Working with transgender singers

Working with transgender singers in your music group might be a new experience, but breaking it down into smaller steps would better enable you to support your transgender members on their music making journey.

In practical terms, much of the guidance from our LGBTQ+ inclusion guide is applicable when working with transgender singers. This guide, written by Dr Kathleen Cronie and Dr Michael Bonshor, will provide some extra information about the following questions:

  • What do we mean by a 'transgender singer'?
  • Who might identify as transgender?
  • What kind of challenges can be encountered by transgender singers?
  • How can transgender singers be supported when singing in an inclusive vocal group?

Acceptable terminology on this topic has changed over time and media discussions about gender do not always recognise important but subtle nuances. To help with understanding some of the concepts, experiences and current terminology related to transgender people, there are some key explanations in the following section, and in our Glossary of LGBTQ+ terms

When reading this, please remember that you are not expected to become an expert on the topic, but having some knowledge of the common terminology is useful when communicating with transgender singers. We should try to use (and understand) language that transgender singers are comfortable with. If you’re not sure how to speak about the topic, or how to address the individual, it is advisable to check with them, as long as this is done respectfully and discreetly.

You are also not expected to become an expert in voice use for transgender singers, but the information in this guide will help you to understand and support them if they are experiencing vocal challenges. If in doubt about vocal issues, it is advisable to suggest that they consult a singing teacher and/or speech and language clinician with experience of facilitating healthy voice use for transgender people. 

What does 'transgender' mean?

Transgender or trans can be used interchangeably to refer to people whose gender identity differs from the sex with which they were assigned at birth.

Transgender is an umbrella term, which covers a broad spectrum of people with different lifestyles; physical, emotional, and social challenges; and ways of presenting themselves.

Transgender people can present as (for example) a man, a woman, non-binary, gender fluid, gender neutral, gender non-conforming. Gender identity is not necessarily static, and, for some people, this can change from time to time. 

Any transgender person may or may not be taking cross-sex or gender affirming medication and may or may not have had, or be expecting, gender affirmation surgery. This will be dependent upon personal choice, age, health, social circumstances, and level of contentment with physical status. It may also have an effect on their voice and how they use it. 

Talking about being trans

Some trans singers will be 'out' and feel very comfortable with discussing their experience, and how it affects their voice. However, some will not be 'out' at all, or perhaps only in particular situations. In all cases trust, respect and confidentiality are paramount. Try to follow this guidance:

  • Only ask what you need to know about their voice
  • Check what the singer is comfortable talking about
  • Observe the language that they are using about themselves and their experience, and follow their example
  • Check how 'out' they are – whether just within your group, in society at large, or nowhere
  • Respect their needs regarding disclosure or non-disclosure of their transgender status
  • Use the pronouns and name that they would like you to use
  • If you accidentally misgender or deadname someone, apologise immediately (and concisely) and move on quickly so that it doesn’t become the focus of the conversation. 

Make no assumptions

  • You might have trans singers in your choir already, as being transgender is not always obvious to the observer 
  • Each transgender singer will have different experiences, perspectives and needs
  • If medication is involved, it can have different effects on different people
  • If surgery has taken place, it can have different effects on different people
  • Some cisgender and intersex singers have voices which do not fit with gendered expectations, for example male altos, female tenors, and singers with puberphonia (delayed or non-existent vocal change during puberty). They should be treated with the same respect and consideration as trans singers

First, do no harm

Being transgender is experienced in a wide variety of ways so the following points (which generally apply to all voice work) should be prioritised:

  • Adopt a person-centred approach, which recognises individual differences and is non-judgemental
  • Remember that the transgender individual is the expert on their own experiences and how they feel while they’re singing 
  • Listen to their voice and pay attention to what they say about it. 
  • Focus on healthy voice use, as appropriate for the individual
  • Make it clear that individuals should sing whichever vocal part is most comfortable for them
  • Maintain a flexible approach to voice parts, as a transgender singer’s voice might change from time to time, or over a period of time.
  • Establish a culture of open communication, so that singers feel able to indicate if anything becomes uncomfortable, physically, emotionally, or socially.
  • Some singers may not feel comfortable with speaking about vocal challenges in public, so make sure that you make space for them to discreetly raise any problems with the choir leader or a designated committee member

Voice use for transgender singers

All singers have a vocal instrument with a range of common components. Some of these can be affected by the way in which we use them, for example, our posture, breathing and articulation. We have little control over other factors, for example, our physical size and shape, which affects lung capacity and vocal resonance. Trans singers are very diverse, and their voices will have individual characteristics in the same way as other singers. However, their experiences of social, medical and/or surgical transition will also affect the way that they use their voices and sometimes affect the way in which their vocal instrument can operate. 

Some trans and non-binary singers may be receiving hormonal treatment and/or surgery to support a physical transition. Choir leaders are not expected to become experts on the finer points of medical or surgical interventions - and neither should we be asking singers intimate questions about any of this. To help to support trans singers and encourage healthy voice use, here is some information about the effects of the hormones which might be used:

Vocal feminisation

Taking oestrogen usually has no discernible effect on the voices of trans women or non-binary people. However, voice change may be achieved through:

  • Speech and language therapy (long waiting lists for this)
  • Singing lessons with a practitioner with experience of working with transgender voices
  • Using 'more feminine patterns' of speech and intonation 
  • Learning to healthily use muscular 'support' for the voice, especially at higher pitches
  • Gentle exercises for tone, range and flexibility

Surgical procedures to help with voice changes can be offered but are not commonly recommended.

Vocal masculinisation

Taking testosterone does have significant effects on the voices of trans men or non-binary people. 

  • Lowers the pitch of the voice 
  • Increases the mass of the vocal folds
  • Does not increase size of 'voice box' or laryngeal cartilages, so free vibration of vocal folds can be limited
  • Can reduce vocal flexibility
  • Can reduce smooth transition between vocal registers
  • Can sometimes be a long process. This can be frustrating for the singer and they might need support with adapting at different vocal stages
  • Can sometimes be relatively sudden, which can require gentle vocal rehabilitation
  • Can take a while for the individual to adjust to the vocal changes
  • Side effect of testosterone – hoarseness!

Although male hormones help to lower the voice pitch, speech therapy and/or singing lessons may be necessary to help transgender men or non-binary people to overcome some of the remaining vocal challenges. Surgical procedures can be offered but are rarely recommended. 


  • The experience of being transgender creates different social, physical and vocal challenges for different people
  • Like all singers, every transgender singer has a unique voice
  • Healthy voice use is paramount, as it is for all singers
  • If in doubt about how a transgender singer can be supported to use their voice healthily, seek expert advice

Making Music LGBTQ+ resources


  • Dr Kathleen Cronie is a choral conductor and has previously worked as a voice teacher, singer and choral researcher. She is currently the MD for Loud & Proud, Scotland’s first LGBTQ+ choir, and is experienced in working with LGBTQ+ singers as individual students. Her PhD research explored what singers need from their conductors to fully participate in choral singing, and she now offers support and coaching to choirs and MDs to run rehearsals and performances that are designed to set a shared vision for the group and look after singers’ needs as a priority. She has also undertaken training in working with transgender singers and recently led the 'Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People' research project.  
  • Dr Michael Bonshor is a music psychologist with a background as a professional singer, voice teacher, accompanist and conductor. He is the course director for the University of Sheffield’s MA Music Psychology in Education, Performance and Wellbeing, and lectures on courses at Leeds Conservatoire, University College London and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He has longstanding experience of teaching individual transgender singers, and leading practical voice workshops to help trans people to use their voices in a way which reflects their gender identity.  

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.