sticks and stones

Question 1: Sadomasochistic Sexting

Sadomasochism  (SM) is often defined as the receiving or giving of sexual pleasure that involves physical pain or humiliation, and is sometimes viewed as an enhancement to sexual pleasure.While the point of SM is to enjoy the act of inflicting or receiving pain, this act of pleasure should not go beyond the point where it becomes dangerous both physically or emotionally for both parties. In consensual SM scenes, a ‘safe word‘ is necessary to pause all activity and remove both the top and the bottom emotionally from the sexual act.

Sexting, on the other hand, is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone.”

Sadomasochistic sexting might hence function as an alternative to when the top and the bottom are not able to physically be around each other due to certain constraints (eg: geographically). Though there may not be actual physical violence involved, the power of one’s words should not be underestimated and sexting can still be emotionally traumatising if it turns to verbal abuse and becomes more emotionally hurtful rather than pleasurable. In such a case, ‘safe words’ are still as important in SM sexting. Emojis may be used instead as in the course of sexting, an emoji is more incongruous in comparison to text or images.

In Julie and Mike’s case, they should choose a safe emoji that has little to no sexual connotation as emojis with sexual connotations may intensify the sexting, which is not what they would want if one party was to feel like the sexting is starting to feel hurtful. The most likely emoji that they would use is ? (the toilet bowl) because it is the most arbitrary in the context of sex and has the least sexual connotation out of all the emojis presented.

Positive facial emojis such as ??  and the ‘okay’ hand sign are unadvisable as safe emojis as they connote excitement, happiness or teasing, and hence, consensus. Negative facial emojis such as??? ? are rather ambiguous, and can come off as part of the submissive resistance that bottoms enjoy playing up during SM, such as during an enactment of a rape scene (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).

Emojis such as the cucumber, pill, microphone and key are phallic in nature, and hence would not be suitable as safe emojis as they may be misinterpreted and instead encourage a higher intensity of sexual discourse.

The exclamation mark and the ‘stop’ palm may seem like a good indicator to alert the other party that the SM conversation is getting too intense and bordering harmful, but they could potentially function like the word ‘no’ in physical SM, and do more harm to the relationship of the sexual partners than good. Using ‘no’, or emojis that connote resistance, as safe words, denies the top from the pleasure being dominant and imposing and the bottom of the pleasure of being subdued and overcome (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).

The chain emoji should not be used for the obvious reason that they are one of the objects that can be incorporated into SM for the pleasure of the sexual partners, be it to inflict pain or to receive it. The faeces emoji may come off as a visual representation for a swear word, and the water droplets emoji could be likened to ejaculation or any form of oral sex.

All in all, while different people experience pleasures and desires differently and should not be denied the autonomy of how they wish to consensually perform it with their partner, it should not come to a point where their sexual acts turn into something that puts either party in danger. This is especially so for SM where the lines can turn rather grey depending on how much physical pain or aggression the top may choose to portray in his sexual act. As such, safe words or safe emojis are important for couples like Julie and Mike to ensure that both parties are not emotionally abused and can derive their desired pleasure from their SM sexting with mutual respect, consensus and safety.

Question 2: Locker Room Banter

I disagree with the top three definition of locker room banter provided by Urban Dictionary, as they do not fully encapsulate the nature of locker room banter and how the societal stereotype of masculinity is performed and reinforced in the process.

Both the first and second definition seem to normalize and perhaps even accept locker room banter, with the first definition stating that locker room banter “exists solely for the purpose of male comedy and is not meant to be taken seriously” and the second definition simply defining it as “conversation that polite society dictates be held privately.”

The third definition on the other hand, seems more accurate in explaining the harmful nature of locker room banter by stating that it can come off as “racist, sexist or crude” but over-generalises and takes on a rather biased tone by stating that most men do it especially when with “their fellow male chauvinistic pigs.”

Rather, locker room banter seems to be more of an in-group activity that reinforces the stereotype of male masculinity and the assumed powerful social position of men (Cameron & Kulick, 2003) through derogatory and sometimes even sexual discourse, which in turn perpetuates prejudices against the socially marginalised.

Locker room banter is not a new concept – it was merely brought to light after Trump’s derogatory remarks were leaked to the public. A social experiment done by McNair, a theatre maker, reveals how widespread locker room banter is and how much of it centralises around patriarchal talk of rating women and talking about women in a demeaning and sexualised way.

But why do some men feel the need to talk like this? Locker room banter has a homosocial in-group function, much like the nature of general gossip (Cameron & Kulick, 2003)- in order to feel included, some men may choose to take part in locker room banter to seek approval from other men or build camaraderie with them. In addition, for those who may feel insecure about their masculinity, locker room banter can help to reinforce their ideals of heterosexual male dominance and patriarchy, which in turn could build their self-esteem and confidence.

However, unlike general gossip, which consists of talking about people behind their backs (Cameron & Kulick, 2003), locker room banter is an extremely negative form of gossip as it encourages ‘rape talk’ and demeaning comments. In many cases, such locker room banter has encouraged real life harassment and berating of women by making sexualised comments about them.

