There is no way to ask this question without accusations of being some type of a’phobic. I’m not one to shy away from asking real honest questions just because the nature of the question could be interpreted as being offensive. Critical thinking is becoming a lost practice while emotional knee jerk reactions and false outrage takes precedence. It’s as if being the first to express outrage on the back of political correctness proves somehow one is more in tune or progressive in thought.
I attempted to conduct an impromptu survey and posed a question within different social media groups “why do gay men talk like that?” Predictably, I was met with some minor backlash and criticism. “Talk like what? What do gay people sound like? Allow people to be who they are” and a couple of more cliché mantras; however no one attempted to answer the question.
I will digress for a minute and share something about myself. When it comes to images of black and ethic men in media, I’m a bit sensitive; perhaps even overly sensitive. That’s because I detest stereotypes, including stereotypes about homosexual men of color. Masculine or feminine, we all know what those stereotypes are. Regardless if based in truth or not, when it comes to gay men the main two stereotypes are that gay men are effeminate and they talk gay.
Truth is these main two stereotypes are in fact archetypes. Can we be honest and say that the majority (even if it’s not an overwhelming majority) of gay men are effeminate and a huge portion of gay men talk with a lisp or with a certain type of gay accent. Whenever television shows or other forms of live action media needs to let the audiences know a character is gay, what model is presented; a campy, effeminate, sassy, fashionably trendy gay man who talks with lispy dictions or gay twangs. When comedians perform their stand up and imitate gay men, they use similarly use this archetypal model which contains the gay accent.
Before I continue and hopefully before emotional knee jerk reactions begin to fire off verbal shots of internalized homophobia, effemophobia and patriarchal masculine standards, understand I’m in no way saying these types of gay men need to adjust and change to make me or anyone else feel comfortable. Absolutely NOT! First, who am I to demand such a thing? Second, individuals should unquestionably be true to themselves and live their life…but that’s not the question or conversation. My question is simply, why are these gay men and in the context of their accent the gay standard?
Are many homosexual men born this way, without a doubt some are but can we also be honest and state that many young gay men adopt these characteristics. Whether it’s because of their environment, social circles or consumption of the gay cultural archetypes presented, many gay men become indoctrinated into gay mainstream life, which includes language, slang and gay lisps. Individual homosexuality becomes gay assimilation by mimicking the supposed right way to be gay. I have been in Atlanta, Georgia for almost 15 years. I have witnessed men’s dialect and diction (amongst other things) change once they became immersed in gay culture.
In searching online for answers, I came across the expected overly positive “love who you are-why does it matter-who cares what others think” responses…duh, of course; however there were few to no attempts of critical thinking to actually answer the question. If you look at and listen to many gay men from around the world (regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or culture), a tremendous amount of them talk with a lisp or in “gay speak.” How is this possible?
Regardless if you think or feel my legitimate question in based in malice, others have dropped the defensiveness stance and are attempting to honestly examine the question. From ‘Gay Voice’ in The University of Toronto Magazine, June 2002:
“Why do some gay men “sound” gay? After three years of research, linguistics professors Henry Rogers and Ron Smyth may be on the verge of answering that question. After identifying phonetic characteristics that seem to make a man’s voice sound gay, their best hunch is that some gay men may subconsciously adopt certain female speech patterns. They want to know how men acquire this manner of speaking, and why – especially when society so often stigmatizes those with gay-sounding voices.
Rogers and Smyth are also exploring the stereotypes that gay men sound effeminate and are recognized by the way they speak. They asked people to listen to recordings of 25 men, 17 of them gay. In 62 per cent of the cases the listeners identified the sexual orientation of the speakers correctly. Perhaps fewer than half of gay men sound gay, says Rogers. “The straightest-sounding voice in the study was in fact a gay man, and the sixth gayest-sounding voice was a straight man.”
Gay Filmmaker David Thorpe successfully raised over $120,000 for his upcoming documentary Do I Sound Gay, in which he labels the phenomenon as “gay voice.” I hope the documentary really examines this topic and doesn’t route to blaming the evils of masculine patriarchy or resorting to the “it doesn’t matter, love who you are” mantra without actually (and possibly historically) answering the question. Check out the trailer below.
I understand that there may not currently be any legitimate answers to the question; nonetheless that doesn’t mean we can’t ask. As it pertains to many homosexual men, how does attraction to the same sex causes vocal cords and voice inflections to change? Why do so many gay men around the world sound Gay? Even if we just chalk this up to “it’s just the gay culture thing” how did this particular way of speaking become a gay standard? Can we at least start an honest conversation?
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