Gay? Or Just Has a Lisp?

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.
How can one know for sure!?!?

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

Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2010). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

4 Replies to “Gay? Or Just Has a Lisp?”

  1. What was interesting is that the author is conforming to the stereotypical view of ‘gay men lisp’. He conveniently believed everyone would conform to such stereotypes as well, and from that knowing that he is gay. I feel that it is sad that because he thoroughly believed in such stereotypes that he had unconsciously be too self aware of his speech and that believing that he actually lisp when in fact he does not. It is sad and terrifying to see what stereotypes do to our minds and affect the way we live. While I agree with you that we should not be judged on one bad point of ours, but maybe we should try to revisit the bad point of ours to determine if it’s really a bad point of just based on stereotype that we think it is a ‘bad point’? Likewise the LGBT community are viewed in such a stereotypical way that humans feel that it is a must to sexually categorised one, because it helps us to understand and grasp the idea of homosexuality. Also, because it deviates away from heteronormativity that the stereotypical characteristics of them are often viewed as bad. And as such this can affect the way of life of the LGBT, of constantly having to change their behaviours so that they’ll not be recognized through the stereotypical salient characteristics that have been picked out for them. Or perhaps maybe we can not judged them at all, for once? (though it is impossible for humans to do so…)

  2. Hello Boon Yong! I think it really interesting how such stereotypes can also infiltrate the domain of phonetics, such that there is a certain way that gay men are expected to speak. It is a pity that such preconceived notions and stereotypes perpetuated by what people deem to be ‘societal norms’ as well as how gay people are often portrayed by the mainstream media may lead such individuals to have linguistic insecurity due to self-consciousness that people may ‘find out’ about their closeted identity. However, I think times are progressing! In the upcoming rom-com that is going to be in cinemas, Love Simon, the main character is gay but does not have the stereotypical ‘gay voice’ that is often used to portray gay people. Hopefully, the success of this movie will show more people that stereotypes are often not reflective of who people truly are.

  3. Even though we cannot deny that stereotypes are prevalent in all aspects of life, we must know that stereotypes do not define we are. It also does not confirm how people view us. Just because we have a certain trait prevalent in a certain stereotype, it does not mean that everyone sees us in that light.

    Therefore, I am really glad that the author of the post Boon Yong mentioned has realised that his lisp does not define who he is, nor is it representative of him. It might not even be as obvious as he thinks, since most people do not notice it. This actually shows us that how we think of ourselves might be different from the general public, and we might just be amplifying this trait for no reason at all.

  4. It is sad that society has a simplistic view of sexuality. I agree that with Boon Yong that having a lisp has been a worldwide indication of gayness. A study was done by Mack and Munson (2012) prove the still standing notion of the “gay lisp” and the “association between the quality of /s/ and the judgement of sexual orientation”. However, up to date, there is no evidence of lisping as an indication of gayness. If the society continues to have this mindset, they will definitely face linguistic insecurity where people affected will always feel they sound gay and be insecure as they feel they do not sound masculine enough. All in all, this was an insightful post as it portrays the simplistic mindset of people in the world with regards to having a lisp.

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