Kevin Dorman, 30, Speech Therapist
Kevin Dorman grew up goofing around with family, imitating celebrities and cartoon characters.
“It was just fun but ultimately led to quite a bit of vocal flexibility and directly fed into my current field,” says Kevin, whose pronouns are they/them.
Kevin is using those skills to help transgender clients find their own authentic voice. They founded Prismatic Speech Services, a Greensboro-based speech therapy provider that is now serving clients in the southeast, New York and New Jersey. They fill a critical niche for culturally competent speech therapy for transgender people – who are all too often neglected by providers.
Kevin grew up in Chapel Hill with a love of singing and musical theater. They developed a passion for acting. As a teen, Kevin did amateur voice acting for cartoons through various online artist communities.
“I wanted to be a voice actor full-time when I was younger,” they said.
They enrolled in UNC Greensboro’s acting program, but soon decided the professional acting world wasn’t their path. Kevin’s high school drama teacher recommended they explore speech language pathology.
After one intro course, Kevin was hooked.
“It’s a really interesting blend of science and art. It takes an awareness of the person on the other side of the table and what techniques will help them make progress,” Kevin says. “It’s a little like being a detective. You get to bring someone in and find out what their motivation is. There is nothing more satisfying then helping someone overcome a struggle.”
They found it appealing that speech therapists were needed in a broad range of environments – from schools to skilled nursing facilities.
In their junior year, while studying how to identify and detect voice disorders, Kevin first learned about transgender vocal training. The practice is a nonsurgical way transgender people can learn to modify their voices to be more feminine, masculine or neutral. Having a voice that matches your gender can help reduce gender dysphoria, or feelings of distress and discomfort people may feel if their gender identity is different than their sex assigned at birth.
The specialty appealed to Kevin, who just started to question their identity. Kevin is non-binary, meaning that their gender is neither male nor female.
After getting their Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) with a Minor in American Sign Language, Kevin then went on to study for their Master’s in CSD from Western Carolina University.
The program was difficult. Kevin felt isolated and sometimes unsafe as a newly queer person. Their clinical fellowships put them in unwelcoming and scary situations. It made them question whether speech pathology was the right career.
A mentor – Dr. Leah Helou, an assistant professor with the University of Pittsburgh – helped. She offered advice and support. “She is a very lovely, welcoming person who made me feel at home at a time I was feeling very isolated,” Kevin says. “She gave me the encouragement to continue moving forward.”
Kevin earned their Certificate for Clinical Competence in Speech Language Pathology credentials, and with support from Helou, Kevin launched their business in November 2016.
From the beginning, Kevin knew they wanted to focus on transgender clients – an area where they knew they could bring a special level of cultural awareness. They got licensed to practice in four states – Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia – with the idea of providing telehealth care to people who did not have to access transgender vocal training in their community.
Kevin knew from observing UNCG’s transgender vocal training program that clients sometimes had to travel up to two-hours one way for services. As a digital native who grew up communicating online, Kevin says it just seemed logical to offer the service online to reach the largest number of clients and fill a critical gap in services for transgender people.
With their business model developed, Kevin hustled to find clients by reaching out to medical professionals, social workers, and other professionals who served transgender people.
Their business grew slowly – and then really exploded as the pandemic ramped up. Kevin attributes it to people being stuck on video calls hearing themselves talk.
Most of their clients are transgender woman. Their youngest client was 13 and the oldest was 78. Some have just come out as transgender and others are seeking help as the very last part of their transition process. Their clients are “all sorts of different people with different relationships with their voices.”
“My job is to be responsive and flexible and to have a wide variety of skills and different ways you can approach the work,” Kevin says. “At the end of the day we are training the muscles. We are rewriting habits….A lot of people’s voices are more flexible than they give them credit for.”
One way Kevin helps his clients is by not being overly proscriptive about how a voice should sound or sticking too strictly to prescriptive social norms. Kevin aims for clients to complete their work – usually in 10-12 session – by finding a voice they think represents them well.
“There is not just one way to sound feminine,” Kevin says. It varies a lot from person to person, Kevin says, pointing out that vocal training is critical to some people’s transition and others like their voice the way it is.
“At its heart the most important thing about this work is aligning someone’s voice with their sense of self,” Kevin says. “Ultimately this is work that a client should lead. I am just here to give them the mechanical skills and awareness to take it where they want to go.”
Kevin’s already expanded the business to add another clinician who is licensed to work in New York and New Jersey.
They also helped create the Trans Voice Initiative, a nonprofit aimed at getting more transgender and non-binary people to go into the field.
“Things have improved but there are still very few transgender voiced in this area of speech pathology,” Kevin says.