Who are you?
What are you?
Why are you?
Our identities are not created in a vacuum. Who, what, and why we are depend on random variables — education, religion, orientation, gender, economic status, culture, and ethnicity, among other things. Do we get to choose any of these things? Do our actions or our DNA define us? Do these converge into an individual, unique personality?
That’s what David Thorpe was interested in exploring in his documentary, “Do I Sound Gay?” Unhappy with his voice, David decides to seek out professional help in order to minimize the “gay”. Upon entering the world of dialect and vocal coaches, however, David begins to see a bigger picture.
The real problem isn’t so much David’s voice as it is David’s unhappiness with his life. After a serious break-up, David casts about for something to blame and settles on his voice, which sounds “gay” — which wasn’t always the case, as he learns from friends and family while interviewing them for this documentary.
Whether this is because of cultural impact, personal preference, or differentiating from the heterosexual people of his acquaintance is anyone’s guess. It’s most likely a mixture, as life tends to be, and it doesn’t always happen on the surface or all at once.
“Do I Sound Gay?” explores the idea that our identities are, at least in part, made up of other people: those we know and love, those we wish to emulate, and those we idolize. We unconsciously take in habits, speech patterns, slang, colloquialisms, and will “code-switch” when in certain company, like switching from a personal tone to a more professional tone, or when teenagers talk amongst themselves versus having a conversation with their parents.
We switch in and out of these speech patterns several times a day — but how does that play into our identity? Which one is the real us?
I grew up in a religious home, with friends in the same culture, so we were familiar and comfortable with using religious vocabulary when communicating. After I left college and began to find my own way in the world, I left religious talk behind and have had some difficulties re-incorporating it when an old acquaintance wants to get back in touch. It’s almost like a foreign language, and I have come to realize that those words were never truly mine.
There are other groups I’m more comfortable in and used to addressing: the geek culture, the LGBTQIA spectrum culture, the mental illness culture, the Internet culture, and the writer culture, to name a few. All of these are me, but I switch between them depending on whom I am addressing. My voice and tone change, too. I hear it lower when I’m using my professional phone answering voice, for example.
So what does my voice say about me? How do people react to my voice? How has it changed over the years, and why/how? These are the questions we see David ask over and over again to a variety of people throughout the documentary.
We only have one voice, whether or not we code-switch frequently, rarely, or never. Our identities are tied to our voices. Think about stereotypes for a moment: the “Sassy Black Woman” or “The Gay Man,” for example. We all have preconceived notions of what each of these voices sound like, although stereotypes are never completely true, but rather built up by people on the outside as a sort of shorthand (however wrong it may be) for identity.
David’s documentary, “Do I Sound Gay?” ends with David coming to terms with his voice, finally accepting himself, voice and all, instead of fighting against who he is and has become. He’s a thoughtful, intelligent person, seeking an understanding of what identity really is and should be. It’s an ongoing search. We’ll never really plumb the depths of identity, but it’s definitely worth exploring.
Who are we? What are we? Why are we?
“Do I Sound Gay” asks the questions, but we’ll have to find our own answers.Image Credits: Photo Courtesy of ThinkThorpe