'Do I Sound Gay?': Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A superficial if often light-hearted exploration of a difficult subject

Writer-director David Thorpe documents his journey toward sounding less gay in this non-fiction film

A journalist in his early forties who’s just been dumped by his boyfriend decides to do something about sounding so sissy in the documentary Do I Sound Gay? David Thorpe is both the subject and the director of the film, which explores the idea voices might reveal sexual preference and if and how sounding gay could be changed -- and whether that would even be desirable. Featuring a series of linguists, speech-therapy experts, a film historian as well as the prerequisite famous names, which here include George Takei, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho and activist extraordinaire Dan Savage, this talking-heads fest can certainly reply in the affirmative if gay is defined as lively and cheerful, even if its approach is often more scattershot than coherently put together. A niche distributor will know how to market this to an equally niche audience, which will be larger on VOD than in the theatrical arena, though queer festivals everywhere will be happy to add a more light-hearted but not at all frivolous non-fiction film to their rosters.

The film starts on a clever and fun note, with Thorpe clearing his throat before reading the credits out loud and then staging, in very low-tech manner, the Friday-night train ride to Fire Island that made him realize he disliked people with gay voices -- which includes not only practically all his fellow passengers but also himself. Over 40 and newly single, the insecure Thorpe wonders if there’s something that can be done about his voice, so he goes to see a speech therapist, who has him working on his nasality and long vowels. 

Early on, writer-comedian David Sedaris, who has a voice that’s often mistaken for a woman’s, confesses that when someone tells him that they didn’t knew he was gay, this makes him feel good, even though he himself believed to be "beyond all that." Like Thorpe’s desire to de-gay his own voice, it is implied that at least a major part of the "problem" that a lot of gay men have with gay-sounding voices is a kind of internalized homophobia and possibly an entirely inappropriate sense of misogyny, as if somehow it would be bad if someone sounded like a woman. Hatred or fear of being perceived as gay for gay men or their feeling that heterosexuality is somehow superior is a complex if fascinating subject that the film unfortunately only skims the surface of.

There’s also the question of whether such a thing as a “gay voice” actually exists at all but here too, Thorpe only allows a single linguist to quote quite a small study, while never digging very deep into the scientific matter of things. A comparison of a feminine-sounding straight friend of Thorpe’s, who grew up around women and probably copied their speech patterns, and a gay buddy with four brothers who talks like a beer-guzzling macho man, is a potentially fascinating topic but is too decontextualized and anecdotal to prove anything. 

Instead of organizing their fascinating material into coherent arguments, Thorpe and his editor, Maeve O’Boyle, seem content to simply use Thorpe’s semi-emotional journey toward either a new, straighter voice or a greater self-acceptance (or perhaps a bit of both) as a rough chronological outline. A short, Celluloid Closet-light history of gay-sounding men on TV and the movies since the 1940s, which is supposed to illustrate the media landscape in the time Thorpe grew up but which starts earlier and ends later, is somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative, as are the soundbite-sized nuggets of wisdom of the documentary’s more famous speakers, which also include CNN anchor Don Lemon and Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. The overall result remains quite light, is occasionally funny but finally never manages to probe very deeply.

Footage quality varies, though John Turner’s light score gives the film a sheen of professionalism. 

Production companies: Little Punk, ThinkThorpe, Impact Partners

Writer-Director: David Thorpe

Producers: Howard Gertler, David Thorpe

Executive producer: Dan Cogan

Director of photography: Matt Bockelman

Editor: Maeve O’Boyle

Music: John Turner

Sales: Cinetic Media

 

No rating, 77 minutes

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