TravaLíngua and the interviews included below—conducted as part of Mavi’s graduate thesis titled “Voice, Performance, Transition and other Revolutions”—are both part of the #iwannamakerevolution project.
TravaLíngua is a project that researches vocal and performative practices, especially related to the femininization or masculinization of vocal change in people transitioning between genders or sexual identities. In Portuguese, trava-língua is the word used for tongue twister. But, trava is also the colloquial way to define travesti—transvestite, trans woman—and língua means language or tongue. Playing with these words, bringing together both notions of twisting your tongue and articulating a “trans language” (in a figurative and practical way) is how the project was born.
The project started in conversations between Mavi Veloso and Raphael Daibert, and was part of the research conducted for Mavi’s Master of Voice at the Sandberg Insitituut in Amsterdam, and initially presented during the online residency on ArtsEverywhere under the umbrella project #iwannamakerevolution. Beyond Mavi’s own male to female transition, the idea was to explore different ways of articulation, projection, tones, different pitches, and textures to perform voice.
Once it became apparent that most online voice transitioning exercises are in English, and that therapists that deal with this question are not found everywhere, TravaLíngua was then born as a collective experimental/performative exercise. Little by little, the dissemination of this knowledge is happening by the trans community to trans people via the internet. Through collaboration, Raphael and Mavi were inspired to work with Cursinho Popular Transformação to bring TravaLíngua to São Paulo as an experimental workshop, binding Mavi’s experience—as a trans person and artist—with the young trans community. Cursinho Popular Transformação is a collective and prep course devoted to young trans and non-binary students to prepare them for the Brazilian national university exam. Since Mavi is based in Amsterdam, the only way to do this was to organize a four-part online session about experimenting with voice. The participants were together in a room with internet access, led by performer and actress Lua Lucas as a local mediator while the sessions were conducted remotely. The videos presented here are Mavi’s creative documentation of the sessions.
In the first meeting, the performative exercise “This face is my motherfucker ID” was proposed. Participants were asked to elaborate fictitious or non-fictitious characters, playing with items present in situations that demand identification, such as name, age, gender, profession, etc. Then, each person would introduce themselves impersonating these characters. In a second moment, other people should become or act by copying gestures, tone of voice, and speech modes from the first ones presented.
In the second meeting, we used a counting game to exercise and understand the different tones of voices each person could initially reach and what other possibilities each one could expand, from the most serious to the most acute and vice versa. Then, we proposed the Alphabet exercise, for the creation of texts / words with the sequences of letters (in Portuguese): a for love, b for kissing, c for city, etc. In a second phase, we would change tone of voice in each new round, from the highest to the lowest tone.
In the third meeting a “self interview” practice was proposed. Participants were invited to create and perform a self-interview, asking questions and creating scripts on how to respond. Here everyone was encouraged to develop characters with distinct voices. Each participant should incorporate previous practices where we exercised different possibilities of voice tones that each person reaches.
The fourth and final encounter was the most experimental and extreme. It was proposed that each person would choose a series of voices that they liked, voices and speeches of their daily life, voices and speeches of people close to them, artists who they admired, voices and texts used in advertisements, etc. Participants should listen to these voices and try to reproduce the best possible tone of voice, and ways of speaking. We used the WhatsApp app for a long exchange of audio messages where each person brought in various references and also everyone would chose from the audios received other messages to play as well.
“Voice, Performance, Transition and other Revolutions” by Mavi Veloso
The accompanying series of interviews were firstly organized in my thesis with the title “Voice, Performance, Transition and other Revolutions,” for the Master of Voice under the supervision of Marnie Slater at the Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam. They are part of a research in performance and voice called #iwannamakerevolution. The interviews were conducted with various people who question gender, sexuality and identity: Sanni Est, Pollux Frei, Aerea Negrot, Geo Wyeth, Sladka Jerônimo, Íka Eloah, and Lucy Lazuli. My main questions focused on the particularities of changes in the voice within their transition, but we also touched on other aspects of changes in the body, social adaptations, how transgender issues are treated in diverse cities throughout the world, political implications, and especially performative practices of the voice.
For many of us trans fellows it is important to develop a voice that matches our appearance. Within hormone therapy for trans men the use of testosterone may directly affect the voice. For trans women it’s said that the use of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone blockers do not change the voice. Changes can be reached through vocal chord surgery or by training. In the interviews we talk about both, but mainly about practices for feminization or masculinization of the voice, vocal therapy, and artistic practices that appropriate the transformation, as all the interviewed people are artists.
I started to transition between Brazil and Brussels about four years ago. I didn’t search for a doctor or vocal therapist to transition my voice. Instead, I have spent the past few years researching gender and voice, reaching out to each of the interviewees to talk about some common connections as well as the differences in experience that each one has. I wanted to know what it is like to go through voice therapy. Sanni started her transition about ten years ago in Berlin, and was always followed by her doctor—notably she had the coaching of a vocal therapist. Pollux is just starting her transition (also in Berlin) under the guidance of doctors. With Aerea, I was very interested in how she related her transition to her creative process. Knowing her work I always found her voice very experimental, having an interesting range from low to high pitch. As a trans man, Geo Wyeth, also through very powerful work with his voice, experiences hormone therapy in a very different way compared to the others. I was interested in understanding the impact of testosterone on the voice. Sladka, Íka, and Lucy live in São Paulo. I’d say it is easier to access female hormones in pharmacies in Brazil without the need for medical prescriptions. They started their processes very young, under less than idea conditions, such as not having much support from family. Many political and social conflicts of what they experience in a “wild” way makes it important to have their voices included here.