“Do I Sound Gay?” Documentary Examines a Stigmatized Trait

I’ve been out of the closet since 1989, but I had never ever discussed my anxiety about “sounding gay” with other gay men. When I started shooting, I discovered that it was a source of deep, lifelong anxiety for one of my best friends! The most surprising thing about making Do I Sound Gay? was the discovery that, by and large, gay men have a keen awareness of how “gay” their voices sound but rarely, if ever, talk about it. I made the movie because I wanted to have that conversation and explore what that keen awareness might mean. David Thorpe, interviewed for Filmmaker Magazine

In my high school in the 1960’s—a place and time in which no one talked about homosexuality, by the way—the thing I knew on some level is that I was “different” from my female friends. Not only that, my two closest male friends were different from the other guys—and one of the interesting characteristics of both friends was the way each sounded when speaking.

Not all gay men, of course, have this “gay voice.” But in the new documentary directed by David Thorpe called Do I Sound Gay?, many notables—including, for example, Tim Gunn—address this phenomenon. And to know Gunn is to know a variation on the kind of voice I’m talking about.

Dan Savage, George Takei, and Margaret Cho are also among the celebs who agreed to be filmed regarding this subject. Also, writer David Sedaris, who opens the trailer for Do I Sound Gay?:

Britt Peterson, Boston Globeciting a specific finding of the filmmaker: “Since the late 1990s, Thorpe has been recording men whom others deem to sound gay and analyzing their voices. He has found some consistent variables among those speakers: the gay-sounding voices had long and high frequency sibilants (hissing s’s and z’s pronounced with the tongue close to the teeth — the root of the incorrect lisping stereotype), some longer vowel sounds, and a lighter ‘l’.”

Among other things we learn in Do I Sound Gay? is that some men of any sexual orientation might “sound gay” and that the origins of this could involve, in infancy and onward, unknowingly modeling their speech after their moms or other females.

Why should we care about such details? Because increased knowledge can help work against the virulent stigma operating here. “It’s not just homophobia, it’s misogyny as well, or at least discomfort with boundary-blurring realities of gender. ‘The fear of effeminacy is part of culture at large, both in the gay community and outside the gay community,’ Thorpe told [Peterson].”

But today Thorpe, who reportedly used to “butch up” his own voice—a voice that Neal Broverman, Advocate.com, says “sounds like my deceased nana in a good mood”—feels more at peace about how he comes across.

If you want to see this film, the doc’s website lists upcoming screenings. As of July 10th, it will be available on VOD and will also gradually start to reach beyond the film festivals and into theaters.

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