Is there such a thing as a “gay voice”? For gay filmmaker David Thorpe, the answer to that question is complicated. “There is no such thing as a fundamentally gay voice,” Thorpe tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. But, he adds, “there is a stereotype and there are men, to a greater or lesser extent, who embody that stereotype.”
In his new film, Do I Sound Gay?, Thorpe searches for the origin of that stereotype and documents his own attempts to sound “less gay” by working with speech pathologist Susan Sankin.
By which he doesn’t mean “zero gay,” let alone straight; he seems to mean less like the stereotype while keeping his own style. It was an interesting discussion about where the stereotypes come from, where the voice comes from (Paul Lynde got a mention), what it all means.
Friends of mine have been talking about the fact that there was no mention of a lesbian voice, or whether there is such a stereotype. There doesn’t seem to be, offhand. I wonder why not.
Side note. I watched a few minutes of West Side Story the other evening while channel-surfing – an early scene in which the Jets talk about what they’re going to do to keep the “Porta Rickans” out of their turf, and then sing the “When You’re a Jet” song. While they were talking I suddenly realized…huh, they’re all gay. Obviously. But when I saw that movie as a kid I thought they were macho and scary. I was a rather inattentive child.
Also, there’s a transgender kid in that movie – Anybody’s. She wants to be a Jet and acts as much like one as she can, but they just chase her away (and call her Anybody’s).
A sub-theme in the Fresh Air interview was the stigma of being “effeminate” but it wasn’t discussed as much as I would have liked.
“David was the first person who came to me who was upfront right from the beginning about sounding gay and what he wanted to do,” Sankin tells Gross.
“I’ve always been self-conscious about sounding gay,” Thorpe adds. “I think that that comes from childhood — I was always aware that my voice potentially gave me away to bullies.”
Thorpe describes the gay voice as one characterized by a sibilant S and a high pitch. “When I interview people,” Thorpe says, “they always say that to them the gay voice … is a voice that’s high, that’s melodious, that’s hyper-articulate, that’s perhaps uncertain because it goes up at the end. All of those things kind of add up, essentially, to an effeminate stereotype.”
Kill the going up at the end with fire. The rest of it – sounds good to me.
Thorpe: If I have to speculate about where the so-called gay voice comes from, for me, both the most predominant answers work. One is that as you’re acquiring language you tend to imitate the people you trust and you identify with, and certainly for me that was a lot of women. I always had a lot of female friends growing up and I don’t think that’s atypical for some gay men. At the same time, I totally get that when I came out, I wanted to be recognized as gay; I wanted the world to know I was gay and I wanted to fit into this existing community, so I think my voice really did change after I came out. I think that both the language-acquisition theory and the community-learned way of speaking hold water. It’s kind of impossible to really tangle out a single reason.
Tease out, he meant.
After that segment Terry Gross talked to the speech pathologist on her own, to discuss horrible fads like up-talking and vocal fry. I hate up-talking. The speech pathologist also hates it; she pointed out that it makes women sound uncertain and incompetent, and it’s mostly women who use it. Don’t sound uncertain and incompetent.