There are plenty of big-name trans male and female singers on our list, including Lucas Silveira, one of the first transgender artists to be signed to a high-profile record label, and Kim Petras, who’s due to go on tour with Camila Cabello.
Transgender singers have long held a place in the music industry, which is becoming more and more welcoming and inclusive. We’ve listed some of the more well-known trans singers, as well as answering how transitioning, oestrogen and testosterone may affect the voice.
Looking for some inspiring stories from the trans community? Read on to find out more about some of the most famous transgender singers and non-binary musicians who are helping to move the industry forward and making their voices heard.
Famous trans singers
Kim is a German singer and songwriter and possibly one of the most famous trans faces in the world, who is said to be the next big pop sensation. She was due to go on tour with Camila Cabello in 2020, but due to the pandemic, this has been postponed.
She was always destined to be a musician, telling GQ Magazine: “When I saw a documentary about Max Martin, about him writing pop songs, and I thought, ‘I could be a songwriter.’ I always knew I wanted to sing, but wanting to be a songwriter? Probably when I was 12 or 13.”
Laith Ashley an American model, entertainer and budding singer-songwriter.
“I didn’t know what transgender was until I was 19 years old. However, at 4 or 5 years old I just knew there was something different about me.”
Laura Jane Grace
American musician Laura Jane Grace is the founder, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of the punk rock band Against Me!. Transgender Dysphoria Blues was the band’s the sixth studio album, which deals with Laura’s journey, gender transition and coming out as a woman.
The lead singer for rock band the Cliks, Lucas Silveira is famously one of the first transgender artists to be signed to a high-profile record label.
Lucia is an American baritone singer. She made her debut in Don Giovanni at Tulsa Opera, making history as the first trans woman to perform a principal opera role in the US.
American transgender activist, singer and songwriter Shea was inspired by Whitney Houston and Tina Turner. She signed a record deal with Asylum, East West, part of the Warner Music Group.
She told GLAAD: “Society gave me my script and told me, “Oh, no, you’re not a girl. Honey, you came into this world, this is who you are.” And I refuse to go by their script. I thought outside the box. I thought, “Why not colour outside the lines? Make it look cute.”
I want society to adjust to that change. Get out of the caveman way of thinking. Trans people are who they say they are, not who you want them to be.”
Sophie Xeon, know professionally as SOPHIE, was a Grammy-nominated Scottish musician, who died in a tragic accident, aged 34 in 2021. She’d collaborated with Madonna, co-writing the song Bitch I’m Madonna, as well as working with rapper Vince Staples, pop stars Kim Petras and Charli XCX.
Signed to Colombia Records as a teen, Teddy came out as trans in 2017, the same year she started working on an Album with Shawn Mendes.
While she’s known she was trans since childhood, she says, “I didn’t know anyone who was trans, I had very little connection to that, so it wasn’t really until maybe three years ago I started actually painting my nails and going out. Nobody cared if I was femme.”
How does being transgender affect your singing career?
As a singer, your voice is a big part of who you are. For transgender singers, voice is even more important. The way your voice sounds is a vital gender cue and builds your identity. The prospect of HRT changing your singing voice can be daunting for trans singers, but it doesn’t have to be.
Testosterone will change your voice, but it doesn’t spell the end for your singing career. A trans male can discover a whole new vocal range on HRT. Vocal training and self-help techniques will help stabilise and fine-tune both trans male and trans female voices.
If you’re about to start HRT, there are lots of ways to help nurture your voice along the way. There are plenty of techniques to develop and strengthen your vocals after treatment too. Taking good care of your vocal cords is always the best way to ensure a strong singing voice and following this advice will help you on your way to a bright singing career.
Can trans people change their voice?
Your voice is an important gender cue and there are lots of ways trans people can change their voice to sound more like their gender. Trans people often undergo voice therapy or vocal training as part of their gender transition.
- Voice masculinisation is when a feminine voice becomes more masculine sounding. A transgender man will often have speech therapy to help bring their feminine pitch down. Female-to-male men often find it easier to change their voices because their transition involves cross-sex hormone therapy and the testosterone helps masculinise their voice.
