Is there a ‘gay voice’?

Filmmaker David Thorpe's documentary, “Do I Sound Gay?" explores the gay voice. The subject sounds slight, but Thorpe digs surprisingly deep, asking questions about stereotypes and self-loathing that are seldom asked. Putting himself on camera, Thorpe visits a speech therapist who points out his “upspeak,” his “nasality,” and his “singsong pattern.” He talks to a linguistics professor, a film historian, and a Hollywood voice coach who trains actors to sound straighter. He interviews gay public figures, who have had to listen to themselves for a living. He even asks people on the street if they think he sounds gay. “I woulda just maybe lumped you in with the artsy-fartsy,” one woman tells him.

The subject turns out to be a minefield, because what’s more connected to personality than the way we speak? Gay adolescents, Thorpe points out, often learn that the “tell” of their sexuality is their voices, even more so than physicality—a limp wrist is easier to straighten out than an inflection. The world’s homophobia becomes internalized homophobia. 

Any marginalized group faces its own version of this dilemma, whether it’s immigrants straining to erase their accents, the debate over Ebonics, or women of the “Lean In” age redefining what it means to be assertive without imitating men. As gays and lesbians gain cultural capital, helped along by equality victories like the one just handed down by the Supreme Court, “gay voice” will surely evolve, too. For more and more people, there will be less need to hide it, at school, at work, or on television. On the other hand, it could assimilate into oblivion.  Read More