Discovering Her Voice: A Transgender Woman Finds Empowerment in the New York City Subway

by Sophia Chen
transgender empowerment

The resonant voice echoes through the labyrinthine tunnels and across the bustling tracks of New York City’s subway system, instantly recognizable to the millions of commuters. For over a decade, Bernie Wagenblast has lent her voice to the automated announcements that guide passengers, urging them to “please stand away from the platform edge” and keeping them informed of train arrivals.

But earlier this year, Wagenblast, now 66, took to the airwaves to unveil a different voice—one that reflects her journey from the man she once presented as to the transgender woman she has always been. Her new voice, higher in pitch and softer in tone, embodies the authenticity she seeks in her transition.

Throughout her career, Wagenblast’s low, authoritative voice served as her livelihood, offering stability and success. However, she understands that true fulfillment lies in embracing a voice that aligns with her identity as a woman. “Because my voice has played such a critical role in my life, it’s essential to me that it resonates as authentically female as possible,” she shared from her home in Cranford, New Jersey, situated about 20 miles southwest of Manhattan.

By sharing her story, Wagenblast aspires to utilize her newfound voice—both literally and figuratively—to inspire and empower others who grapple with gender dysphoria. Her journey comes at a challenging time for LGBTQ+ communities, as regressive legislation restricts their rights across the nation. In 20 states, lawmakers have attempted to ban gender-affirming care, exclude transgender students from sports teams, impose bathroom restrictions, and even curtail drag performances.

“I believe that by simply existing and sharing my story, I contribute to fostering understanding,” Wagenblast expressed with conviction.

From a young age, Wagenblast recognized her true identity as a girl. However, societal norms at the time compelled her to keep this secret, concealing her authentic self as she grew older.

Embracing the voice she possessed, she pursued a career in radio, contributing to various stations in New York as an on-air traffic reporter.

Over a dozen years ago, Wagenblast secured a coveted role that would grant her an audience of millions. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, responsible for operating the country’s busiest public transit system, employed several announcers. Wagenblast’s voice became synonymous with the majority of numbered train lines, while another announcer, Charlie Pellett, delivered the frequently heard message, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”

Though semi-retired now, Wagenblast continues to produce transportation-themed podcasts and newsletters.

While Wagenblast diligently retrains her voice to acquire a more feminine quality, she does not intend to abandon her former voice entirely. She possesses the ability to switch between vocal registers, as she recognizes the professional value it still holds.

“I’m grateful that millions of people are familiar with it,” she acknowledged. “Nearly everyone who resides in New York has encountered my voice at some point, and that thought simply astonishes me—more than 8 million people know my voice.”

Wagenblast’s transition will not affect the subway announcements that have made her voice iconic. There are no plans to re-record her work for the MTA or the Port Authority of New York, which employs her voice for announcements on the AirTrain serving Newark airport.

Mindful of the ongoing struggles and emotional turmoil endured by transgender individuals who remain hesitant to publicly embrace their true selves, Wagenblast hopes to provide solace and support. Over the years, she has come out to her family, including the woman she married.

“Before proposing, I shared this aspect of my life with my future wife because I knew it would never change,” Wagenblast revealed. “I wanted her to know before asking her to marry me.”

Together, they raised three daughters, but they separated just before Wagenblast commenced her social transition and began presenting as a woman.

Last fall, Wagenblast decided to attend a community event as her authentic self, marking her first public appearance as a woman. That evening, she adorned herself with a wig, borrowed a dress, and had a friend help with her makeup.

“In the past year, Bernie has grappled with concerns about acceptance—whether people would embrace her true identity, her desired appearance, and the sound of her voice,” said Nicole Brownstein, who led a support group at a New Jersey pride center and befriended Wagenblast several years ago.

Brownstein acknowledged that coming out is a double-edged sword, providing visibility to transgender communities while also exposing them to potential scrutiny and discrimination.

As Pride Month is celebrated across the nation, transgender rights take center stage in parades and other festivities as a display of solidarity. Organizers of New York City’s annual Pride Parade, the country’s largest commemoration of the 1969 riots that sparked the gay rights movement, highlight the distressing prevalence of targeted acts against trans individuals, stating, “These acts disproportionately affect our trans siblings, and they are both disheartening and far from new.”

At Grand Central Terminal, while waiting for a train, passenger Billy Navarrete emphasized that the gender identity of the voice she hears is inconsequential. “I believe it’s inconsequential because now they can be their true selves. So, I’m genuinely happy for them,” she affirmed, swiftly correcting the pronoun to “her.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about transgender empowerment

Q: How long has Bernie Wagenblast been lending her voice to New York City’s subways?

A: Bernie Wagenblast has been lending her voice to the automated announcements in New York City’s subways for more than a decade.

Q: Why did Bernie Wagenblast decide to publicly reveal her new voice?

A: Bernie Wagenblast decided to publicly reveal her new voice to reflect her transition from the man she was to the transgender woman she was always meant to be.

Q: What is Bernie Wagenblast’s goal in sharing her story?

A: Bernie Wagenblast aspires to use her new voice, both literally and figuratively, to inspire and empower others struggling with gender dysphoria, especially during challenging times for LGBTQ+ communities facing restrictive legislation.

Q: Has Bernie Wagenblast faced any challenges or fears in her journey?

A: Yes, Bernie Wagenblast has experienced concerns about acceptance and fears of becoming a target by coming out publicly as a transgender woman.

Q: How did Bernie Wagenblast’s family and wife react to her gender identity?

A: Bernie Wagenblast shared her gender identity with her family, including her wife, before proposing to ensure they were aware and accepting of this aspect of her life.

Q: Will Bernie Wagenblast continue using her former voice professionally?

A: Yes, Bernie Wagenblast plans to keep her former voice as she can switch between vocal registers and still utilize it professionally.

Q: Will Bernie Wagenblast’s transition affect the iconic subway announcements she has voiced?

A: No, there are no plans to rerecord the subway announcements voiced by Bernie Wagenblast, as her transition will not impact the existing recordings.

Q: What impact does Bernie Wagenblast hope to make by sharing her story?

A: Bernie Wagenblast aims to increase understanding and provide inspiration and support for others struggling with gender dysphoria by sharing her own experiences and journey as a transgender woman.

Q: How does Bernie Wagenblast feel about the recognition her voice has gained?

A: Bernie Wagenblast feels grateful that millions of people are familiar with her voice and finds it astonishing that more than 8 million people in New York have heard it.

Q: What challenges does Bernie Wagenblast acknowledge that transgender individuals face?

A: Bernie Wagenblast acknowledges the strife and mental anguish experienced by transgender individuals who may still be hesitant to embrace their true selves publicly due to potential discrimination and scrutiny.

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TransRightsAdvocate June 27, 2023 - 3:20 pm

wow, Bernie’s courage in sharing her story and using her new voice to fight for LGBTQ+ rights is truly inspiring. i hope more people can understand and accept transgender individuals. #TransRightsMatter

TrainLover99 June 27, 2023 - 11:12 pm

It’s incredible how Bernie’s voice has reached millions of people. She’s become a familiar part of New York City’s identity. I’m glad she’s embracing her true self and inspiring others along the way.


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