Lisping in men has long been considered a trait that indirectly indexes homosexuality. The writer of this post is gay and claims he speaks with a lisp (he cannot produce a clear “s” sound), and he used to think that people whom he met are able to tell that he is gay because of his lisp.
It is worth noting that the writer himself became aware that speaking with a lisp is in itself not a characteristic that is associated solely with gay men, nor is it a characteristic that all gay men have. Cameron and Kulick (2010) highlight the presence of a linguistic stereotype about Western gay men speaking in a different way from straight men. This way of speaking, also called ‘the voice’, has characteristics such as lengthening of fricative sounds, a wide pitch range and breathiness. Similar to the lisp, ‘the voice’ is also not representative of the gay community – some gay men do not exhibit the relevant characteristics and some heterosexual men share those characteristics.
The writer recognises that heteronormative views of the society is the reason behind the shock his colleagues in the newsroom get when they learn that he is gay. The fact that this reaction is repeated every semester (the writer was writing for a student newspaper of a University) suggests that the writer’s usual speech patterns did not contain too many characteristics that associated him with homosexuality. As he mentioned in the post, he has even been told by some that they did not notice his lisp. He also goes on to say that he needs to stop judging himself for his way of speaking.
The writer’s sense of insecurity about his own speech reminds me of that of David Thorpe, who directed the documentary “Do I Sound Gay?”. An important difference between the writer and David Thorpe lies in the fact that the writer may not actually sound gay, even with his lisp, while David Thorpe had gone to speech therapists and was explicitly told about certain characteristics, such as an ‘upspeak’ in his voice, which refers being too high-pitched at the end of sentences, his longer vowel sounds and nasality in his voice.
The writer also realises that he needs to change his judgemental mindset – he used to think that he could identify a gay man by the way he speaks (similar to how he thinks he can be identified as gay just because he speaks with a lisp). This is a point that the documentary touches on as well. Some gay men are as ‘straight-sounding’ as any heterosexual man, while some heterosexual men sound gay because their speech contains certain characteristics that are associated with homosexuality in men.
The writer is of the opinion that the way he speaks should not be the only aspect that he is judged on. This is something that I agree strongly with, as we would not like ourselves to be judged solely on one bad point instead of all the other good points that we possess. The writer and the documentary have both shown that it is impossible to tell whether someone is gay or not just by the way he speaks.
Avelino, G. (2016, April 14). Modern Tongue: Sexual orientation should not be guessed by speech patterns. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://dailytitan.com/2016/04/modern-tongue-sexual-orientation-should-not-be-guessed-by-speech-patterns/
Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2010). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.