Kendra Goodson plays a game at her job while on the phone, keeping a tally of whether someone she is speaking with refers to her either as “miss” or misgenders her. But lately, more and more people have correctly identified her as a woman, she said.

Goodson, a University of Maryland Facilities Management employee, is a transgender woman who has been retraining her voice to more closely align with her gender identity. She came out to her friends and family in 2015 and became the first transgender Facilities Management employee when she came out at work in May 2016.

After fully coming out, Goodson said she sought out the resources the University of Maryland provides for its transgender population. While looking for information about how to change her name, she stumbled upon transgender voice training offered by the Hearing and Speech Clinic, a service which aims to help members of the transgender community find a voice they are happy with.

[Read more: Meet UMD’s first transgender Facilities Management employee]

“Sometimes this is someone’s first step,” said Kristin Slawson, a HESP clinical assistant professor. “One of the first things they want to do is figure out their voice so that it matches when they do want to present their desired gender. … [And] sometimes the voice … is the piece that helped [them] really feel like it all came together.”

The clinic begins by putting together a communication profile for its clients, Slawson said. This is a test that shows them where they “fall on the spectrum” between a more traditionally male-sounding voice and a more traditionally female-sounding voice, Goodson said.

For example, a masculine voice typically measures around 120 hertz, whereas a feminine voice falls around 220 hertz, according to Christie Block, a speech-language pathologist from the New York Speech and Voice Lab. A gender-ambiguous voice falls somewhere between 155 hertz and 187 hertz.

Most people who seek out the program are transgender women, because they have the biggest “physical deviation” from the voice they are going for, Slawson said. Transgender women’s vocal cords tend to be longer and thicker and must be overcome with training, whereas transgender men’s voices tend to lower when they take testosterone.

While many clients come in focused just on pitch, there are many other subtle differences between how men and women communicate, such as word choice, body language, inflection and intonation, Slawson said.

When women speak they use more variation in their pitch, hitting more highs and more lows, while men tend to keep a relatively flat pitch, but stress with emphasis and prolongation. For example, it would be more typical for a man to say, “That was soooo awesome,” Slawson said.

Women also tend to have a more colorful language, selecting words like “fabulous” and “fantastic” more often, Slawson said.

Body language can also be a crucial indicator of someone’s gender. So the clinic may, for example, work on walking with a client.

“Women tend to walk from the knees, bending at the knees, keeping their knees relatively together,” Slawson said. “Men tend to have a wider stride and let their knees come apart a little bit — things you don’t even think about.”

Not everyone seeking help from the clinic wants to work on body language or is focused on sounding stereotypically feminine or masculine, Slawson added. The clinic tailors the sessions to each of its clients’ individual goals.

Clients typically come in for two 50-minute sessions each week. These sessions aren’t enough to make the desired change in voice, so clients must be willing to constantly work outside of the sessions, Slawson said.

“Folks have to go out and practice,” Slawson said. “It may not be at work where they haven’t begun to transition yet — that’s ok — but they’ve got to have people … that they can practice their new voice with; somebody that they feel comfortable experimenting with, that they can try a voice and get a little feedback.

“That’s a really important piece in the generalization process.”

The program isn’t only about teaching clients different vocal techniques, but also “counseling and having the person become comfortable using the voice in different settings,” said Emily McCullough, a master’s speech-language pathology student.

[UMD is ranked as a top LGBT-friendly campus, but some transgender students don’t agree]

McCullough will assign clients to “do things that challenge their comfort level,” she said. For example, she might start with a low level situation like asking a client to call her twice a week and leave a message. The next week she might ask them to do something a little more scary, she said, such as calling the pharmacy or doctor. Eventually she wants her clients to be comfortable with high-anxiety situations, like giving a speech in class.

One of Goodson’s favorite assignments was to find a celebrity whose voice she wanted to emulate. Goodson selected Scarlett Johansson because of the movie star’s lower voice, she said.

The clinic also encourages clients to constantly record their voices and listen for things they like and don’t like, Slawson said.

Goodson began recording and tracking her voice with YouTube videos shortly after she came out. She said she’s been able to hear the gradual improvement in her voice and has surprised herself because she can no longer comfortably return to her former voice.

“I tried and tried and I couldn’t get [to my old voice],” Goodson said. “Once you get to a point, it just stays there. It’s a natural thing.”

Slawson said she averages about two transgender clients per semester. An initial evaluation costs $190 and each session is $50 for sessions in the daytime and $55 per session for sessions in the evening. There is a “sliding scale” on the price for students who may not be able to afford it, and University of Maryland students receive a 50 percent discount.

“It’s really needed, especially with trans women that have a very deep voice,” Goodson said. “Sometimes they give up. They don’t have to give up. They can do it. … It’s changed my life for the better.”