When you think of the stereotypical gay man, what comes to mind? For many people, it's the way that he speaks. Gay men, supposedly, talk differently than straight men — they speak at a higher pitch and in a more melodious manner. They pronounce their p's, t's and k's in a crisp, almost nasal tone, or they might have what is called a "gay lisp." Think Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, or Buddy Cole of Kids in the Hall.
These speech characteristics are often associated with homosexuality, but they don't necessarily have anything to do with it. The fact that these traits are often present in certain groups of people — Valley Girls, for instance, or urban kids — suggests that they're culturally determined rather than the result of sexual orientation. Some researchers suggest that young gay people are taught these traits by the media, and so they naturally pick up on them when they start to socialize with other members of their group.
In one of the movies that inspired this article, director David Thorpe interviews a man who sounds very much like a stereotypical gay man — but who insists that he doesn't know that he does. He explains that he grew up surrounded by women and that, as a result, his voice developed certain feminine inflections.
Thorpe points out that in a study he conducted, listeners correctly guessed the sexuality of men only 60 percent of the time — so it's important not to assume that the sound of a voice is some sort of indicator of sexuality.