Do I sound gay?

Published: October 31, 2014

Original Article:

What exactly are we identifying when we say that a voice ‘sounds gay’? Is it a dialect? A persona? Is it physiological? Is it only gay men who have it? As Tiger Webb writes, New Yorker David Thorpe is trying to answer these questions and challenge the stereotype.

At the beginning of his Kickstarter video, David Thorpe opens the blinds of his living room to let the light in.

He doesn’t have a shirt on—he’s a slight man, and pale. Handsome, in a roundabout sort of way. His head is shaved, and a tuft of brown beard pools at his chin as though willed there by gravity.

‘There is a joyousness and a celebratory side to sounding gay that is a big part of popular culture.’

David Thorpe, filmmaker
‘It’s going to be a beautiful day,’ he says to the camera as it takes in his morning routine. He smiles self-effacingly.

In a way, it’s not overly important to know what Thorpe looks like. Far more important is to know what he sounds like. It’s his voice that has led to a living room camera crew, to  nearly 200 interviews with speech pathologists, historians and actors over the last three years.

Thorpe, you see, sounds gay. He has what many would term a ‘gay voice’. But it’s not a term he agrees with.

‘It is such a stereotype,’ David says. ‘I would love for people to start thinking of it as “sounding gay”. It’s not about whether you are gay or are straight but it’s how you sound.’

The idea of a sexual orientation-defined register of speech that ‘sounds gay’ is familiar to most people in western culture. It’s everywhere from Mardi Gras to Modern Family, an integral part of any functioning gaydar. Ask a person on the street to list the characteristics that a ‘gay voice’ might have and you usually end up with something like this: it’s high pitched; precisely articulated. It might even have to find novel ways to dart around sibilants (s or sh sounds) lest it reveal to the world its lisp.

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