"Do I Sound Gay?" A New Documentary On Gay Stereotyping
We find out the answer to the title's big question immediately. Yes, writer-director David Thorpe does indeed sound gay. He's got the stereotypically gay manner of speaking — with clear, elongated vowels, lingering s's, strong l's, and very distinct p's, t's, and k's. The so-called "gay voice" exists — it's not just a figment of some bigot's imagination — but no, not every gay person has it (far from it, in fact).
But the documentary, released on July 10, isn't really about whether it exists or whether he sounds gay. Instead, it asks, Why do I sound gay? And is there anything wrong with that?
Shortly after a breakup, Thorpe begins thinking about the way he speaks, the way other gay men speak, and why it bothers him so much.
While the film is primarily about his own journey, it's also a surface-level exploration of the gay voice — offering a few possible theories as to where this "accent" originated and why certain people adopt it. Some ideas: it could be a result of spending more time with your mother than your father, imitating other gay men, or trying to sound sophisticated (like Liberace or Scar from Lion King ... mind = blown, I know).
Here's the trailer:
So, he enlists the help of voice coaches and speech pathologists to help him "sound straight." They give him exercises to practice at home to reduce the nasality, upspeak (when statements sound like questions), and sing-song pattern of his speech. They say the masculine voice, which comes more from the depths of the gut, is more authoritative and therefore demands people's attention and obedience.
Ultimately, however, it's the people he interviews — his friends and gay public figures like Dan Savage, Tim Gunn, David Sedaris, Don Lemon, and George Takei — that help him get what he wants, and that's not a new voice. It's acceptance of his voice.
Can we blame him for trying to get rid of his gay voice? No. As Savage explains, those who sound gay are persecuted their whole lives for the way they talk and walk. Some gay men even hate other gay men for sounding this way, because they want to prove that being gay doesn't mean you're not a man. It's no wonder they guard their actions, because they attract violence. It's about survival.
Thorpe's epiphany (and one of the film's most poignant moments) comes when he interviews his cousin, who tells him that he started sounding gay his freshman year of college, when he came out. Subconsciously, he exaggerated the stereotypical voice in order to show off his true identity.
His choreographer friend Miguel has the most insightful thing to say out of anyone: "You've come out, gone to therapy ... and you're still changing the way you are ... to satisfy some invisible value that's so stupid."
The conclusion is to take the shame out of the "gay voice," and put pride in its place. Working with the speech therapists, Thorpe ultimately strengthens his voice, but it's still, undoubtedly, gay.
As the always-eloquent Dan Savage says, "What's wrong with sounding like who you are?"
Photo courtesy of ThinkThorpe