Do I Sound Gay?

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.

16 thoughts on “Do I Sound Gay?

  1. I’ve certainly known my fair share of gay men who have that gay voice. But it does seem to be a gay male thing. I don’t believe there’s any real equivalent for us lesbians. Not in terms of an accent anyway. I think the lesbian equivalent is simply being loud and rambunctious to the point of obnoxiousness in public places. Not me, of course. I mean those other dykes.

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    1. I thought the lesbian equivalent was flannel?

      Given that most of the women I have crushes on turn out to have lesbionic tendencies, it would not surprise me at all if there were markers. But I could more easily believe those markers are cultural.

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      1. Oh yeah, there’s TONS of markers for lesbians but you were specifically discussing “voice” so that’s what I restricted my comment to.

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  2. I have a version of it but my husband doesn’t. It doesn’t necessarily follow – like all the other stereotypes. I like pink, he doesn’t. I could spend hours looking at wallpaper catalogues, whilst he watches football. I could go on.
    JP

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    1. I think we have previously established that Guido is pretty butch. I don’t think the accent is universal, but it seems prevalent. The weird thing is that it crosses other cultural boundaries.

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    1. I know a few people like that as well, and one is documented in the movie. It also seems that more young straight guys tend to have the accent. But I still feel that if somebody sports the accent there is a better than even chance that they are gay.

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  3. Well, in writing at least, you certainly don’t sound gay in the traditional meaning of the word, you know, happy 🙂 I once worked temporarily as a phone answerer for some company I don’t remember. A coworker, who took over the call, said the man asked if I was a gay guy. Another job, another call and a woman I’d been talking to for months on the phone said, “Donna, I didn’t know you were Black! You don’t sound it!” She’d met my husband and assumed I was black too. I am, but I wanted so badly to say I wasn’t just to throw her off. She was just ignorant, not malicious, so I stayed civil. It just goes to show, one shouldn’t judge another by the way they sound. See, I had a point!
    By the way, Debra’s description of lesbians describes me and my sisters getting together, except for the dyke part 🙂

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    1. I think there is a similar phenomenon among ethnic minorities, actually. There are definitely other black people who hear complaints that “they don’t sound black”, or worse “they don’t sound black enough.”

      On the other hand, when listening to podcasts I can often pick out so-called “black voices” even when the people sporting those voices come from very different cultures. My (possibly racist) suspicion is that this is not entirely cultural, in the same way I feel the gay accent is not entirely cultural. But that is getting into pretty dodgy territory.

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  4. In my part of the world the gay accent and the inner city male accent can be very similar. Straight guys in hospitality sometimes have a bit of a gay accent. It’s interesting it seems limited to blokes. I’ll be paying more attention to how women enunciate to see if I can hear any of them with a gay accent.

    How old were you when you became aware you had a gay accent? The way I pronounce words is influenced by those who are around me.

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    1. This is a good point. I too have noticed how young metrosexuals are sounding more and more gay even though they are straight. So maybe this is cultural.

      I do not remember when I detected the accent in my own voice. I recognised the existence of the accent sometime in high school, but I don’t listen to my own voice that much, and when I do it is difficult to get past the dissonance of sounding so different than I imagine I sound. I needed to get past that dissonance before I detected the gay accent in my intonations.

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