October 30, 2015 Leave a comment
The question that forms the title of this documentary (which I supported through Kickstarter) is not one I find the need to ask. Dozens of classmates in middle school and high school who picked on me, along with plenty of strangers I’ve had marginal conversations with have provided that answer for me without it needing to be asked. The documentary focuses on the place of the “gay voice” as it relates to individual gay men, particularly the director David Thorpe, and in the broader culture. Recognizing that the film is not about me, as a nominally straight man, I was still curious if the documentary would explore the effect of the notion of a gay voice on those who aren’t part of that community.
To that particular standard, I wasn’t entirely disappointed, as a brief section acknowledges that the voice isn’t actually a great predictor, and introduces one person as an example, but it doesn’t really dive into the effect for those individuals. However, in its key purpose, it is pretty thorough, if not exactly interested in scientific heft. At one point Thorpe mentions voice as ultimately a product of one’s physical form, but it never really talks about the mechanics of that. It spends more time on things that seem contrary to that point, such as the influence of women in a boy’s upbringing (I certainly have tended toward socializing with women, which could have affected my speech patterns) to the notion of camp as identity performance.
While comfortable enough with my own voice generally, I do have concerns about how it is perceived. I have no problem being perceived as gay per se, but when a woman does that, she’s likely not to consider you as a likely sexual partner, which, being primarily interested in women, poses a bit of a problem. What I found surprising was the way that the gay voice is actually seen as a potentially unattractive trait even to other gay men. To the degree that I have an interest in men, it is toward the more effeminate, which makes perfect sense for me. But in hindsight, it almost seems obvious that for those who are actually interested in men, be they men or women, masculine traits are a major part of that. So while it might be easy for women to get away with strong preferences toward the masculine, when an insular culture has both a preference for masculine and an identity that encourages femininity, there is a certain dissonance.
Students of film will appreciate a section about the origin of the gay voice as a form of code in pop culture when making a character openly gay was not possible. This has its positive connotation of sophistication and creativity (or general class implications), and sense of humor, but has often carried the stigma of an evil otherness, and I’ll never look at a Disney villain the same way again. At a brisk 75 minutes, the film gets in and out and is useful, but ultimately feels like it could have used another 15 minutes to add in some more substance.