Determined to confront his anxiety about "sounding gay", journalist David Thorpe embarks on a hilarious and touching journey, exploring the linguistic, cultural and historical origins of the stereotype of the gay voice. Enlisting the frank and often funny perspectives of famous faces including writer David Sedaris, comedian Margaret Cho, actor George Takei and fashion guru Tim Gunn as well as family, friends, and even complete strangers, David learns that people - gay, straight and everything in between - often wish for a different voice. Drawing upon movie and television clips, acting coaches and linguists, "Do I Sound Gay?" uncovers the broader context of this widely felt insecurity and illuminates the complexities at play in a highly personal and current issue.
David Thorpe’s documentary begins with him speaking the opening credits in the familiar speech traits of a gay man. He then begins to ask people of different states and continents if his speaking voice identifies him as a homosexual. Even before we get to the answers from the common people on the street, we have already started asking the question before Thorpe does. Is he gay? He’s probably gay. Most gay men have that noticeable lisp. But why do gay men sound like this? It’s a question that Thorpe takes aim at investigating and possibly even quell what many consider a stereotype of the gay culture.
After a recent breakup, Thorpe goes on a personal journey to redefine himself. He notes how the blithering ninny nature of most gay men dialogue is more of a turn off. Who wants to date someone who is constantly gossiping, complaining and prattling on about parties and people? And yet David finds himself falling into this group of gay men. While he searches for answers in interviews with celebrities and speech specialists, Thorpe schedules some sessions with a speech therapist to see if he can actually fix his vocal mannerism. He is then given some speech homework with trying to alter his pronunciation and lisp. There isn’t much of anything fruitful fromt his experiment, but it’s still intriguing to see how Thorpe attempts to correct himself.
Thorpe also delves into the history of gay lisps throughout movies and televisions. From Paul Lynde’s toothy snark on Hollywood Squares to Zero Mostel’s effeminate bossiness in Blazing Saddles, there was plenty of gay speech present over the decades. The familiar speech patterns culminated over the years to form the stereotype of how gay men talk. It’s a style of language that has become closely associated with homosexuality that the simple drawing out of an “s” sets the sexual signal. Some gay men relish the exclusive nature of having speech pattern to call their own. But the conformity of it all does breed a resentment simply for the fact that it conforms a sexuality to one beat. How can you stand out and be an individual when every homosexual sounds the same.
The interviews include notable gay icons who weigh in with their two cents on the issue. George Takei has made a name for himself after having came out to the public and pushed his “oh my” saying into the gay lexicon. He gives a bit of a perspective about the gay spotlight on language along with the likes of LGBT writer Dan Savage, author David Sedaris and comedian Margaret Cho. Though they have some interesting things to say, they don’t really expand much on a subject that holds cultural baggage, but nothing all that deep to expand greatly upon.
As Thorpe continues digging, he lays out all the material on the table to let the audience in on the whole history and perspective of the culture sculpt around gay speech. He approaches the material with a lighthearted tone with his mixed feeling on the issue. It’s clear that there is some intimate part of his soul and personality that he is drawing from with this picture as a means of better trying to understand himself. He films himself practicing his speech exercises in front of his cats and gives himself a close-up for his more depressing days. The breakup has hit him hard and this documentary seems to be more of means of coping than a grander scope of deciphering gay culture.
While the documentary doesn’t quite hit the core of gay speech, it does dig up enough material worth examining. At 78 minutes, it’s a fairly casual presentation of thought food for a section of gay culture that everybody is familiar with, but rarely questions. If Thorpe’s film doesn’t provide any new answers, it at least reminds us that the gay culture is not a hive mind. The majority may sound alike, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable with the traits they are dealt for their sexuality. Do I Sound Gay? airs out some of these frustrations so that they hopefully won’t fester.