Such toxic homosocial talk should not be normalised as simply just another form of ‘talk’, given how misogynistic it can turn out to be. And despite what some may say, it is not inevitable, not human nature and definitely not acceptable.


Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

What Do You Mean I SOUND Gay? I AM GAY!

David Thorpe’s documentary Do I Sound Gay looks at what it means to sound stereotypically gay and explores the journey of a gay man, Thorpe himself, as he struggles to find his ‘real voice’ and whether doing so might be to get rid of his gay sounding voice. He studies the opinions of friends, specialists as well as entertainers to investigate what having a gay voice could possible mean, and even goes for speech therapy in an attempt to correct his gay voice. Essentially, this light-hearted film also looks beyond the individual and seeks to bring to light the homophobia that many LGBT individuals face and the consequence on their self-esteem and sense of queer identity. Through an analysis of the film as well as reference to relevant studies done on the LGBT community, I will be looking at the underlying homophobia that results in the labelling of a voice that sounds gay and why the notion of a gay voice is likely to be more of a social construct than anything else.

Thorpe (middle) and his journey to find out his ‘real voice’.

During the film, when Thorpe took to the streets as well as asked professionals for opinions on his voice, he realised that the perception of a gay voice is based on some commonly agreed aspects. These include over enunciating, the frontal ‘s’ sound, nasality and elongated vowels. As mentioned by his speech pathologist Susan Sankin, a typical gay voice consists of a lot of up-speak, which lends to a sing-song intonation as well as making the speaker sound as if he is perpetually asking a question rather than making a declarative statement.

Tim Gunn, a fashion consultant, author and actor, proudly declares that gay men enunciate.

The reason why so many people, both gay and heterosexual, may have a stigma against this gay voice can be easily summarised by what one of the interviewees said in the film, who mentioned that he did not like the idea of a voice being in the ‘in between’ as a ‘man is a man and a woman is a woman’ (Gertler & Thorpe, 2014). Indeed, many of the previously mentioned features of what a ‘gay voice’ sounds like can be likened to many perceived features of the female language, as seen in Robin Lakov’s studies. Features that Lakov mentions that are distinctive of women’s language include hyper-articulation, hyper-correction of grammar, super-polite forms and tag questions (Lakov, 1973), has some overlaps with men with the typical gay voice, who tend to sound like they are over-enunciating and speaking in the interrogative. In a heteronormative society, there is a high chance of homophobic prejudice  against those who do not fit into the socially acceptable definitions of men needing to have masculine sounding voices and speak ‘men language’ and women needing to sound feminine and speak ‘female language.’

Prevalence of bullying amongst young gay men who have a gay voice is also discussed in the film

Deviants are likely to be ostracised due to their lack of conforming to societal expectations,  which is also reflected in this documentary. Throughout the documentary, it is explicitly made known to us how self-conscious Thorpe feels about his ‘gay sounding’ voice, to the point where he likens the typical ‘gay voice’ to ‘braying ninnies’ and even questions himself whether it may be a turn-off. However, behind this light-hearted self deprecating humour lies the question of why gay men would feel so unconfident about their voice. This fear and perhaps even a sense of self disdain for ‘sounding gay’, as mentioned not only by Thorpe but also by his interviewees, stems largely from how young gay men are forced to ‘police’ themselves due to the social stigma faced when one does not conform to the the perceived norm of being heterosexual (Gertler & Thorpe, 2014). This form of social persecution by a largely heteronormative society often comes in the form of bullying while growing up, as seen a study that examined the link between sexual orientation and occurrences of bullying. It was revealed that gay adolescents were more likely to be bullied than their heterosexual peers and also less likely to report the bullying (Berlan, Corliss, Field, Goodman & Austin, 2010). This form of stigma may grow less obvious as a gay man reaches adulthood, but the consequences are no less severe. In fact, a study done by Maass, Paladino and Sulpizio revealed that having a ‘gay sounding’ voice created the impression that the speaker was deviant from the typical masculine traits (2017), and hence had a lower chance of being rated by others as worthy of a leadership position and a higher salary. Given the level of homophobic discrimination and social persecution that gay men with gay sounding voices are likely to find themselves subjected to, it is unsurprising that many of them feel self-conscious about their voice.

But is this gay voice truly an innate feature of gay men? Or is there something more to it?

As seen in the documentary, Kris Marx, a straight man who is married to a woman with children, has a stereotypically gay sounding voice, which can be attributed to him growing up around mostly women, making it more likely that his speech will be modelled closer to the typical women’s speech (Gertler & Thorpe, 2014). On the other hand, Matt Bernardo, the seemingly typical masculine man with a low, resonant voice and who grew up playing sports, is a gay man who has come out of the closet, but his speech patterns are likely to be modelled after the many typically masculine men in his life (Gertler & Thorpe, 2014). Such exceptions are not rare, which shows that there may not be a very strong link between sexual orientation and one’s voice. Previous studies by linguist Roy Smyth have also shown that while we cannot completely rule out the possibility of having an ‘auditory gaydar’, this is unlikely to apply to gay men who sound straight, and that there is no prevalent correlation between (Smyth & Rogers 2003). Moreover, Smyth also theorises that the development of speech patterns occur from a young age and are likely to be modelled unconsciously after some people in a child’s life.

