February 2, 2024

How to Talk Like a Gay Guy

For the last three years, linguist Ron Smyth has been attempting to answer one of modern society’s most persistent questions: How does it sound when a man talks like a gay guy? He and a group of his colleagues have identified phonetic characteristics that seem to make a person’s voice sound gay, and their research shows that listeners correctly guess a speaker’s sexual orientation at rates higher than random.

But Smyth says there’s still a lot we don’t know. He and his team have been working with a number of people — including such LGBT celebrities as Tim Gunn, George Takei, Margaret Cho, and Dan Savage — to try to understand how their voices come to sound so gay, and why those stereotypes persist.

The answers could help us better understand the nature of homosexuality. For instance, it seems that many gay men who talk with what is colloquially known as a “gay voice” may have picked up those speech patterns from their mothers, wives, or girlfriends. Other factors that contribute to the stereotypical gay sounding tone include a person’s social environment, and the tendency for people to morph their own speech to fit in with others. It’s what happened to valley girls, urban kids and campers, and it also happens with gay guys who spend a lot of time together.

There’s even a rumor that many gay men who talk with a “gay voice” may not be gay at all. They could simply have lisps as children and have attached a macho value to the sounds they produced.


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