Screened Out – Do I Sound Gay? (Florida Film Festival)

By : Stephen Miller
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Sat, April 18th 6:45PM – 8:05PM, Regal Winter Park Village
Sun, April 19th 9:45PM – 11:45PM, Regal Winter Park Village

The Florida Film Festival continues through this Sunday. Several of the competitions and features are chock full of LGBT content. On top of that, you will get to mix and mingle with other film nerds and up-and-coming filmmakers, including Do I Sound Gay, which is only shown twice this weekend.

"Do I Sound Gay?" is part of the ongoing Florida Film Festival.

“Do I Sound Gay?” is part of the ongoing Florida Film Festival.

This documentary is challenging to sit through. Dan Thorpe – a gay Brooklyn writer – goes to a speech therapist to try sound more straight. Questions of self-loathing and definitions of masculine versus feminine traits underscore the film. DISG? explores the perceived ideal of a macho voice. Bullying, peer pressure, mass media, family influence, and self-shaming all enforce the problem.

Now, if you’re thinking voice doesn’t influence what we think about each other, try to imagine a backwards-thinking person with a lower IQ. Chances are, if you’re American, you’re imagining a Southern twang; British people imagine a cockney voice.

Yet, it’s hard not to wince when “experts” don’t even question Thorpe’s hateful self-perception. They instead try to help train him to sound more “butch.” It feels like he needed to see a psychiatrist over an adult speech therapist.

“I listen to myself, and I’m embarrassed,” Thorpe admits. “I never wanted to sound like that!”

At first, in fact, the film seems to buy its own ugly mythology. Early on, it posits several old and even stereotypical ideas. One is that gay men used these voices to identify each other in a world where they had to remain hidden, thereby creating a cultural voice all gay men succumb to. Another is that these men were more influenced by the women in their lives, even with weak or absent male figures.

Much energy is spent in defining the supposed gay voice – the long O, the overly expressive shifts in tone, and the stressing of consonants. The over-emphasis on the letter S – did this become the “gay lisp” everyone now recognizes, the one used to humiliate gay men?

“I don’t think there is a gay voice,” says George Takei, the Star Trek legend who is now a strong LGBT activist. Well, thank God someone said it in this film!

Yet, there’s something that some might call gay in Takei’s typical, “Ooh, myyy?

Sex columnist Dan Savage is one of the many people asked about the "gay voice."

Sex columnist Dan Savage is one of the many people asked about the “gay voice.”

“What’s wrong with sounding like a gay man?” asks sex columnist Dan Savage.

In fact, DISG? even shows some straight men with higher pitched voices. In contract, one gay man is represented as having the ideal masculine voice.

“Some of the gayest sounding people I know are straight, and some of the butchest men I know are gay,” says Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn.

DISG? has a lot of fun sources – writer David Sedaris and comic Margaret Cho give their two cents. This documentary even shows a lot of the television and film influences that shape our perceptions.

Does all this make us squirm? Yes, and it should. It’s unfortunate that – after decades and decades – this conversation is still going on, sibilant S and all.

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