A gay man may have a voice that sounds feminine, but that doesn't mean they have a lisp. That's the theory that's at the center of a new documentary called Do I Sound Gay?, which is about a young gay man who's worried his voice sounds different and seeks help from a speech therapist. It's a funny, poignant film that takes on layers of cultural baggage about language, gender and sexuality.
GROSS: I talked to David Thorpe, the director of the movie, and he says it all started when he got a phone call from a former high school friend who said she felt betrayed by him because his voice had changed. She said it had a softer, more feminine tone to it. She thought he was trying to fit into a box that made her think of him as gay.
Many people assume that men with a soft, sexy voice are gay. But that's a myth that's been disproven by scientific research and linguistic studies. In one study, linguists found that listeners are no more likely to guess the sexual orientation of a speaker as a result of their pronunciation than by chance.
There's also been a lot of research on what people call gay speak, which involves specific verbal tics and accents like "th" sounds, YASS, SLAY, HUNTY, SNATCHED, and so on. But in fact, most of these features come from African American Vernacular English and aren't related to sexual orientation or any other factor.