I didn't think of watching David Thorpe's 2014 documentary, Do I Sound Gay?, when it first made the rounds of internet water coolers, and I must admit the reluctance must have come from a certain unease. The film famously explored the "existence and accuracy of stereotypes about the speech patterns of gay men, and the ways in which one's degree of conformity to the stereotype can contribute to internalised homophobia," but the whole premise felt like one of those ultimate "tests" friends do among themselves to find out whether someone's gay or not: ask them to look at their fingers or ask them to look at the soles of their, and the manner by which they do so becomes the absolute determiner of their gayness or straightness. Looking at one's fingers all stretched out with palm turned down, or looking at one's sole with the knee bent backward? Boom! Gay! Looking at one's finger's palm turned up with all fingers curved to a semi-fist, or looking at one's sole knee bent frontwards? Boom! Straight! It felt silly, and to me it harkened back to a dark time when doctors would measure skulls and what-not in their endless quest to find an anatomical clue to homosexuality. Voice invariably is part of human anatomy: its depth and sound is determined by the very shape of our nasal and oral passages, the folds the tongue makes. I had always figured -- in the incredulity of political correctness -- that voice has no determination in one's gayness. It just cannot.
Or was I wrong?
I have many gay friends, and many of them do sound a certain way: nasal and high-pitched and, dare I say it, effeminate. And yet I don't sound this way, at all, nor do many of my other gay friends. What gives?
Thorpe's documentary turns out to be thoughtful -- although he does demonstrate fro the get-go that his investigation into the gay-sounding voice came from a moment of sheer revulsion being trapped in a train filled with other gay men, and their nasality and intonation got to him, and finally made him burst into asking: "Why do we sound this way?" It is to his credit that he does find the answer to the question -- by way of speech therapy, an investigation of personal history, a thorough consideration of popular culture that involves the cultural stereotype of the "pansy," plus an eye-popping realisation about the well-inunciated villains of Disney movies -- and finds a way to reconcile with his "voice."