Vocal Point, by Craig Schroeder
I have a big head. I’m a bit overweight. I’m really tall. I’ve got reddish hair. And I can’t grow facial hair very well. I fear I cast the silhouette of an aloof bully rather than a docile (if a bit cynical) pacifist. Oh great, here comes chubby Michael Rapaport to steal our lunch money. But as a straight, white man living in a hetero-normative society, my insecurities are fairly trivial. I don’t run the risk of being discriminated against or pre-judged by the way I present myself. Do I Sound Gay?, the new documentary from journalist David Thorpe, is a film that addresses a definitively stigmatized trait with an amorphous origin: the “gay voice”, an insecurity that is all too common amongst gay (and straight) men. Thorpe’s documentary puts forth a number of theories concerning the origins and evolution of the “gay voice”. But Do I Sound Gay? is less interested in finding the solution to the “gay voice” and more interested in empowering people, straight and gay, to embrace their pipes.
Since childhood, Thorpe hated the sound of his voice; fearing it would out him while he was closeted and subsequently repel potential partners once he was out. Do I Sound Gay? features interviews with a number of speech pathologists and vocal coaches—whom Thorpe consults in an effort to train his voice to sound more “normal”–as well as prominent gay voices like George Takei, Tim Gunn, David Sedaris and Dan Savage. But Do I Sound Gay? is David Thorpe’s story first and foremost. The director is the most prominent subject and it is his charm and wit that prove to be the driving force. More op-ed than documentary, Thorpe strikes an even balance between the subjective examinations of his own life and an objective investigation into how the phenomenon of the “gay voice” effects men.
Though Do I Sound Gay? is a charming exploration, it poses a number of questions that it (and, to be fair, anyone) isn’t equipped to answer. Does a singular “gay voice” actually exist? Probably not. When did we begin to perceive one voice as gayer than another? Who knows? Odds are the voice evolved from a number of different social and evolutionary factors, but the film never fingers a specific culprit. But that was never Thorpe’s intention; Do I Sound Gay? is a film that asks universal questions as a means to explore Thorpe’s very personal struggle. The film touches on the genealogical, evolutionary and cultural sources of the “gay voice”, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about David Thorpe, a gay man learning to accept the sound of his voice as an integral part of his being.