New study aims to give transgender people their rightful voices

UAlberta researcher recruiting participants for study in transgender communication modification.
Thu Sep 15, 2016

Communication is an important part of a person’s identity. As humans, we often rely on characteristics of communication, such as the sound of the voice, when making decisions about a person’s gender. How we speak and act can often affect the way our gender is perceived by others and even ourselves.

This is a major challenge faced by many transgender individuals today, especially those who are transitioning from male to female gender roles.

Teresa Hardy, rehabilitation science PhD student in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, is looking to help tackle some of the obstacles transgender individuals are facing when it comes to gender expression and being misgendered. In a new study, Hardy is examining the different communication patterns that are crucial when it comes to individuals being perceived as ‘male’ or ‘female’—or perhaps neither.

“This study is one in a series we are conducting to better understand the relationship between the ways in which we communicate and how that translates into how others perceive our gender,” explains Hardy, who is also a practicing speech-language pathologist. “In this particular study, we’re looking at individuals who are transitioning or have already transitioned from male to female gender roles. We have some crucial questions to ask, one being, ‘What are the most important communication-based factors in being perceived as a woman?’”

Hardy plans to find out how speech therapists can change methods on their end to help their clients be perceived how they want, whether feminine or not.

“When I first started doing this work, I had a lot of questions that needed answers before I could effectively help my clients. There was very little research to help guide me during sessions with my transgender patients with respect to changing their voices and communication. That was one of my main motivators for doing this study.”

Interested in participating?

To participate in the study, you must be:

  • a transgender woman—either transitioning or already transitioned (male to female)
  • living in a female gender role at least 80 per cent of the time for at least six months
  • fluent in English
  • free of neurogenic communication disorders (e.g., Parkinson’s, aphasia or dysarthria)
  • able to fully use your upper body

If you are interested, please contact hardy@ualberta.ca.

And with much opportunity for transgender individuals to face discrimination, Hardy wants to make sure she’s helping her clients reach their end goal of leading a happy and healthy life.

“They can be discriminated against when it comes to employment, education, access to health care, community groups, sports, and so on. And this discrimination has contributed to many suicide attempts amongst transgender people—over 40 per cent of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, and this is the case in both Canada and the United States.”

The study, which will help to provide transgender individuals with access to effective speech therapy and thus curb some of the rates of discrimination, is now seeking participants—approximately 10 more individuals.

“When all of this is complete, we really hope we can make an impact on the lives of transgender individuals. If we can take what we learn and combine it with the research that has already been done around the world, I think we will produce something really powerful.”

What participants can expect

Participants will watch a short cartoon story, and then retell the story while being recorded. They will then be asked to complete three short questionnaires.

“Transgender participants will not have their faces shown on camera, and instead will be shown as a moving stick figure, created using motion capture technology like is used for CGI movies and video games. This ensures that their physical appearance is not taken into account when we assess how their gender is perceived,” Hardy explains. “We are working with the Syncrude Centre for Motion and Balance at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital on this. They are helping us with the video recordings.”

The session should take about one hour.