Having taught Dustin Hoffman to sound and move like a woman for his role in “Tootsie” and having helped many patients in the Transgender Community make the transition both from “ male to female” or “female to male” like( Chasity to Chaz) by teaching them either them either “male” or “female” body language, voice, and speech skills I was very impressed with how well Chaz Bono (formerly Chasity Bono and Cher’s daughter) is adapting to his new identity.
In watching Chaz Bono’s interview with Chris Cuomo on GMA, Chaz’s voice and body language had so many male characteristics , it was difficult to conceive that she ever lived life as a female, which she did up until 8 months ago. Not only was her vocal pitch as lot lower, she did a lot of things men do as opposed to women- she didn’t open her jaw as much when she spoke and used about two to three octaves in his tone as opposed to the four to five octaves females use. This means there was not as much vocal animation as a male. Body language wise, he took up more room with legs apart and his handshake, where he reached out to Chris was very “male” as opposed to female. His posture and outward hand movement made away from the body was “ male” as well.
There was one interesting body language “ tell” that one of my wonderful and astute readers also noticed and pointed out – Chaz’ shoulder shrugs. My reader asked me if Chaz was lying when he said he was happy because she noticed Chaz was shrugging his shoulders when he said that.
That was an excellent observation. Here is where “Context” is so important when reading body language. The shrug may also mean “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” which was the case here. It didn’t mean that Chaz was lying about being happy. Instead, it meant that he is still going through the transition and there is more to come and he’s still a bit insecure. In fact on the next breath, he admitted that. He said he was getting there as it had only been eight months since he had his breast reduction surgery and began hormone treatment.
I should also add that there was a lot of lip licking during the interview which many would also misconstrued as a “tell” of deception. But it was not the case here. The lip licking her meant that Chaz’s mouth was dry from being nervous and uncomfortable in the situation he was in. He even admitted to Chris that it was difficult to get out there publically and discuss his transition- that it was uncomfortable. So the lip licking you were seeing was part of that discomfort Chaz was feeling. That is why I can’t stress enough that context is so important when reading body language.
THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE BORN ONE SEX WHO FEEL LIKE THE OPPOSITE SEX SINCE CHILDHOOD
Gender reassignment is a very difficult and misunderstood concept. May think that people who do this are simply crazy or freaks or they are acting out or doing it for attention. They believe that you are born one sex that is who you are and that is who you shall remain. Until I went to the University of Michigan where I got my Masters Degree in Speech and Speech Pathology I used to think that if you were born one sex that’s what you were- plain and simple. But I soon found out that was not the case.
As part of our clinical practice as graduate students, we had to see different types of patients with speech and voice concerns who came into the U of M Communication Disorder Clinic and write up an evaluation report. I was given a patient who was drop dead gorgeous. She was around my height 5’9 to 5’10, had a svelte figure, long dark hair and bright blue eyes. I examined her vocally. She sounded fine except her voice was on the low side. I thought she may have suffered from vocal nodules or vocal polyps- a growth on her vocal cords and wrote up a treatment plan to help cure her condition.
I turned it into my professor, Dr. H. Harlan Bloomer, who by the way was one of the founding fathers of my field. He read my report and said that it was thorough except for one thing- “she” was a “he. “What?” I said thinking I misheard him, he repeated what he said and went on to tell me that she had come to the U of Michigan for gender reassignment surgery. The look of utter shock on my face lead him to explain to me that there were people who, although they were one gender, deep inside believed they were another gender and that it was our job to help these people make that transition by helping them learn to speak like a member of the opposite sex.
Dr. Bloomer also shared with me something that was later confirmed to me by Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins University, a leading pioneer in the area of Gender Research. If you take a child with Gender Dysphoria and ask them to walk across the room as John or Mary (whatever their sex was) and then ask them to walk back to you as the opposite sex- a girl or a boy, a child with gender dysphoria can easily do it. If a child doesn’t have these gender issues, they will resist and say “I’m not a boy” or” I’m not a girl.” So it’s something that we now know happens in the brain early on in life.
In fact, in his interview, Chaz remarked that he always felt like a boy since childhood and always gravitated to the boys, even joining their teams instead of the girls team.
HOW DO I MAKE A MAN SOUND LIKE A WOMAN?
