more feminine the way testosterone will alter a female voice to become more masculine. The only option to address the issue with hope of any change is voice lessons, something Katie is now exploring. But, in the meantime, do we talk less? Do I lose one of my constants? I can help fix so many things. I can provide makeup and clothes. I can validate with name and gender preference. I can find doctors. I can listen to the troubling days. I can be there. But her voice? I can’t fix that.
The idea of losing her voice broke me and I found myself talking for 10 minutes straight, watching Katie retreat into the turtle shell of her body for protection. My diatribe started with so many good intentions, but even as it was happening I could see my old habit of lecture versus listening unfolding as Katie’s gaze stopped meeting mine. I couldn’t stop myself, a car rolling down an icy hill with no traction, pin-balling from one bad suggestion to another. I apologized profusely the next day and we’ve talked about it in therapy since.
I’ve had to consider why it was so hard for me to hear about Katie’s dysphoria about her voice, why it was that I couldn’t shut down the part of me that is devastated by the idea of its absence in my life and just be there for my wife. In therapy, we talked about the magnitude to which Katie has been discussing her dysphoria with me. Lately it is constant, a welcomed change in one way, as I actually know what she’s thinking. She’s communicating in a way we haven’t experienced before, an egg cracked open. At the same time, this new space being absorbed by dysphoria is difficult for me. Trust that I know that my version of Katie’s dysphoria pales in comparison to her actually experiencing it. That said, I love the parts of Katie’s body she hates with so much detail. I love the voice that tells me about it. They are all part of this wonderful human I get to debate religion with at the dinner table, watch bad tv with during the snow days. They are the parts of the human that makes me feel at home wherever I am. I asked Katie to consider finding another outlet for this new energy, maybe another person who has a similar experience, who won’t feel a need to fix it. Right now, I can’t be the only other place, aside from therapy, where her dysphoria is discussed. I’m not strong enough to listen to the person I love disparage the parts of herself I love so much. This is a difficult request for me to make as I don’t want to eliminate the conversation all-together. I still want to be there for her. I guess we just have to see what happens, how we dance through this next space. Will we walk or fall down this hill?