One of the biggest stereotypes surrounding homosexual men involves their voices. Who doesn’t know the sassy, high-pitched feminine lisp that is used to both instantly recognize and incessantly parody gay men? In Do I Sound Gay?, journalist/filmmaker David Thorpe examines the “gay” voice, and makes a misguided attempt at ridding himself of it.
Do I Sound Gay? is a funny, touching, often self-deprecating look into the mind of Thorpe, where he explores his own anxiety and disappointment over sounding “gay.” He conducts interviews with his friends over dinner, strangers on the street, and even a handful of gay figurehead celebrities in order to find out why there is a stigma attached to the gay voice. One of his friends poses the question “why do we all insist on sounding like a pack of braying ninnies?” Thorpe sets out to uncover the answer.
Towards the beginning of the film, Thorpe visits a speech pathologist – the same one who has coached stars like Tony Danza, Joe McIntyre, and James Gandolfini – in an effort to learn how to “talk straight.” The therapist explains an analysis of gay speech patterns to him – the front-mouthed sibilant S sound, the ending a statement on an up pitch, the hanging on the vowels (particularly O’s), and the sing-song pattern of talking. That’s all very fascinating, but Thorpe drops a sad bombshell on this visit. Thorpe tells the doctor that he has a fear of making himself visible as a gay person, and would “love to learn how to talk straight.” The question on the viewer’s mind is “why?”
Over the course of the film, Thorpe asks anyone who will talk to him if he “sounds gay,” with mixed answers. He also polls his friends about which of them “sounds the gayest.” Many of the gay men that Thorpe interviews admit that they are uncomfortable with their voices, and they all seem to think that it’s because they sound homosexual. The flaw in this thinking is that everyone, gay or straight, hates the sound of their own voice. That’s not a gay thing, it’s a human thing. David Thorpe and his friends admit that they all have a generic self-loathing, and that their voices are a big part of it. During one conversation, one of David’s friends tells him that “I don’t think it sounds as bad as you think it does.” That statement assumes that it sounds bad in the first place. It doesn’t.
So, David Thorpe’s self-proclaimed insecurity about his voice aside, Do I Sound Gay? is as interesting as a movie about speech patterns is going to get. The celebrity interviews provide some very insightful and intriguing moments, such as when comedienne Margaret Cho tells about how her father went to great lengths to lose any trace of his Asian accent, or when actor/activist George Takei tells the origin of his “Oh, Myyyy!” catch phrase. Thorpe also takes the viewer on an entertaining trip through his childhood, where he remembers figuring out that pop-culture personalities like Charles Nelson Reilly, Liberace, and Truman Capote where gay due to their tell-tale voices. He also examines the climate of the gay actor in Hollywood, explaining that many gay roles are given to straight actors, causing many homosexual actors to stay in the closet and seek out speech therapists – much like the one that he saw – in order to help themselves sound “straight.”
Do I Sound Gay? is a very personal film for David Thorpe, and because of this, it may be a bit hard to relate to for some. It is, however, a very honest and genuine film, and that is something of which Thorpe should be very proud: even in his self-doubt, he’s very open with his audience.
In the end, Thorpe comes to the same conclusion as the audience – there’s nothing wrong with sounding gay, whatever sounding gay may mean. So, Thorpe’s journey in Do I Sound Gay? takes him full circle, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t learn anything. And as a viewer of his journey, you may, too.