Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Do I Sound Gay?" Documentary; Thoughts and Reactions

Today I'm going blogging off-roading for a bit because I watched an interesting documentary that I feel I need to unpack and analyze.

The documentary, "Do I Sound Gay?" has been on my radar for quite some time, and I was excited to hear it was on Netflix. After seeing it, it was definitely good, but also rather difficult to watch at the same time. Aside from a couple of content warnings--news footage where they show a gay kid getting assaulted, and a couple of censored porn scenes as examples of hyper-masculinity in gay culture--David's story was also largely my story.

The Gay Voice

There's a definite "gay voice" that acts as a flag or a tell for many people. Sometimes erroneously, but fairly often it's accurate. Listening to someone, it's easy to hear certain affectations that sound "gay"--at least in North American culture, more on that later. I'm damn sure I sound gay, given I've been asked a few times when streaming if I was (the answer is yes, duh).

In the documentary, speech academics talk about certain tells, such as elongated 'S' sounds; overly-enounced 'T' or 'K' sounds; the voice tone sliding up into a sentence, or ending up when more masculine voices end down. All of which now I can clearly hear in my own speech in this Archimonde N kill video (surprise, we downed Archimonde last night! hooray!).

Of course, there's the question of why do I care? And is it really a bad thing?

Self-Hate, or Valid Concerns?

It's easy to dismiss the documentary early on as David being a self-hating gay--many of the reviewers do, and I know I was tempted to at the beginning as well. But at the same time, how much of that is rooted firmly in trying to pass as straight, to hide, not draw attention to oneself? When you spent most of your early life hiding in fear of getting beat up, or even killed, hiding is a pretty sensible maneuver.

Into adulthood, I know it's something that I've been concerned about when giving presentations to my peers. Are the other programmers going to take me seriously if I sound like a queer? Early in my career some of them evinced homophobic attitudes, but thankfully later in my career it hasn't seemed to much matter, which is a huge confidence booster. But these are totally valid questions to ask oneself, especially given research into female speech affectations being a liability in the corporate environment.

And then there's the fact that my voice apparently didn't always sound "gay." Mirroring David's experience, sometime during University my voice became more nasal, higher pitched. More from my throat and nose than from my chest. I knew this because my sister commented on it, wondering aloud if my singing voice would be different when my speaking voice had changed. I apparently never noticed the change, but then again it happened gradually for me, but "suddenly" for my sister.

Was it because I was mimicking the gay peers I generally didn't have growing up? Was I flaunting my sexuality as out and proud now that I didn't have to hide, over-compensating and camping it up? Where did that voice come from?

It's not so much a matter of, "Oh god, why did this happen to me?" as it is an intellectual curiosity at this stage of my life, but there were times when I was younger where I wish I could have code switched to a "straight masculine" voice more easily.

Fascinating Introspection

Something the documentary didn't touch on but I thought was an interesting bit of info is the whole speaking from the throat/nose vs. the chest. Both times I was in Australia, the standard way to talk in Sydney and Melbourne is from the throat it seemed--or at least it was easier to mimic the accent by speaking from the throat--and most voices tended to be higher than they are in North America. The documentary pays lip-service to this by having a couple of interviews with other language speakers, but never sits down to make a serious comparison, so I don't know if it's really extensible outside of this continent.

Overall, it was a fascinating documentary. One which tackles head on historical stereotypes, cultural contexts, and even the dangers that the gay voice can represent. Something a little different, but something pretty interesting in my personal opinion.
#Documentary #Sexuality #Gay


  1. I had no idea David Sedaris was gay until I watched this, even though I've heard him on the radio and listened to a couple of audiobooks he narrated. I just thought he had a funny voice that fit with his style of comedy.

    My fiance thinks his own voice sounds gay, but I think he just sounds like a Jewish boy from Long Island.

    I grew up in southeast Nebraska, so I was surrounded by the archetype of the boring General American accent. I led a pretty sheltered life. I grew up on a farm near a very small town, didn't have cable, and never watched TV after 9 PM except on New Year's Eve. I didn't even really have a conscious concept that men could be attracted to other men, or that "gay" meant anything other than "stupid" until I was in college.

    Looking back now, of course I see clues. But I'm actually kind of grateful I was so ignorant. I'm absolutely convinced that it spared me a lot of loneliness, abuse, and grief during a time in my life when I wouldn't have handled it well.

    As an adult, I code-switch a lot. It's actually a skill I'm proud of. It has served me very well for work, where I have to speak technically or colloquially (but always authoritatively) to vastly different audiences. I think it might have helped me learn foreign languages and sing in different styles, too. Or maybe language learning helped with code-switching. Who knows?

    Code-switching also gives me a booming, dominant voice in the crowd at hockey and football games and a humble, respectful voice in the office with my boss. And just recently, I've discovered I have a pretty effective dad voice. I developed a gay voice, too, after escaping Nebraska, but I haven't had many occasions to use it in the last decade since meeting my fiance.

    I think you do sound gay in that video. But you also sound smarter than me and sexier than me, so if I wasn't engaged, I'd probably be flirting with you a lot more in this paragraph. In fact, I should probably just stop typing now.

    Thanks for pointing that documentary out to me!

    1. Listening to the video again, from a melodic standpoint, your phrases often end up a major sixth or major fourth. These are plaintive intervals in Western lyrical music, and they actually match the requests you're making. When you issue a command or want to get in a final word of praise, the interval is down a major third. (This last one is the authoritative voice of the Standard American Melody mentioned in the film.) It doesn't surprise me at all that you like to sing, or that you're also a successful leader.

      I also had my fiance listen to your video, and he asked, "Is he gay, or just Canadian?" That might be a fun game show!

    2. You're welcome for pointing out the documentary!

      Growing up gay, I knew what I was and what it was from about 12 years old despite not being out until I was 19, and you're right, it was very lonely. But I think you may have handled it better than you think. The human capacity for adaptation is amazing. Still, one less thing to worry about I suppose.

      Listening to it again myself after your second comment, you're right that my praise/authoritative commands do actually go down at the end. I really wish I still had access to my recorded presentations from my old job because now I really want to listen to them for this stuff.

      Gay or just Canadian, hah. I do say "please" and "thank you" a lot in that video, even for commands.

      Also, thanks for the compliments *blush*