Voicing Voice

There is this idea of one’s voice, that a person has a voice which only they are capable of developing and uttering, but this is different than the mere act of saying words out loud or writing words down—though those are two common mediums for voicing one’s voice. Searching around online for this idea of voice turns up mostly songs or political websites for different causes (in addition to linguistic and/or psychology related results), though the Merriam-Webster dictionary tries define this sense of voice (see 4a & 4b), but fails to capture all that it is: one’s voice is not just an opinion held and uttered nor solely one’s right to expression nor just a rhetorical device / political tool.

I claim that a human being’s voice is that being’s uniqueness as an entity, incarnate. Someone writing this some years ago may have chosen to use the word “soul” or “essence” instead of the phrase “uniqueness as an entity”, but I tabooed those because (1) I don’t think they clearly convey what I’m communicating and (2) they are curiosity stoppers in ways that “uniqueness as an entity” doesn’t seem to be (you can ask about the idiosyncrasies of an entity and how those differ from those of another entity, and so on). One’s voice comprises their identities, their lived experiences, the material composition of theirself, and all the other things that make one particular human being a unique mind and entity despite sharing so much mind and material design with all other humans. Only one person has a particular voice, only that person can voice that voice, only that person can experience their own life experiences, and only that person can write their own story (for a lovely and inspirational song with this message, see Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”). I take it as a given that it is beneficial for each human being to develop and enrich their own voice, and ask: dear reader, are you growing and nurturing your own voice? Don’t answer that question yet, hold it with you as you read, please, now to what this voicing voice stuff looks like and why I care about it so much via stories from my life.

At the age of 7, I explicitly believed that I had a secret to take to my grave. Back then in 2002 or so, I had no idea that trans people existed and didn’t learn so + the terminology until much later, but I knew culturally that “someone like me”, who I was and how I felt (born male but noticed a strong desire to be female from a young age), was shameful and bad, that my family would never accept me, and decided then that I’d have to hide myself for the rest of my life. I thus grew a deeply entrenched, competent, and powerful habit of hiding, of being hidden and acting according to how I was expected to act: I became a very good actor and lived a life that wasn’t mine and watched from behind the scenes in despair. Thankfully [skips over a ton of life experiences because those aren’t quite germane to the subject of this post], I broke free of that crippling fear and slowly learned to accept myself, eventually managing to begin my transition from male to female: I’ve been on estrogen for almost 3 years now! Yet, despite getting rid of that fear, accepting myself completely, and living life openly and happily as a trans woman, those habits of hiding have persisted in me.

I consciously and emphatically reject those old habits of hiding, I am an out and proud trans woman, and I think thoughts about so many things in this world. I refuse to hide any longer and now choose instead to cultivate and grow my voice and join the broader public discourse (for whatever topic sparks my interest); I join the world publicly. I’ve spent so many years consuming information, opinions, ideas, etc. but not writing nor discussing what I’ve encountered (this poem is an attempt to describe what that feels like on the inside). I used to be too fearful to do that, even my first post on LessWrong now seems saddled with crippling fear in retrospect. I’m glad I wrote it though, it was one of my first forays into publicly writing (one of the first times I publicly voiced my voice) and helped introduce me to that habit, though writing in my shortform in the style of a log or journal + beginning to comment on posts recently has helped push me out of those old fears and now writing publicly feels much more comfortable.

Only through writing publicly and some other public creative works have I began to truly grow, nurture, and develop my voice: back when I just consumed content, whether it was high brow, erudite, entertaining, or absolute trash, I wasn’t growing, I was changing in response to other people’s words and creations, but I wasn’t putting anything back into the world nor growing myself deliberately in response to what I encountered. That’s why I asked you, dear reader, this question: are you growing and nurturing your own voice? I personally find that publicly writing is the most “leveling up”, empowering activity I currently know how to do, especially for developing my own thoughts into more refined ideas and eventually further refining those ideas into useful, actionable knowledge (for reasons why, please see adamzerner’s “Writing to Think”, and my response to that), but you may find that a different activity provides you with such benefits: do you know what activity(ies) help you level up, empower you, and do you regularly engage in those activities? It’s important to me that I develop and grow my voice further, because I believe doing so is an integral part of getting stronger so that I may solve significant problems in this world that need solving (my particular problem area will be death: I believe we as a species need to strive for immortality and rid ourselves of all causes of death; more on this in a post next week), plus voicing my voice is fun, I like doing so!

Only you can develop and voice your own voice, are you doing that? What struggles do you face in doing so?

My Oath of Reply for this post lasts until August 28, 2021. Writing notes: I wrote this post in about 1 hour and 30 minutes; however, I wrote 2.5 drafts, sought feedback from friends, and reflected considerably for about a week before outputting this post just now.

Crossposted from LessWrong, please comment there.