My TIFF experience started this past Sunday, when I lined up with at least a couple hundred other ticket-holders in the noon-time sun to see the documentary Do I Sound Gay?
It’s the first from director David Thorpe, whose work was made possible with help from a successful Kickstarter campaign, as well as family and friends.
And on this day, we had the pleasure of being the first public, international audience to screen it.
The documentary’s premise stems from Thorpe’s self-consciousness over the sound of his own voice – particularly his anxiety over sounding stereotypically “gay”, which he says comes from an internalized homophobia that constantly tells him that being gay – and “sounding gay” – still isn’t a good thing.
So he sets out on a personal journey to change the way he sounds, but also to investigate where this particular way of speaking comes from, and to illustrate the evolution and struggle of the gay voice through the gay rights movement, and even amidst the current issues of bullying and violence against LGBT youth.
In the process, he comes to find his own voice, and comfort in his own skin.
What did I like about this movie? Thorpe’s first-person storytelling to get his point across – both through his footage and his use of other devices. It was funny, engaging, and it resonated with me.
It was great seeing him with vocal coaches, talking to people on the street, his interviews with linguists, with such prominent personalities as David Sedaris, George Takei and Dan Savage (who was at the screening), and even broaching the subject with some of his closest friends, and family members.
But it goes beyond linguistics. There’s historical context. There is discussion of gender issues, and the masculine still being held as the ideal. There are people who choose to own their voice, even if it means being physically attacked.
And the whole idea of changing one’s voice to fit in or draw less attention to oneself? It’s not just confined to the LGBT community – it’s universal. Just think about that time someone made fun of you, or made you feel self-conscious, because of the sound/tone of your voice, or because you had an accent. (I know it’s happened to me.)
Following the film, Thorpe participated in a discussion with one of the programmers and Savage – best known to me for his syndicated sex and relationship column, Savage Love (use Google to find it, it’s great) – followed by a question-and-answer segment with the audience.
There were some good questions about Thorpe’s filmmaking process and about the idea around finding one’s voice.
I recall one audience member asking Thorpe whether the idea of lesbians having anxiety over sounding too “masculine” was a subject he tried to pursue during the filmmaking process.
Thorpe explained that while there are perhaps cases, it’s not as prevalent – perhaps because sounding masculine is more valued/accepted, because the idea of the masculine in society is generally valued/accepted, whereas the feminine simply isn’t.
It’s been said that eyes are the windows to the soul. Does that make one’s voice the front door?
Seeing this film has certainly made me aware – but not self-conscious – of my own voice, in terms of how interesting and valuable an instrument it is.
And it’s up to us whether we take ownership and find ways of making ourselves (in all our vocal variations) heard … and being comfortable with what we hear.