- Voice feminisation is when a male-sounding voice becomes more feminine. This can be a harder process because oestrogen therapy doesn’t help feminise a transgender woman’s voice. Vocal training is often sought from a speech pathologist to help womanise the voice.
Gender fluid singers
Pop star Miley identifies as gender fluid, saying: “I’m just equal. I’m just even. It has nothing to do with any parts of me or how I dress or how I look. It’s literally just how I feel.”
Non-binary singers and musicians
Grammy-winning singer Sam Smith came out as gender non-binary earlier this year. The singer doesn’t identify as male or female, telling Jameela Jamil during an interview on I Weigh Interviews that “I feel like I float somewhere in between.”
In September 2019, Sam Smith asked fans to use the pronouns ‘they/them’, not ‘he/him’, after coming out as non-binary.
Does oestrogen change your voice?
In male-to-female women, the voice is unaffected by oestrogen therapy. This can be really disheartening for trans women, who want their voices to become deeper and masculinised. Trans women often seek alternative ways to change their voices, like:
- Voice feminisation training
- Laryngeal surgery
Transwomen also work a lot on vocal techniques to change the gender of their voices. To feminise their voice, they:
- Decrease vocal loudness
- Introduce breathiness
- Use feminine vocal pauses
- Increase pitch
- Use pitch to show emotion, not volume
Voice changes on testosterone
FTM transition involves hormone therapy (HRT). This requires trans men to take doses of testosterone over a period of time to masculinise their physiology. HRT causes lots of physical changes, some of which are to a trans male’s voice. Voice changes can start within just a few weeks of taking testosterone and can include:
- Voice cracks
- A deeper pitch
- Change in tone
- Vocal fatigue
Does testosterone affect singing voice?
Trans male singers sometimes worry about the effect testosterone will have on their singing voice. Hormone therapy causes voice changes and brings the voice down in pitch. But sometimes, these voice changes can be unpredictable, and a transgender man can be left with a hoarse voice that’s weak and cracks.
This doesn’t mean trans men should fear HRT and worry about losing their singing voice. There are lots of ways the singing voice can be nurtured during the voice masculinisation process. Trans male singers are advised to try lower doses of testosterone to start with and build up slowly. This will cause more gentle, gradual changes to the vocals.
Speech-language pathologists or vocal coaches can also help train trans male singers. With voice training, a transgender singer can learn to recognise vocal fatigue and develop singing techniques to limit damage to their voice. Always practising vocal exercises and maintaining good vocal health will keep the singing voice strong, too.
Testosterone effect on vocal cords
HRT masculinises a trans male’s voice. In order for the voice to change and become deeper, testosterone makes changes to the vocal cords. These changes are much like the changes a teenage boy experiences during puberty:
- The vocal folds thicken and lengthen
- The vocal cords increase in size
- The larynx becomes less flexible due to ossification (hardening of cartilage)
Puberty usually happens over the course of several years, but a trans male undergoes the same changes in a much quicker timeframe. Unlike a boy who went through puberty, a trans man’s larynx will stay the same size despite his vocal folds growing. This can cause ossification and problems in the voice box, such as entrapped vocality.
Sadly, trans male singers can experience vocal side effects when undergoing HRT. Entrapped vocality is a common condition where the voice permanently sounds weak and hoarse. It can also inhibit a singer from accessing and controlling all their vocal range.
Entrapped vocality is caused by the early-onset hardening of the larynx. This happens as a result of HRT because trans males are often given as big a dose of testosterone as possible so the process isn’t delayed. This brings on hormonal changes at a rapid pace, and sometimes the larynx can’t enlarge or accommodate for the growing vocal cords.
Understandably, many trans people want the transition process to happen as soon as possible, and as quickly as possible. But studies suggest that taking lower doses of testosterone and gradually building up the dosage can actually limit the impact on the vocal cords. Talk to your consultant to find the best option for you.
Hoarse voice testosterone
Many trans male singers experience hoarseness during (and after) hormone therapy. Changes to the voice can start as soon as a couple of weeks into the therapy and can cause scratchiness and dryness in the throat.
It can take years for a trans male’s voice to settle down and find its tone and timbre. Different people experience different levels of vocal unsettlement, but as a transgender singer, using trial-and-tested hoarseness remedies may help alleviate some of your discomfort.
