Readers turn their gaydar on:
Yes, you definitely sound gay. But not super gay, if that makes sense. Somewhere between Neil Patrick Harris and Dan Savage on a scale of zero to George Takei.
You don’t sound “stereotypically” gay. You sound … British. Which to American ears is a touch fey.
One way of testing this was to ask my old high school friends whether they knew I was gay in my teens. I reunited with a few dear old friends last year. They all told me they had no idea. But I think for them, my nerdiness obscured my gayness. Another reader:
“Poohsticks”! That isn’t gay so much as just twee as fuck. The biggest straight creepers I knew in the ’80s were indie boys who would wear their cardies to cakewalks and go on the pull.
Ah, yes, those were the days … Another reader:
You don’t sound gay; you sound European. Yes, I realize this might be even worse for a Brit.
It is. Another shifts focus:
Yep, I have a gay voice. And I hate it, but I don’t worry about it too much, unless I’m watching video of myself. Straight people have acknowledged my voice sounds gay. When I worked for a French oilfield services company, I met a woman who had me figured out, though she didn’t realize it, when she commented that I sounded gay when I spoke French. I was startled, given that I wasn’t really out then. It dawned on me that my voice simply sounded Southern and American to her when I spoke English, but the gay came out when I spoke French. So apparently my voice is definitely gay in any language.
Many others sound off:
Thanks for starting this discussion! I’m straight, but I’m a musician/artist and tend to move among gay circles a bit more frequently than others at my day-job or in my family. As a singer, and a vocal pedagogist, this topic has always fascinated me.
I know gay men with no perceptible lilts or lisps, and others that are ostentatious caricatures of that type of diction. The well-trained gay singers I know don’t tend to bring their accents into sung music in their native language (almost exclusively English, since I’m in the Midwest), possibly because in voice study, diction is part of the regimen. During the course of an art song or choral piece, you often have a long time to plan how that “s” is going to sound, and the melodic line obscures any lilt. Even with those who maintain sibilant s’s in sung English language music, it will often disappear when they’re singing in a non-native language.
I hope you get input from speech pathologists or other singers on this thread. As I said, I’ve long been fascinated by why sexual orientation in men leads to this unique set of accents/dialects.
Something else that occurred to me: there’s no “lesbian” accent, and few women sound anything like the effeminate-ish brogue of some gay men like Tim Gunn. So these men are not affecting a female cadence; it’s something else.
Another is on the same page:
I know your post was focused on the voices of gay men, but I believe that many lesbians have a unique tone, timbre, or whatever you call it to their voice as well. I would love to see someone do a study that does a technical analysis of the voices of straight and gay women to see if there’s a quantifiable difference.
The “gay voice” issue is utterly fascinating to me. I’m a (straight, female) bankruptcy attorney and part of my job involves meeting with a fairly large number of new clients each week for consultations. It’s an interesting and unusual interaction because I get to ask complete strangers about some pretty intimate details of their personal lives, including a lot of things people generally don’t tell their family members and best friends, within a few minutes of meeting them. One of the things I’ve discovered is that I always, ALWAYS know that a guy is gay before we get to the section of the questionnaire where I ask for the names of any “spouses or significant others” residing in his household. I usually know it within about a second of the time he walks through the door. It’s both something in the voice and also something in the whole way gay guys move that is different from straight guys. I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly what it is, but I instantly know it when I see it.
But ironically, I have absolutely no clue when it comes to lesbians. I went to lunch three times with an attorney friend who talked nonstop about her “partner” Susan and I honestly thought she was talking about her law partner (who she oddly seemed to really enjoy taking cooking classes with), until she actually posted something on Facebook starting with “As a lesbian…” So much for my A+ gaydar.
Thank you for addressing the issue of gay voice. Growing up gay and full of shame, I realized early on that I could consciously avoid overtly acting like a sissy. At age three my aunt, when I asked her to paint my toenails red like hers, informed me that “little boys don’t do that, only little girls.” So I never asked again. It was a bit like a conscious and successful attempt to improve my left-handed handwriting after getting bad marks in penmanship.
After hearing my own recorded voice for the first time, however, I was stunned. It not only sounded like a sissy but, to my ultimate horror, it sounded like Liberace. I don’t mean to bash poor Lee, but realizing that I could only grow up to be like him moved me to suicidal ideation at age 11. I did try hard to sound less queer, even acting in high school plays so I could be someone else, but with only partial success. I knew my voice gave me away.
Since I hated and feared this type of voice, when I matured sexually I found it a total sexual turn-off in others. I didn’t know that there were gay men with a “normal” voice and for years limited myself to anonymous casual sex with no tell-tale speaking. Ultimately, some sort of inner strength I didn’t know was there, coupled with changing times, enabled me to come out and seek a relationship with a man. (And I share your experience of the universe shifting with that first kiss – it felt like falling backward through infinite bliss.) But it had to be someone who sounded straight. And I did find someone. I entered a relationship with him because I liked him and because of his boring, straight-sounding, Midwestern voice. He was not my “type” physically and the sex was never the greatest, but we’ve been together for 35 years and, partially thanks to lovely you, we were married in New York in November.
I know this may sound rather sad and pathetic and self-loathing coming from a 66-year-old retired physician, but there it is. By the way, I don’t think you sound gay, but it may just be the residual British accent that obscures deeper indications. Patrick in “Looking” has total gay voice, but his British boss (with the delectable ears) does not. The mysteries of sexuality are infinite and fascinating.