Comedian David Thorpe had suffered a breakup, and after trying to dive back into the gay social scene he was struck with the realization that, to his ear, all young gay men sound like the same flock of “nattering ninnies”. He reflected that he doesn’t want to be with a person that sounds like that, so why would anyone choose him as a partner when his voice sounds arguably the same. He decided to start with linguistics, identifying exactly what constitutes the Gay Voice and go from there, but what started as a journey of self-discovery grew into a look at our cultural history and the way in which gay men have been portrayed in the media for decades.
Approaching people on the street, Thorpe started with a simple question: “Do I sound gay?” The answers were broad, but ultimately the balance fell to Yes. It was agreed that he has the nasal tone, the lispy Ss, the elongation of vowels, and the lift at the end of sentences that make all statements sound like questions? But why is that the Gay Voice, where did it come from, and is it learned or innate? Thorpe’s friends and family are able to identify a time when his voice changed, shortly after he came out, but he can’t remember ever having sounded different. He undergoes weeks of speech therapy to try to lose his gay accent, but while he does eventually come to sound more confident, ultimately his voice is his own. He is at that point able to admit that he’d felt a level of self-loathing toward his own voice that caused him to feel disconnected from it. Trying to change his voice instead taught him to become comfortable with it, and with himself.
As he is a first-time filmmaker there were some rough edges to Thorpe’s work. For example the film relies on the assumption that the audience is familiar with the concept of code-switching, but left out a definition for any of those that aren’t. But it is clearly a story felt close to home by many and the content shines through. In presentation I was almost at times reminded of live theatre, and feel that the show would make an amazing serial akin to the Vagina Monologues. I would also love to see Do I Sound Gay? used as a tool alongside the It Gets Better campaign, to remind gay men that there is nothing wrong with their voice, it is a part of them as much as any other attribute.
Thorpe was joined for a Maverick’s presentation after the film by advice columnist Dan Savage. Savage (creator of It Gets Better), has long been of the opinion that when people come out and “suddenly” have a gay voice, it’s really their true voice shining through. That the “normal” (aka straight) voice was the false identify, a method of camouflage and self-preservation.This is easily understood, when you hear testimonials from gay youth bullied and abused for being easily identified as gay by their voice. As Savage reminded us, over 40% of homeless youth are queer, ostracized by their families, and refused by conservative foster homes. With such a dismal future ahead, why wouldn’t a person want to find a way to blend in?
As well, Savage reminded us that the derision expressed over the Gay Voice is a way of saying “I can live with gay people as long as I don’t have to see or hear them”. He offered a heartfelt plea to the younger generation to keep coming out, to stay vocal and active, and to never assume that the freedoms that were so hard won are permanent. He pointed out the new trend of abuse experienced by the childless gay elderly, forced into nursing homes rife with abuse. They are essentially forced back into the closet and it is a terrible way to pay back the Stonewall generation. It was a stark reminder that there is still a long way to go, and it starts with being proud of your own voice and speaking up.
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