BOY CULTURE REVIEW: **1/2 out of ****
In a documentary that's currently the buzz of the industry, filmmaker David Thorpe sets out to get some answers—and there is invariably more than one—to the age-old question: Do I Sound Gay? The casual, at times distressingly personal film raises questions about masculinity, sexual identity and self-image that are applicable to many gay men by chronicling his own personal struggle with how he sounds ... and how he thinks he sounds.
Thorpe has thought he sounds very gay for decades, and his friends agree. Where they're less agreeable is when he begins a mini-odyssey to change the timbre of his voice. We are not really used to gay stories being put forth with self-doubting gay heroes ... our community's message has been defiantly self-accepting for even longer than Thorpe has leaned on his sibilant S.
Visiting a voice coach, he's told people code-switch—raise or lower tones to communicate things like authority or affection—but all he cares about is not sounding like a “braying ninny.” Probably not fair, then, that one of the words on a list he reads to practice not sounding gay is “dynasty.” He's the right age that he probably couldn't help envisioning Joan Collins as he tried to utter it as someone, well, less gay might.
Thorpe's fragile ego is put forth to us the way you extend your hand to a dog—friends?—and for many viewers, I think his honesty will work. For me, it worked until it didn't, which was when the aggregate of his open-and-honest exclamations regarding his troubling voice made him come off as kind of on the verge of aspiration ally ex-gay. He's not ex-gay, but he wants his tongue to be.
Isn't this just so much self-loathing? Yeah, it explicitly is, but don't blame him too much for it. He hates his voice, feels out of sync with it. Like some of us try plastic surgery to possess bodies more representative of how we wish to present ourselves, he sets out to do the same thing with his voice.
In the film, Bob Corff, a leading voice coach, says he trains up to 25 male actors a year on how to sound less gay. His insight is that the most persuasive and therefore masculine-sounding speakers all exude, I'm right. I'm always right, signaling that a gay-sounding voice may have less to do with actual gayness than it has to do with the lack of confidence expressed by too many gay men owing to our upbringing.
Along the way, celebrities chime in, including the elusive David Sedaris, Don Lemon, Dan Savage, Margaret Cho, George Takei, Tim Gunn, and clips are used featuring the likes of Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly and Liberace. Only Sedaris and Lemon have truly compelling things to say, one in a gay voice and one not—and the stories they tell are enhanced by the voice in which they tell them.
“I fought for decades to embrace being a faggot.”—David Thorpe on why he worries about his discomfort with his gay voice
One of the film's messages may be that gay men fear their own voices as a hold-over from our teen years, when passing for straight was a matter of survival. Whatever the source, it's a feeling most gay men can relate to. (I remember seeing old footage of my family at Thanksgiving dinner and being shocked how gay I sounded, looked and acted.)
The film's saving grace is that while its filmmaker is beating himself up, he clearly means well and clearly wanted to create a conversation about a topic that's somewhat taboo, or that is only expressed in the ignorant terms one subject uses (“Men should be men and women should be women”).
I don't think he has wholly thucktheeded, but I do think his natural voice is fine as is and that his voice as a filmmaker makes enough of an impression that we might expect more interesting stuff from Thorpe going forward.
P.S. Thorpe's film raised $120,000+ on Kickstarter, a testament to how great his idea was, and to the hunger in the gay community for films about potentially uncomfortable topics.
Do I Sound Gay? opens Friday, July 17, 2015, at Sundance Sunset Cinemas in L.A. with other cities and VOD to follow. It was an official Outfest Film Festival selection, and screened this week.