Overall, my gaydar is pretty terrible, but over the years I have developed an ear for “the gay accent.” If I was better-versed in linguistics I could describe it to you, but you know what I am talking about.
We tend to emphasize the gay accent when doing drag or speaking in camp, but many of us possess (or suffer) from the accent even in our everyday speaking voices.
Many of us internally-homophobic wannabe-straight guys don’t like the gay accent. There are many disparaging, often misogynistic phrases for it: “He looked so butch, but then he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.” I confess that I did not like the accent either, but as I have gotten more involved in the LGBTQ+ community locally I would like to think that I have gotten over it. Nonetheless, I detect the accent in my voice, and I hate it. Why can’t I sound butch, like the straight guys I idolize so much? What did I do to develop this? Was it conscious? Subconscious? Is it something in my biology? Where does this accent come from, and why is it so prevalent in gay men?
A few years ago a filmmaker named David Thorpe made a movie about the gay accent called Do I Sound Gay?. Like me, Thorpe struggled with the accent in his voice, and like any good documentarian he went on an adventure to learn what it is, where it comes from, and whether he could get rid of it. He visited speech therapists and interviewed famous gay people like Tim Gunn, Dan Savage, and George Takei. I read press for the movie when it first came out, but did not get around to watching it until recently.
The documentary is.. okay. I learned a few things about what makes the accent the accent. I learned that there are LA speech therapists who promise to train you out of the accent. Also, David Sedaris is kind of dreamy, in a David-Lettermanesque way.
The movie definitely has its flaws. Thorpe offers some explanations about how gays develop the accent, but they are uniformly disappointing, hearkening back to 1950s psychological theories of possessive mothers. The ending is very sad. The movie also contains gratuitous shirtlessness, which might be upsetting to some of my readers with more delicate constitutions. On the other hand, the movie is well-made and heartfelt. I don’t feel that I wasted my time in watching it, which is rare for me. (I keep trying to watch Hollywood movies, and I keep being disappointed.) If you are looking for a way to fight off existential dread for an hour and seventeen minutes, watching this movie is not a bad way to do so.