I’m sure this is a sore topic for many. After all, it sounds a little mean to ask, doesn’t it? “Why do gay guys talk like that?” Well, many of us have been wondering that same question since we came out of the closet. It seems to be, according to the 2014 documentary film “Do I Sound Gay?”, even us gay men aren’t overly fond of the way many of us sound. Many more set out to change the way they talk, to appear more hetero-normative.
Let’s take a moment to explain the gay-lisp.
What Is The Gay Lisp?
The gay lisp is the hyper-articulated and feminized manner in which some (but not all) gay men speak. Ron Smyth and Henry Rogers, two researchers who study male voices and perceived sexual orientation, have simplified the gay voice down to a difference in phonetics. Gay men sometimes use:
- Clearer vowels
- Longer vowels
- Longer S’s
- Clearer L’s
- Over-articulated P’s, T’s, and K’s
These voice patterns are what Rogers and Smyth use to identify as feminized speech patterning.
But Is It Really Only a Gay Thing?
No! While it is common in nearly half of gay men, calling a “gay lisp” is incorrect. Many heterosexual men speak in this feminized speech pattern, and many homosexual men speak without it. A 2003 study by Rogers and Smyth had a test group listen to the recorded voices of 25 men, 17 of whom were gay. The results were interesting; only 62% of the men’s sexualities were correctly identified, and the “straightest” sounding voice came from a gay man. A straight man was identified as the 6th most gay sounding person of all the participants!
So Why Do Some Men Speak This Way?
Nature VS. Nurture
Smyth’s theory is one of nurture over nature: some gay men subconsciously adopt certain speech patterns from the women who are close to them. Smyth’s theory may hold up, but not just for gay men. David Thorpe, director and star of “Do I Sound Gay?”, introduces a personal friend to his audience – a heterosexual man whose voice carries all the trademarks of the “gay voice”. Thorpe’s friend reveals that he grew up entirely around women, and had little to no intimate social interaction with men while he was a child.
Oppositely, a homosexual friend of Thorpe’s spoke in a stereotypically masculine way and revealed that he was raised with his only brother, by their single dad.
Smyth’s theory only holds up when we solely consider men who have spoken effeminately since their childhood or even early adolescence. But this theory does not account for men who adopted this speech pattern later in adulthood. According to his friends, David Thorpe had spoken much differently before he came out as gay during his first few years of college. After some time being out, friends noticed changes in Thorpe’s manner of speech.
Susan Sankin, a speech therapist featured in Thorpe’s film, explained this voice as a form of code-switching. According to Sankin, people have different voices for different situations and interactions. The example she uses in the film is one of a little girl playing with her doll. The girl may put on a “parent voice” to help her put her doll to bed or feed her some imaginary supper. The same may go for gay men. According to Sankin, gay men code switch to this “gay voice” to allow other men – potential partners – know that they are gay and available. This is not necessarily voluntary. When we code-switch often, we may get bogged down in our switched voice and forget what we used to sound like.
The Bad News for Men With Feminine Speech Patterns
Thorpe’s documentary shed some light on a huge problem in the gay community today. When asked about gay lisping, many gay men insisted that it was grating, and unattractive. The overwhelming consensus was that people did not want to date a feminine man who sounds gay. Other men spoke out to say those effeminate men were lesser, or not masculine enough. Many of the effeminate men Thorpe spoke to expressed concern that their voices were too effeminate – including director Thorpe himself.
Dan Savage, an American journalist also interviewed by Thorpe, describes the underlying reason behind all of this distaste: Misogyny and homophobia.
Savage states: “… When you’re young and closeted and trying to pass you police yourself for evidence that might betray you… [many] gay men carry that into adulthood.”
Savage continues on to explain that many men do not like their voices because the gay community idolizes masculinity: “Men want to show other men that they’re not not men. That they are not women.”
Psych2Go readers, I don’t take this subject lightly. When I was younger, I too evaluated my voice and my physicality to ensure that I wouldn’t be troubled or made fun of for the person I was. I arguably walk and talk much differently now than I did when I was my carefree effeminate 14-year-old self. That’s societal pressure for ya.
It’s important for me to state, Psych2Go readers, that no one is forcing you to change your dating preferences. Some of you may just be attracted to masculinity, and that’s okay. But thinking you’re better than someone because of their form of speech is not. Being attracted to femininity is 100% okay, and being feminine does not take away from a person’s power, sexuality, or strength. We have to remember that.
What are your opinions? Do you have any relatable stories to share? Let Psych2Go know in the comments section below!
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Thorpe, David, director. Do I Sound Gay? Www.doisoundgay.com, IFC Films, 2014.