Entertainment » Movies

Do I Sound Gay?

by Karin McKie
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 30, 2015
Do I Sound Gay?

Journalist David Thorpe asks and films the possibly self-loathing question "Do I Sound Gay?" in this humorous, bittersweet, and thought-provoking Kickstarter-funded documentary.

After a break-up, the 40-something, Brooklyn-based writer, who feels "out of synch with his voice" just as New York legalizes gay marriage, seeks feedback from friends, and exercises from voice coaches to see why he and so many homosexuals speak with melodic (some term metrosexual) patterns.

"The gay lisp" often indicates intellectualism and creativity, yet this stereotypical voice offers an "s," often elongated, in the front of the mouth, a nasal quality that some characterize as "shrill, braying ninnies."

Speech pathologist Susan Sankin calls this nasality "code switching," adding that there's also often a tendency to loft at the end of sentences (rather than the "up then down" of "regular" speaking), as if questioning, plus a sing-song rhythm, and holding on to vowels to make them clearer.

Positives include clearer Ls, and over articulated Ps, Ts and Ks, and effeminate speech might just be the result of growing up around women at home and female teachers.

Bald, bearded Thorpe grew up in the 80s in the Bible Belt and received lisp therapy as a child, and the documentary notes that everybody in speech class was probably gay, the "Future Homosexuals of America." He came out when he was in college.

He also interviews out celebrities about their relationships with their voices. Tim Gunn says, "We enunciate."

David Sedaris says hotel clerks "assume I'm a woman when I speak on the phone. Those I meet assume I'm gay when open my mouth."

Dan Savage says "sounding gay" draws violence, especially in middle and high school, and begins a journey of survival for the "young, persecuted and closeted." But as an adult, he's still aroused by masculine voices: "a construction worker's voice is gay lingerie."

Basso profundo George Takei says "there isn't such a thing as sounding straight," but maybe it's just the way he says his signature, "Oh, my..."

Among clips from Thorpe's silent home Super-8 movies, Margaret Cho likens his experience to her Korean-American anxieties of self-hatred and "covering" since "the voice is 'the tell.'"

Historians interviewed note that earlier in the 20th century, a lilting voice indicated the demographic upper class as educated, cosmopolitan, and refined. But from 1930s films into Disney villains, this morphed into snide, supercilious and superior characters such as Captain Hook, Jafar, and "The Lion King's" Scar.

One notes that other high-pitched performers helped mainstream gays in the media, including Truman Capote, Liberace, Rip Taylor, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Paul Lynde, who had "almost 200 prime time hours in 1976, and was arguably the funniest person on TV." They paved the way for today's super gay kids with millions of followers on their YouTube channels.

Thorpe says he embarked on this project because "If you can't handle the answer, that's a question you've got to ask." A man on the street says, "I love my gay voice. I say 'hello' and it's a done deal."

"Do I Sound Gay?"

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com

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