Take a look at this article for tips to soothe a hoarse voice.
How to keep your singing voice on testosterone
Trans singers can be overwhelmed by the number of posts online warning that HRT will cause them to lose their singing voice. While hormone therapy will affect a trans male’s voice and limit their range, it doesn’t have to be a scary prospect.
A trans male will lose some of their higher notes while on T, but they will gain new lower notes they couldn’t reach before. A trans singer can also nurture their singing voice with these tips:
- Train with a vocal coach to cut out any bad habits
- Avoid pushing your voice down while you sing to try and sound deeper
- Stop singing when your vocals tire or if you feel discomfort
- Perform vocal exercises working through your range and intervals to stop your range shrinking
- Always warm-up
- Keep singing throughout your transition
Can you sing during HRT?
You can still sing while you undergo hormone treatment. In fact, singing while you go through HRT is encouraged!
Singing while your voice changes will help you adjust to the new shape of your vocal cords and will help train your voice from the off. Running through warm-ups and vocal exercises will help slowly build your vocal endurance back up again.
Be aware that your voice will be delicate during this time, and you should only sing as high as you feel comfortable doing. Your voice might sound weaker and might tire easily to start with, but don’t be disheartened. It’s a long but worthwhile journey.
Try watching this video for some humming exercises specifically designed for transgender singers.
Stage confidence as a trans singer
Feeling confident and comfortable on stage is crucial for any singer. But confidence can sometimes be a harder issue for a trans person, especially in front of a large crowd. To feel at home on stage, you have to first feel confident in yourself. Try these techniques to build self-esteem:
- Build a strong support network of friends and family around you. Start by performing in front of them to show yourself that singing is a safe place.
- Wear clothes that make you feel confident and comfortable and use your fashion style to express your identity.
- Try visualisation methods – picture the audience cheering at the end of your performance and imagine good things into reality!
- Push your comfort zone and get on stage at an Open Mic or karaoke night. Facing your fear head-on is sometimes the best way to overcome it.
Vocal techniques for trans men
As well as seeking the help of a vocal coach, there are lots of vocal exercises and techniques trans male singers can practice independently to masculinise their voice.
- Dropping the jaw and narrowing the pronunciation of vowels will give your voice a deeper, richer quality
- Try speaking exercises where you practise talking with your voice kept low
- Open your mouth more vertically to achieve more resonance and volume
- Draw on resonance from your chest, not your face
- Use volume to empathise, rather than intonation
- Watch your intonation – feminine voices will often go up in pitch at the end of sentences, while male voices remain more levelled.
Vocal techniques for trans women
For trans women, it can be frustrating that oestrogen therapy doesn’t change their voice. But there are lots of other ways trans female singers can feminise their voices without the need for surgery. A lot of these techniques can help you sound more feminine before you even start therapy!
- Talk in a higher pitch and use a voice pitch analyser app to practice
- Try lip trills or humming while increasing your pitch. This will help you explore your vocal range and increase your vocal flexibility
- Explore feminine vocabulary – women often speak with embellishments and flourish their sentences
- Use intonation to feminise your voice and increase your pitch at the end of sentences
Frequently Asked Questions
- How quickly will my voice change during hormone therapy?
The process works differently for everyone and will depend on what dosage of testosterone you are taking. But trans men usually notice some change in their voice after 3 months of hormone therapy.
The voice can continue to change and deepen until you’ve been undergoing hormone therapy for a year, which is when trans male’s voice typically stops changing. The change is permanent.
For trans women, hormone therapy doesn’t have any noticeable effect on the voice. Most trans females seek vocal therapy and voice coaching to feminise their voices instead.
- What is the Transgender Singing Voice Conference?
The Transgender Singing Voice Conference is a two-day event that welcomes those who support transgender and non-binary individuals in the singing industry. The conference is held at Earlham college and includes research and practice-orientated sessions and talks.
The conference aims to spread awareness among vocal coaches and teachers about transgender vocalists. It encourages research and aims to better equip educators and service providers about how to help transgender vocalists achieve their goals.
The event welcomes music educators, voice teachers, speech-language pathologists, music therapists, and bodywork practitioners. More details can be found on the website.