My Voice Got Deeper. Suddenly, People Listened.

My feminist mother taught me to speak up. Now, as a trans man, I am trying to make space for women to be heard.

Thomas Page McBee


Illustration: The New York Times

A few months after I began injecting testosterone, I discovered that one of the startling new privileges of my male body was that I could silence an entire room just by opening my mouth.

Despite the fact that my voice pitched baritone low, when I spoke, people didn’t just listen, they leaned in. They perched their heads in their hands and tilted toward me for a better angle. It was as if whatever I said, however banal, was surely worth that strain of a neck, or the hurried quieting of all other thoughts.

For me, a 31-year-old trans man who had spent most of my life in a body that was tolerated at best and ridiculed at worst, this was a shocking turn of events.

Before I transitioned, my short hair and men’s clothes frequently baffled people. When we think of trans people, we often imagine someone neatly journeying from one side of the gender binary to the other: woman to man or man to woman. But for me, it was a lot more nuanced.

I was a tomboy kid, a swaggering teen steeped in queer culture, then a masculine adult. I dated women, and my ex and I were once held at gunpoint by a man who went on to target two other straight couples, shooting the men. That night, my voice — high, sharp, an immediate tell — saved me. When I spoke, something clicked in the gunman’s eyes, and he immediately let us go.

But my voice also made me invisible. I was frequently interrupted and talked over, especially by men, and especially at work. I had to fight harder to make a point. Early in my professional life, I was sometimes simply squeezed into silence.

One boorish co-worker at a transcription job I had in graduate school made it his business to reiterate to me, in tedious detail, whatever it was our boss had just told us to do, and it was easier to stand sentry, nodding politely, until he went away. I noticed he never did the same to the man who sat on the other side of him.

I moved to Boston in 2011, and my first week of work at a newspaper there coincided with my first shot of testosterone. The effects…



Thomas Page McBee

Writer exploring the relationship between gender, culture, and history. Most recent book: Amateur (Scribner). Essays/reporting: NYT, The Atlantic, GQ, more.