David Thorpe made his feature film debut at this year’s ongoing Toronto International Film Festival, and what a debut it was: “Do I Sound Gay?” is an incredibly thought-provoking, funny and layered documentary that should definitely be at the top of your “to see” lists as it makes its way to other festivals (and hopefully to theaters).
The film sees Thorpe take a journey of discovery to confront his own anxiety about “sounding gay,” bringing along the likes of Dan Savage, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho and Tim Gunn for perspective. The result is an empowering film on a much more complex issue than we might think.
Savage joined Thorpe at the film’s world premiere for an onstage discussion that went into many of the topics at play in the film. Savage was characteristically awesome, so we thought we’d share:
Dan Savage on straight people questioning the vocal change in gay people when they come out: “The subject comes up all the time. I get questions constantly on ‘Savage Love.’ But most of those questions are from straight people. They’ll say ‘my friend came out, and suddenly his voice changed. He’s acting all gay and he sounds all gay. Why are gay men so affected?’ I would sometimes answer these questions and I’ll always point out that straight voice was the fake voice. That was a part of the closet and your friend now is speaking in his authentic voice. You’re going to have to get used to that because that’s not going to go away. But straight people don’t realize that when people are closeted that voice is the act.”
On gay people themselves discriminating against “gay voices”: “There is some talk about in the gay world and it’s usually very negative. The phrase you sometimes hear when gay people talk about it is ‘he opened his month and a purse fell out.’ And I get that question from gay people: I want to date him but he sounds too gay. I’ve always liked guys who sound really gay. I find the gay voice hot and that makes me a bit of an outlier I guess in gay life. Like ‘oh, yeah, he opened his mouth a purse fell out.’ Great, more room for my dick in there.”
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On David Sedaris’ participation in “Do I Sound Gay?”: “I was blown away. I’ve never seen anybody bring out that side of David Sedaris before. He’s still funny, but he’s also so introspective. I thought that interview was great.”
On how owning your gay voice is actually a by definition “masculine” thing to do: “It can be an act of real masculinity, paradoxically, to sound as gay as you goddamn want to sound.”
On how the “gay voice” is intrinsic and wired: “I don’t think it’s something that needs to be corrected. I think it’s a survival mechanism. When you’re a tiny, tiny percentage of the population and an invisible minority you have to find ways to spot each other. And one of the ways gay men signal is vocally, and I think it’s biological. I don’t think it’s culture. I think culture can reinforce it. We get together and camp it up. You know, when the culture stigmatized you for being gay and punishes you for any signs of gayness… When you feel like you’re a safe place, you’re like ‘here’s my signs of gayness mother fuckers.’ But I do think it’s intrinsic and wired. I don’t think it’s a game.”
On where Savage got his confidence: “I think I got it from my parents and my family and we were all sort of encouraged to share our opinions and argue and make our case and we weren’t punished for disagreeing with our parents. Just a loud, drunk, argumentative Irish family…”
On thinking something’s wrong with you versus thinking something’s wrong with everybody else: “When I came out I sort of classified the gay men I met into two groups. There were the guys who thought there was something really wrong with them when they realized they were gay. They thought had done something terrible. And then there was what I thought, which was I thought there’s nothing wrong me but there’s something wrong with you. I’m fine, you’re fucked, Catholic Church, parents. And what I love now is there’s more in-your-face owning it queer people in the world who are visible. There are more gay kids now growing up thinking ‘I’m fine, you’re fucked.'”
On the implications of the title of “Do I Sound Gay?”: What I love is that it’s implied in the title [of the film] is a negative. Because usually when someone asks ‘do I sound gay’ they want to hear that they don’t. And what you get to in the film is ‘I do sound gay, and that’s not only good — that’s great.”
On what the next focal point in the LGBT rights movement is: “Well, we’re still fighting for marriage equality in the United States. We only have it in 19 states and it’s a state by state horrifying battle. But I think the next big phase is trans rights. Or, not the next phase it’s fucking happening right now and I think that’s great. But also there’s a crisis in queer youth who are being thrown out of their homes. Forty percent of homeless youth are queer. And there’s no foster care places for these kids so kids that end up in group homes are more likely to be queer than straight. Because a lot of people that foster are conservative, Christian, suburban or rural and won’t take these queer kids. So queer people need to step up and start fostering.”