“Reflects who I am”

Trans women are flying to South Korea for voice feminization surgery

A hospital in South Korea. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji -

Erika Jonell tried for more than a year to make her deep voice sound higher and more feminine with speech exercises and concentration before she decided to do something much more permanent about it.

“When you say hi to someone in a masculine voice, you can almost see it in their face that they know,” the 34-year-old transgender woman from Ohio told Bloomberg News. “Once you start to notice that, it’s hard to not start noticing all the time. It’s death by 1,000 cuts.”

Earlier this year, Jonell became one of hundreds of patients to fly to a specialist in South Korea for a minimally-invasive procedure known as voice feminization surgery, performed by a specialist there, Dr. Hyung Tae Kim of the Yeson Voice Center. The clinic has treated 385 patients from 46 different countries since 1999, including 107 voice surgeries last year. Nearly a quarter of its patients come from the United States, where Kim’s reputation among the trans community is stellar.

“Having a misgendered voice places a person at risk, as it could negatively affect their social and vocational life, including their psychosocial state of mind,” Kim said.

Jonell is keenly aware of the effects a voice can have in what she describes as a “telecommunications-oriented” society. She spends much of her work life on the phone with team members around the country.

“Voice is incredibly important in today’s society,” she said. “You may not be physically present in front of someone when speaking with them, so your voice carries a lot of who you are [and] whether you are male or female or you feel you are some place in between.”

Jonell paid $7,200 plus travel expenses to have the surgery completed this year following a thorough vetting and application process. After the procedure, she was forbidden for speaking for at least four weeks, and had to rely on a text-to-speech software to communicate during the first part of the four-month recovery process. Today, her voice is still a little gravelly and her throat sore, but she is hopeful it will smooth out after her recovery period is over.

“I’m eager to see the results,” she said. “I got the surgery because, in the end, my highest priority is to just be comfortable with myself. Having a voice that reflects who I am is incredibly important to me.”

Read the full story at Bloomberg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *