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As our society moves towards being more inclusive across a wide spectrum of genders, factors to reinforce their identity towards our society are more accessible than ever. Such is the case for members of the LGBTQ+ community who have undergone procedures to be properly identified as such.
One of those procedures is the vocal feminization surgery, where patients undergo surgery to decrease the size of the voice box and the length of the vocal cords, resulting in a more feminine voice. Such operation highlights the significance of someone's voice as part of their gender expression and their genuine self.
When NewsDrop first heard about the story of Minty Yukime and her year-long journey on her vocal feminization surgery (VFS), we thought of this as an inspiring story to be told, especially to the wider LGBTQ+ members of the VTubing community, who also aim at undergoing said surgery in due time.
With that being said, NewsDrop sat down with Yukime and learn more from her VFS journey, what it really means for her, and how she thinks her VFS journey could inspire other VTubers to do the same over time.
The Year-Long Journey
Can you tell us your year-long journey related to your voice feminization surgery (VFS)?
Well, I've been transitioning as a woman medically for roughly 3 years, and I heard about vocal surgery being an option about two years ago.
At the time though, with the information I could find online it seemed that to get vocal surgery I would likely have to travel far and spend a lot more money than I had, easily 10-20 thousand dollars depending on the type of procedure I went with.
I had more or less given up on it as just another impossible surgery as many trans individuals find themselves having to do, until I got the chance to go to a new pride clinic that opened up near me.
For reference, Pride clinics, sometimes called LGBTQ+ Clinics are medical facilities that specialize in LGBTQ+ patient's needs, which is particularly useful to trans individuals as navigating HRT and other things on your own or through untrained doctors can be quite a challenge.
I had made an appointment with a pride clinic about 2 hours away from me, but they were so booked up it was over a year out.
Thankfully I was lucky enough to have a pride clinic open near me last year, and their scheduling has been a lot more reasonable so I could get an appointment with only about 2 weeks wait.
When I got to my new PCP (Primary Care Practitioner) there they asked me about my transition goals and I off-handedly mentioned that there were some surgeries I assumed I wouldn't be able to get ever such as vocal surgery, and that was when my doctor told me that actually there were some options that were relatively local.
I assumed that it would still be too expensive, but I figured I might as well look into it just to see, right? That takes us to June of 2021 when I got to go for a consultation with my surgeon, Dr. Mark based in Cleveland, Ohio.
He stuck a camera through my nose and took some pictures of my vocal chords, explained to me how the surgery would change them, and told me the price for the surgery would be either 3500 Dollars, or 5000 if I needed to include a tracheal shave as part of the operation, which is a procedure to reduce an Adam's apple.
As you might imagine, compared to the 10-20k I had been expecting this was shocking, and exciting. So, I dipped into my savings which thankfully was just enough to get me the base price for the surgery and got myself a date scheduled just 3 months out, on September 16th 2021.
I held a subathon to raise some money to help keep me on my feet while I was out of work in recovery and raised enough to keep me afloat thanks to generous donations from some truly wonderful people.
As we got to the surgery date, I went in with my partner who was driving me to and from and served as my primary caretaker for recovery. I had been informed that there would be a three week period where I wouldn't be able or allowed to talk at all so my vocal chords could recover, and I never realized just how important talking was to me until those 3 weeks happened!
It was much more frustrating than I expected to be stuck unable to speak, even after I was mostly physically feeling fine in the second week of my recovery, it wasn't until that third week that I was allowed to try and speak again.
At first my voice was very, very weak - you can actually hear it in the video I made, the section where I was raspy and struggling to speak was just briefly after that three-week period!
The next two months or so was me re-learning how to use my new voice and get it comfortable again, and by the third month I was told I would be fully recovered.
Generally, this seemed true, as three months in I was mostly able to speak and project my voice without it being a strain or being tiring at all. My voice had noticeably changed but I still lacked a lot of control over it at that point.
It was higher pitched, and I didn't have to focus on altering my voice to maintain a consistent pitch I would be happy with, but if I wanted to sing or do anything much more than just speaking normally it would be hard to hit ranges I wanted to, and control my voice especially between my head and chest voice.
My friend Blizzard and I had been talking about doing a song cover together for a long time, almost since October of 2020 when I started as a VTuber, and after my recovery she asked me if we could do that song cover together so I gave it my best try and the result was this cover of Snow Halation:
I was pretty happy with this! I felt really proud of myself for using my new voice and sounding how I wanted to, but I still had room to grow, and honestly still do. I would say after a full year of working on it though, I am at a place where I'm finally happy with my voice and feel like I can sing and modulate my voice however I want really! I still want to work on speaking more eloquently and generally better, but the surgery at this point a year later, in my opinion, was a total success.
Following the success of your VFS, what reception have you received from fellow VTubers as well as other fans?
The reception has been fantastic! Even when my voice was weaker, I had more people come out to support me than ever before, it really felt amazing, and I've had SO many people tell me that they never knew this surgery existed.
I've had a lot of trans vtubers specifically ask me for details about my surgery and I've gotten the wonderful experience of delivering the good news to many of them that it isn't always as expensive as the prices you would find online.
Just about every stream now someone compliments my voice, and one of the main things new and old VTuber friends will comment on about me is my voice and how they can't believe that I've "gotten even cuter" to use their words!
I've also experienced a VERY dramatic decrease in transphobic comments and random people in my streams and comments trying to make fun of me or bully me for "sounding like a man" or anything of the sort.
