Leading Edge / Summer 2002
The Gay Voice

Some men may subconsciously adopt certain female speech patterns

Why do some gay men “sound” gay? After three years of research, linguistics professors Henry Rogers and Ron Smyth may be on the verge of answering that question. After identifying phonetic characteristics that seem to make a man’s voice sound gay, their best hunch is that some gay men may subconsciously adopt certain female speech patterns. They want to know how men acquire this manner of speaking, and why – especially when society so often stigmatizes those with gay-sounding voices. Rogers and Smyth are also exploring the stereotypes that gay men sound effeminate and are recognized by the way they speak. They asked people to listen to recordings of 25 men, 17 of them gay. In 62 per cent of the cases the listeners identified the sexual orientation of the speakers correctly. Perhaps fewer than half of gay men sound gay, says Rogers. “The straightest-sounding voice in the study was in fact a gay man, and the sixth gayest-sounding voice was a straight man.”

Watch a trailer for a documentary about the “gay voice” called Do I Sound Gay, directed by David Thorpe. Prof. Ron Smyth is interviewed in the film.

Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by stephen on September 19th, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

In my high school there was a kid who “sounded gay” who would swear he wasn’t. But he eventually did actually “come out” as gay. So, it must be a fully subconscious sort of thing.

# 2
Posted by KaOssis on April 20th, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

I believe that gay men use a female persona to be campy. It’s a form of acting a part in a movie or a play, except that the audience is anyone within earshot!

# 3
Posted by Burt BA%201972 on March 9th, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

I’m gay and forgive me but….I believe that most gay men speak with that “affectation” because, perhaps as a defense, they feel the need to sound pretentious and/or “fabulous.” It is not just the pitch of the voice, but it’s the valley-girl-mixed-with-British pronunciation that, in my opinion allows them to feel better about themselves. The fact that most pronounce a mono-syllabic word using two-to-three syllables (the word “no” becomes “nuuuooow”) indicates to me a sense of pretentiousness and fabulousness, which perhaps they want to believe about themselves. Listen to the affectation of gay male clothing designers….they almost speak in another language altogether. Christian Siriano was born, I believe, in Baltimore and I am certain that his “affectation” has nothing to do with the Baltimore dialect.

# 4
Posted by Ness on December 25th, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

This article seems to be addressing a stereotype issue rather than looking at why this is a topic at all.

# 5
Posted by kelly on March 10th, 2016 @ 10:28 pm

I have always thought that gay men tend to speak far more quickly than straight men do. Of the gay friends I have/have had/I have met, they always tend to speak very quickly, compared with straight.

# 6
Posted by Randalin Masters%202012 on June 14th, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

I wonder if it was a genetic attribute. For example, some male singers who have higher ranges and more ‘feminine’ sounding voices cannot be differentiated from a female; the majority have been gay. This could further back studies that argue sexuality is a genetic attribute.

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