Atlanta Life and Culture

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"Do I Sound Gay?" -- the stigma of the "gay voice"

Is there a gay voice?

Perhaps not. But then why did David Thorpe's voice sound so gay?

And, to be blunt, could he learn how to sound straight?

In the process of asking those questions, Thorpe made the self-revelatory memoir, "Do I Sound Gay?" an independent film with Atlanta backers that returns to a local theater today.

(Previously screened at the Midtown East, it shows through next week at the Plaza Theatre. Go to their website for show times.)

Thorpe, a native of Columbia, S.C., examines the stereotype of the gay voice -- the nasal timbre, the musical cadence and the "upspeak" that modulates the end of each phrase with a serif of rising tonality.

He speaks with a host of gay celebrities on the topic, including Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, Dan Savage, Don Lemon, David Sedaris and George Takei.

And he looks at himself. "I hate the way I talk," he tells a speech therapist. "I’m almost mystified as to why I talk the way I talk." She says she can help him, and advises him to aim for more staccato phonemes: "keep it short."

Why does he want to change? It's not because he is trying to go back in the closet. Thorpe had been "out" for 25 years," a gay rights activist who'd been arrested at protests, a worker in one of the largest AIDS advocacy organizations.

But he was exhausted with carrying the gay flag, tired of being so easily identifiable. "I just wanted to be done with a lifelong self-consciousness about my voice," he said in a recent interview.

In the course of talking to people about the movie, he discovered that others have the same dilemma.

"It's not just gay men, but women, people of color, all kinds of minorities who are keenly aware of how conspicuous they are making themselves as minorities," said Thorpe, 46.

"It's one thing to be a muslim and have your co-workers know you’re a muslim. But it's another thing to wear a head scarf. For me and a lot of other gay men, our voices are our head scarves."

The movie is sort of a Thorpe family affair. David's brother Joshua Thorpe, an Atlanta attorney, was one of the investors, along with their uncle Larry Thorpe and a cousin Ben Thorpe.

After a successful opening on the festival circuit, David reports happily that all have made their money back. And he has his voice back.

"I thought I would be happier if I sounded less gay because I'd been uncomfortable with my voice for so long," he said, "but what I ended up finding out was the more I knew about my voice and where it came from, the more I as able to embrace it as my unique authentic voice, that was mine. And I could accept it, like my eye color."




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About the Author

Bo Emerson is an Atlanta native and a long-time AJC feature and news writer.