It's to the point that I even have some fans who will be surprised when they see the trans flag in my bio. I try to be pretty vocal about it, and I'm always pleasantly surprised by just how many people I've been able to help along in their individual trans journeys as well.
Your VFS serves as an inspiration to the larger LGBTQ+ VTuber community. As to what extent can you raise more awareness related to this transition?
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure! I went ahead and made my video about it, and I try to talk about it sometimes when it comes up on stream, and I try to explain information to people in comments and replies and such, but I only have so much reach as a somewhat "medium popularity" content creator.
I think if I have the chance to raise money for trans charities in the future, I would love to do that in general but especially I'd love it if I could find an organization that pays for things such as vocal surgeries for trans individuals.
Despite the price being something I could afford, it's not covered by insurance for just about anyone as it's unfortunately marked as a "cosmetic" or "superficial" surgery.
I think I would like to really push the message about how much this surgery has improved my quality of life and brought happiness and ease to my mind, and maybe doing some fundraisers would be a good way to do that, but otherwise I'm honestly open to suggestions!
I would really love to help spread awareness so that other trans individuals can know that there is an option other than just "practice more" and "work harder" since for some people it can feel crushing to feel that no matter the amount of vocal coaching, it might never be comfortable to sound the way you want.
Voice is a HUGE element of gender perception, and this has made a massive difference for me, so I'd hope it could do the same for others too!
Despite the community being largely progressive, there are still fans who still doubt other's gender identity (i.e., being homophobic). As a VTuber, how can you raise more awareness to the LGBTQ+ VTuber community?
Unfortunately, yes, even as I've received less problems from transphobia and homophobic individuals now that I've had my surgery, I do still get it in my chat and comments sometimes.
I'm lucky to be in a circle of VTubers who have all been very welcoming of me, largely because the majority of them are some type of LGBTQ+ themselves too!
While I would like to do more to help raise awareness and spread acceptance this is another area that I'm not super sure of myself in.
I try to be open to talking about things, keep the trans flag in my bio, use the LGBTQ+ and Transgender tags on twitch when I stream, and will gladly try to talk people through their own self discovery journeys when I get the chance.
There might be more I can do, but that's what I'm currently up to and I do know that many people have told me I've helped them figure out who they are and get to be who they truly want to be, and for having the opportunity to help others in that I couldn't be more grateful!
I think being a good source of representation is very important to the community as a whole. In fact, when I set out to stream and be a content creator, I asked myself the question a few years ago of "Why can't I find that many trans creators?" Since then, I've met many, and I've also become what I wanted to see in the world in the form of a trans creator!
I would still like to do more though, and I will be keeping a lookout for opportunities to partner with charities and game devs and such whenever possible, and to make content that helps spread awareness more!
Important Advice Before Taking VFS
What encouragement and/or advice can you give to those VTubers who wish to undergo VFS as well?
The single best thing I can say is to try and find the nearest LGBTQ+ friendly clinic near you, or Pride clinic. Get to a PCP and talk to them about it, even if they aren't familiar themselves, they might be able to point you in the right direction!
It's not always the case but I have found that many medical professionals are generally accepting and genuinely want to help. It's scary but you've gotta take that first step and schedule an appointment with someone, make that first phone call, and ask for help. You might be surprised to find that there are more options than you expected close by!
Another important thing is just to not give up! Navigating medical systems can be FRUSTRATING. Appointments backed up a year, re-scheduling, doctor's having emergencies they have to reschedule for, going to an appointment just to find out there's going to be a lot longer of a wait for your surgery or you might have to travel, there are SO many things that can go wrong, and so many times during my journey through transitioning I've been knocked down and have nearly given up entirely. Count on your friends during these times, and no matter what get yourself back up!
Just think about it this way: if you push through and succeed, you can be a success story and maybe help encourage some other individuals too, right?
Plus despite it being a hard journey, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! At some point the surgeries and appointments and everything will be done, you'll have the money or insurance you need, and you'll walk out on the other side so much happier than you were accepting sadness.
There's a really great quote by Van Gogh that I'd like to share here since it seems appropriate too:
"Many people seem to think it foolish, even superstitious, to believe that the world could still change for the better.
And it is true that in winter it is sometimes so bitingly cold that one is tempted to say, ‘What do I care if there is a summer; its warmth is no help to me now.’
Yes, evil often seems to surpass good. But then, in spite of us, and without our permission, there comes at last an end to the bitter frosts.
One morning the wind turns, and there is a thaw. And so I must still have hope."
In the Eyes of the Beholder
How significant is the VFS to you in terms of your gender identity?
I'd have to say it's been even better than I could have ever expected! On the phone, I get gendered correctly, the amount of random transphobic comments I get passively in life and in content creation has decreased, and I generally feel more comfortable with myself as a person.
I've felt confident enough to sing in a cover and occasionally on stream which is something I've always wanted to do but been too self-conscious to try for before.
It's not perfect, I still sometimes find myself hearing those really feminine voices, the super pretty ones and feel self-conscious or sad that I'll never sound like that. I think that's something that's part of the human experience though, isn't it?
Learning to accept ourselves and not always strive to be "as good as others" but instead to be happy with who we are. It's something that was MUCH harder before this surgery for me, and it's not completely been resolved, but the amount I struggle with it is so much less, and as a result the amount of gender dysphoria I face on a day to day basis is significantly less as well!
We thank Minty Yukime for the wonderful interview opportunity! If you know a VTuber who has a unique or inspiring story to tell, feel free to reach us out at [email protected] and we are more than happy to check them out!