When journalist David Thorpe found himself single again in his mid-forties he started to angst as to what could possibly be so wrong with him that he should be dumped so unceremoniously. His immediate thought was that the problem must be his voice, that he had always hated, and how it must now be a turn off for other men too. It propelled him into jettisoning his job working for a non-profit housing association and embarking on a journey to ask the world at large the question that had been nagging him for years… do I sound gay?
Thorpe’s somewhat light-hearted investigation starts with him accepting that he dislikes gay-sounding voices, especially his own and he wonders if with professional help it can in fact be changed. A very pushy speech therapist has him working on his ‘nasality’ and long vowels to get a ‘go-too’ voice whatever that maybe. She, thank goodness, is not the only figure that Thorpe seeks advice from and his interviews with some legendary gay figures make both sound, and also hilarious, contributions to his quest.
Satirist David Sedaris admits that his own remarkably effeminate sounding voice means that he is regularly mistaken on the phone as a woman. Disarmingly frank Sedaris confesses that he actually feels good when a stranger tells him that he doesn’t ‘sound gay’ even though he had believed himself to be ‘beyond all that’. Project Runway’s Tim Gunn says he was appalled when he first heard his voice, but has learned to live with it and love it even. ‘If people hear my voice and call me gay, I’ll say thank you. I’m proud of it’.
Sex columnist Dan Savage adds a touch of seriousness to the topic by commenting that ‘hating your voice is the last vestige of internalised homophobia.’ On the other hand actor Jeff Hiller handles the reality of the roles that his ‘gay voice’ will limit him too with remarkable good humour and a healthy dashing of some wicked wit. ‘If the gay role is a meaty part, they will always cast a straight actor. If the part is a gay guy with a hot body then I obviously cannot play that. So I just play the sad self-hating bitter queens’, he says roaring with laughter and adding ‘ I’ll take those ugly girl roles because at least I get to work.’
Thorpe sprinkles his immensely watchable documentary with some lively vox populi, and also his own friends are on hand to lend their voices too even though they do not share his concern that the subject matter is really that important. When at the end he pushes them to give an opinion of his newly trained voice they all tell him that they cannot notice any difference in how he sounds at all. However what they (and we) perceive by now is that his voice didn’t change, but he did.
As his most entertaining journey draws to a conclusion Thorpe realised that there was nothing wrong with sounding like he does, and equally there is nothing wrong with being a gay man having a gay voice. He was very content to have taken on his quest summing it up his reasoning of ‘if you cannot handle the answer then it’s a question you’ve got to ask.’ We’re glad he did.