Countless stereotypes promote the idea that gay men speak with buoyancy and theatric character. Do these stereotypes really exist? And if so, what are the wider implications of profiling gay men by the way that their voice sounds.
By
Sophie Verass

23 Mar 2016 - 5:03 PM  UPDATED 23 Mar 2016 - 5:03 PM

It’s the curious case of the added lisp. Numerous pop-culture references tell us that gay men speak with a sassy, sing-song and effeminate style. Some are fictitious, like the classic Simpson’s episode at the steelworks where a macho tradie slithers out, “we work hard, we play hard” as he pulls on a steam whistle and starts a shirtless gay disco on the factory floor. Some are undeniably genuine, like the shrill comedian Alan Carr, the pompous fashion guru Tim Dunn and the way that Josh Thomas just says, “yes-th”’. The character in many gay men’s vernacular has consequently become more of an identifier of sexual preference, rather than a style of the way that a person speaks.

“I think I do have a ‘gay voice’ says Matt Jackson, an openly gay man living in Sydney “and truthfully it does frustrate me when people call it out or highlight it.”

“Not because I want to project this hyper-masculine image that’s so valued by society, but because it feels reductive to just be ‘branded’ or pigeonholed as a ‘gay guy’. Sometimes when I have conversations with people, it’s like they have me figured out as I’m outed very early on. This can feel extremely othering and shallow given that identity and queer culture is far more complex than the way that a person speaks.”

Is there such thing as a ‘gay voice’? This amplified tone shared by gay icons like, Sean Hayes, Chris Colfer and Gok Wan that stretch the vocal chords flamboyantly and out gay men in social situations. Is it a gift from the gay Gods presented to men who like men? Or is it learned behaviour, lesson 101 of Chapter 3 in 'The Man’s Guide to Being a Gay Man'?

Or is it neither nature or nurture; a ridiculous myth that is invented by non-queer communities used as a means of 'othering' men who don’t ascribe to society's hetero-norm ideals?

"I think it’s archaic and pretty basic to pigeonhole somebody’s sexuality by the tone of their voice, but unfortunately it’s so common for people to use such stereotypes as a means of judgement, predetermination and bullying."

Yarran Gatsby, writer and advocate for the queer community says: “I think it’s archaic and pretty basic to pigeonhole somebody’s sexuality by the tone of their voice, but unfortunately it’s so common for people to use such stereotypes as a means of judgment, predetermination and bullying.

"If you are actually involved in the queer community and have more than one token ‘gay friend’, you’ll realise that gay inflections are nothing more than an invention. Judgements of queer voices and queer sounding people are not made by queer people themselves, they’re made about queer people and are made by external communities.”

Comedian and openly gay man, Rhys Nicholson confesses that he thinks he has a ‘gay voice’, “If it exists, I definitely have it. Even when you watch videos of me when I was little - I’m very camp.”

“I recently did a Christmas ad for a big department store, where my voice was used for this animated reindeer, and I was thinking how good it was to have a high-camp voice on national television in a major Christmas campaign.” he says.

“But then came all of this backlash from gay rights people saying, ‘this is a negative portrayal of gay men!’ and even thinking that the voice was characterised by an actor to ‘sound gay’. But I was just like, ‘This is just my voice! I am just a camp gay man.’”

Plenty of non-gay men share the same spoken characteristics that supposedly points fingers to gay sexuality: the nasal Ira Glass who has made a career in talking, hospitality entrepreneur Bruce Keebaugh who is the charismatic husband of Real Housewives of Melbourne star Chyka, or comedian Hal Cruttenden who puts it, “I know I seem gay, but I’m actually just very British".

“But then came all of this backlash from gay rights people saying, ‘this is a negative portrayal of gay men!’ and even thinking that the voice was characterised by an actor to ‘sound gay’. But I was just like, ‘This is just my voice! I am just a camp gay man.’”

This demonstrates just how hetero-bias our culture is when it comes to determining ‘what is gay’ and ‘what is straight’, and ‘who is gay’ and ‘who is straight’. It creates a divide between people, when in fact, many men of vast sexualities share similar social characteristics.

What’s in a voice? A sound made by humans to express talking, laughing, singing and screaming. Can you really tell a man’s sexuality from the way that he uses it? Listen to the audio below, which profiles four men, two of whom identify as gay. Can you determine who these gay men are by simply listening to their voice? Time to put your 'gay-dar' on, *drum roll* it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game… Is that man, a gay guy?

Which man do you think is gay?
Poll
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* Please note percentages are rounded to one decimal place.

Watch film-maker David Thorpe unravel the linguistic mystery of his 'gay voice' in his documentary Do I Sound Gay? | On Demand SBS