Whether they admit it or not, gay men often feel that their voice sounds feminine and effeminate. They may even worry that this translates to being less masculine as they get older. In a new documentary called “Do I Sound Gay?”, director David Thorpe investigates why this is and what it means to have this kind of speech pattern.
Research has long challenged the popular notion that gay men lisp and have other speech characteristics commonly associated with homosexuality, such as longer fricative sounds, pronunciation of t as ts and d as dz, and use of assibilation (pronunciation of the sibilants z, s, and sh). The truth is that these characteristics are present in heterosexual men, too. In fact, studies show that boys who do not identify with their assigned gender speak with a "th"-like pronunciation at slightly higher rates than their peers, but this tends to disappear by adulthood.
One theory is that gay men mimic the speech patterns of women they hang out with and associate these with femininity, but this does not explain why heterosexual men also exhibit these feminized features in their voices. In a study by Rogers and Smyth, participants were asked to listen to recorded recordings of 25 males and rate them on their sexual orientation and whether or not they exhibited the flamboyant dialogue that has come to be associated with homosexuality. Listeners were able to correctly pick out gay men, but they also incorrectly picked out heterosexual speakers as being gay.