By Richard Ades
David Thorpe likes being gay. He just doesn’t like broadcasting his sexual orientation every time he opens his mouth.
Thorpe’s attempt to avoid that is the subject of his new documentary, Do I Sound Gay?
The flick’s theme is bound to raise questions right off the bat. For starters: Why would an openly gay man want to disguise his gayness, especially in an era when society finally seems to be becoming more open-minded about homosexuality?
Thorpe has trouble answering this question, noting only that he’s in his 40s, still single and lacks confidence—all of which “might be why I’m obsessed with sounding gay,” the first-time director says.
But if Thorpe has trouble explaining why he wants to get rid of his gay voice, at least he does a good job of explaining what a stereotypical gay voice is. While careful to note that not all gay men sound gay—and, conversely, not all men who sound gay really are gay—he has a speech therapist lay out its components. They include nasality, high pitch, careful enunciation and a tendency to prolong vowels and “s’s.”
With the therapist’s help, Thorpe works to expunge any such qualities from his speech patterns. At the same time, he talks to friends about their own attitudes toward “sounding gay.”
Also interviewed on the subject are gay celebs such as sex columnist David Savage, Project Runway’s Tim Gunn and Star Trek alum George Takei. Most say it really doesn’t matter what one sounds like, but David Sedaris reveals mixed feelings about his own high-pitched voice. The writer admits that he sometimes worries it will turn off other gay men and the world in general.
Other gay men? The film points out that gay porn invariably features actors with deep, manly voices. Sounding gay is fine in the living room, it suggests, but a no-no in the bedroom. Hmm, maybe we’re getting to the root of Thorpe’s motivation.
The film covers lots of other territory, including the long history of stereotypically gay characters in Hollywood movies.
In one of the more serious segments, it also acknowledges that sounding and acting gay can be dangerous, even in our supposedly enlightened era. The proof is Zach, a flamboyant teen who proudly labels himself a diva but is secretly traumatized by the backlash he receives from classmates.
Thorpe is familiar with such backlash, recalling that, as a youngster, he toned down his own flamboyant tendencies to avoid being bullied by classmates. It wasn’t until much later, he learns from a cousin, that he reclaimed his gay mannerisms.
Given the director’s closeness to the topic, it’s not surprising that Do I Sound Gay falls short of being a great documentary. After more or less stumbling into the controversial subject and attacking it from every possible angle, Thorpe walks a tightrope at the end, trying to wrap things up in a way that placates anyone he might have offended.
Even so, give him credit for tackling the prickly topic in the first place and for examining it in a way that’s entertaining and sometimes even enlightening.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Do I Sound Gay? (unrated) opened Aug. 7 at the Gateway Film Center, 1550 N. High St. For information, visit gatewayfilmcenter.org.