Why? / by Brett Welch


One syllable, three letters. Simple question, complex answers.

Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic (shocking, I know). But I am frequently asked why and how I got into this field, and specifically why I’m passionate about working with gender spectrum voice and communication (aka, trans voice).


First and foremost, I love language. The living, breathing, omnipresent miracle that unites and connects us, and also has the power to divide and separate us. We use it to tell someone how we feel; we use it to work together to create novel innovations and cure diseases; we use it to learn about each other, and use it to learn about and define ourselves. I could go on for, like, way too long. But I hope you get my gist. I truly believe that language is one of the most powerful tools at humanity’s disposal. Words matter. Pronouns matter.


Second, I just love helping people. I just think that we’re all in this crazy experience we call life together, and I don’t see a point in trying to make someone else’s experience worse than it has to be. And if I can make it better, heck yeah! I’m all for it. And then speech-language pathology is a field that combines the power of language with helping people?!? (Granted, SLPs do soooo much more than just “language,” but that’s a whole separate blog post) So yeah, I just really love being in a field that I’m über passionate about and get to help others.


And then there’s gender spectrum voice and communication (GSVC). So like I said, SLPs cover a whole wide variety of areas. Voice, I’d argue, is one of the smaller areas in terms of how many clinicians feel comfortable with treating voice disorders. Within the category of voice, a super majority of it focuses on true voice disorders that are pathophysiological (e.g., vocal fold nodules, polyps). And then there’s this tiny subset of voice specialist who have the cultural competency and knowledge of how to work on GSVC. Many professionals in our field don’t know that GSVC is really a thing. One study said that only 47% of SLPs who were surveyed reported that their graduate program touched on GSVC, and only half (51%) of those who had learned about it could describe one component of treatment (Hancock & Haskin, 2015). One component. Just one! So yeah, we’re kinda at a disadvantage as a profession to having enough clinicians who are knowledgeable in this area. And that’s why I (and those who work with GSVC) try to educate other professionals about this topic (and for me, trans rights in general). Because if professionals aren’t even aware of this, how can we expect the Transgender Community to be aware that these services exist?


How did I get involved with this sub-subsection of our field? It all goes back to my last semester of undergrad at UT, and I was sitting in Dr. Courtney Byrd’s course (shout out to Dr. Byrd bc she’s phenomenal and I wouldn’t be where I am without her). I was taking notes, and she was talking about all the areas that SLPs work on (seriously, it’s a lot). And she mentioned in passing how we can also help trans women create an authentic voice that’s congruent with their gender. I dropped my pencil in shock (and metaphorically my jaw) and was immediately intrigued. I derailed the whole lesson for a few minutes, because I had honestly never heard of this and I was fascinated! From that moment on, I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to learn as much as I could about this area of our field.


Why was I interested in this one, tiny-subset of our field? Well. I’m pretty fucking queer. I’m passionate about any experience that doesn’t fit the anglo cisheteronormative experience that society tells us we should be. As queer people, whether because of your sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, both, neither, whatever it is- society tells us no, that we’re “wrong,” an abomination, etcetera. You’ve heard it all before *dramatic eye roll*. So if I can use my privilege and profession to give back to my community? Hell yeah. I’m all for it. (Have I mentioned I like helping people, especially people who are queer) I have several areas of speech-language pathology that I’m really passionate about, and I’ll talk about those in another post. But I’m extremely passionate about this one area, in particular, because it does involves my community.


So I entered into graduate school with the goal of writing a thesis on this subject so I could learn as much as possible (I did, btw). And early on in school, as I was learning more about telemedicine I thought “How cool would it be to have a telepractice that works on GSVC so it’s easier to access for people who might not be close enough to a competent provider?” And so after surviving graduate school, and completing my Clinical Fellowship Year, that’s exactly what I did. And now here we are.


Well, that’s a bit about myself, and sorta the journey of how I got here. I thought of a million other blog topics while writing this, so stay tuned!


Without Dr. Byrd having made that comment in passing, I’m sure I would’ve got here eventually, but that lit a fire underneath me to explore as much as I could for the two whole years I was in grad school. What unexpected moments have changed your life?