Apparently back in the day, the University of Michigan is where many went to get transitioned from one sex to the other. These patients also came to the Speech Clinic to learn how to sound like a woman. So it was my job to make this woman who was really a man but looked like a woman, now sound like a woman.
But there was a huge problem. How do you do it? There were no books or research on the subject back in the day. So, I had to do my own research as a graduate student. I had to learn what to do by the seat of my pants. I studied what I did as a woman and how different it was from what guys I knew did. I began to take notes about my fellow male and female classmates and observe them.
Of course I knew the pitch of the voice was different, but what do you do to physically raise a person’s pitch so it doesn’t sound campy? I had to figure that out by trial and error. But body language wise there were also differences as I quickly observed. I saw how the guys sat differently- more causal. They took up more room. They walked differently and even sat differently at their desks and wrote differently. They gestured differently. I made notes and applied them in working with my patient.
Since I really didn’t know what I was doing at the time I just made my patient sound like me, move like me, and act like me. It was weird to see the results- my behaviors being mirrored in another physical being. It was surreal. Subsequently as a grad student I worked with several other transgender patients and became more familiar with what to do.
DUSTIN HOFFMAN AND TOOTSIE
After getting my PhD from the University of Minnesota and coming to Los Angeles to attend UCLA and get a Post Doctorate in Medical Genetics and do research on speech and hearing issues on patients with genetic diseases, I went to my first Hollywood party. There I shared my experience with some fellow guests about how as a grad student I taught men to sound like women. They were fascinated and asked for my card.
A few days later I was told to go to a secret address in Westwood on Manning Ave. and to not tell anyone where I was going. Naively I went. (Today I definitely would have asked more questions) . When the door opened I almost fell over- it was Dustin Hoffman! So for the next few months I worked with him to help him sound like a woman for Toostsie. He was magnificent! And all of you I am sure saw the results. Dustin was so believable as a woman that he even received an Academy Award for his performance.
HE SAYS SHE SAYS- CLOSING THE COMMUNICATION GAP BETWEEN THE SEXES
After Tootsie came out everyone wanted to know how Dustin Hoffman came to be so believable as a woman. They wanted to know who helped him sound and move that way? So the press found out that I was behind it and did countless stories in newspapers and magazines about my work. I even appeared on radio and TV shows across the country.
Because of all the press, people from the transgender communities from around the country and abroad came to work with me. I helped men sound like women like I did for Dustin Hoffman and women sound like men. I discovered that it was a lot easier getting a woman to sound and act like a man that vice versa. Even though there were a lot more challenges, all of them succeeded vocally and body language wise.
In working with these patients there was still very little research about men and women and communication. There were a few books but they were written by linguists that weren’t very practical. So what that men do this and women do that. What do you do with that knowledge? How do you apply it to your daily life, your love life, or your business life?
I figured that out.I took some of that information that existed in the literature based on the linguist’s research and then I incorporated my own research that I did back in my University of Michigan days and subsequent research and was the first to come up with practical advice that men need to do to better get along with women in their daily lives, in the bedroom, and in business ad vice versa.
I published this information in my book He Says She Says –Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes (Putmam, 1991) and later in my book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Men and Women (Macmillan, 1999) I Also devised a “Sex Talk Quiz “ which lets you see just how much you know about the opposite sex. You may see that qui in various books and articles as people have been given my permission to use it or have been granted a licensing fee by me to use it.
ACCEPTING PEOPLE FOR WHO THEY ARE
After working with so many people in the transgender community, I have come to learn their struggles and the pain they have suffered throughout their lives. People like you and I, who are born in the sex we were born in and enjoy living out lives as a woman or a man, have no idea the mental torture these people go through. So when Chaz said on television yesterday that she was happy for the first time in his life, I believe him.
In parting when Chris Cuomo said to Chaz Bono, “ If you’re happy, then I’m happy,” I concur. If Chaz is happy so am I . I want everyone to be happy with who they are and do whatever it takes to get there.
By the way, if you happen to be interested in learning more about male female communication or you want to know how to better improve your life with the opposite sex, you can order my books (He Says She Says or the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Men and Women) at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or order them or even DOWNLOAD it from my website at http://www.drlillianglass.com