However, as we grow older, our speech patterns may change to fit the kind of identity we construct for ourselves as we interact with the world around us and discover ourselves in the process. In the documentary, Thorpe’s high school friend said that Thorpe’s voice changed, sounding more stereotypically gay after coming out, which Thorpe himself did not realise. He postulated that this could be because he wanted to emphasise and reinforce an identity that he had finally come to terms with. It is understandable why Thorpe might have unconsciously decided to ‘camp it up’, since how our voices sound is often not solely based on biological features, but also on how we wish to perform our identity to others and how our listeners make meaning of what our voice connotes (Azul, 2013).

Thorpe did not realise that he did not always sound this way; his cousins and friends even said that he used to sound like a “straight guy” before coming out.

At the end of the documentary, Thorpe comes to terms with the fact that while it is difficult to constantly feel extremely full of pride of his gay voice, he has been successful in reconnecting with his identity as he realises that his voice is what makes him who he is. Above all, one’s sexual orientation is not the only factor that comes into play when it comes to how our voices sound. We are likely to model our speech patterns unconsciously of some people around us and on top of that, how we choose to construct and perform our gender, sexuality and identity also plays a part in the selection of vocal features that we may consciously or unconsciously choose to incorporate in our voice. The human voice is a feature unique to every individual and it is impossible to have a concrete list of vocal features to define what a gay voice comprises of. Less focus should be placed on labelling each others’ voices as this only reinforces unhealthy stereotypes and prejudices.

Rather, let us learn how to be more accepting of one another, regardless of whether we say it like this, or liiiiiike thiss.


Azul D. (2013) How Do Voices Become Gendered? A Critical Examination of Everyday and Medical Constructions of the Relationship Between Voice, Sex, and Gender Identity. In: Ah-King M. (eds) Challenging Popular Myths of Sex, Gender and Biology. Crossroads of Knowledge, vol 1. Springer, Cham

Berlan, E. D., Corliss, H. L., Field, A. E., Goodman, E., & Austin, S. B. (2010). Sexual Orientation and Bullying Among Adolescents in the Growing Up Today Study. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine46(4), 366–371.

Gertler, H. (Producer), & Thorpe, D. (Director). (2014). Do I Sound Gay [Video file]. Canada: IFC Films.

It Takes Two to Tango

There are many ways to push for social justice, but perhaps one of the subtler and more unexpected ways to do so are through children’s literature, especially since many children’s books aim to inculcate some form of moral value at the end of the story. In this post, I will be discussing the popular children’s book And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (Richardson & Parnell, 2005), and how books like these, that spread positive messages about LGBT families, can be a starting point for challenging the notion of heteronormativity from home.

Tango and her two fathers!

The book is about two penguins, Roy and Silo, who wish to have baby just like all the other heterosexual penguins in their enclosure. However, they are biologically unable to lay an egg, so their zookeeper has an idea and gives them an egg that needs to be cared for to hatch. After much dedicated time and care for the egg, it finally hatches into a baby penguin, whom Roy and Silo decide to name Tango, as it takes two to tango.

Roy and Silo do everything together.

The interesting thing about the book is that the label ‘gay’ is never introduced, even though it is made clear that Roy and Silo are romantically attracted to each other. We previously learnt in class and from the readings that there are there are powerful effects to the discourse of labelling. Given that the word ‘gay’ is now often viewed as the unmarked term and has become a widely accepted ‘in-group’ term (Cameron & Kulick, 2010), I thought that it might be mentioned at least once in the book, perhaps as a form of solidarity. However, there were no LGBT labels in this book at all, and from a child’s perspective it merely seems like two penguins who are a little different but have the same want for family love as all the others.

Perhaps that is what makes this book so powerful. By choosing not to use any labels, the authors reinforce their stance against heteronormativity by showing that there does not need to be a label as labels often indicate a sense of markedness, no matter how subtle.

The usage of penguins to bring to light the discussion of a LGBT family rather than human beings is likely to be the author’s way of softening the social message of the book, as putting the protagonists in an ‘animal world’ distances the them from the reality of the human world. Using penguins instead of human beings also prevents any possible homonormative messages from being sent out in the book, which some children’s literature has been accused of (Taylor, 2012).

Above all, And Tango Makes Three has been often named as one of the most impactful books about an LGBT family in recent years, despite the fact that it has been banned in libraries all around the globe and has been named as one of the most challenged books from 2006 to 2010 (And Tango Makes Three, n.d.). By portraying an LGBT family without ever labelling it as one, the authors are able to instil the moral value of inclusiveness and show that love is not exclusive to a male and female. The focus on family love, first between the penguins as partners and then between the parents and child, sends the subversive message that above all, the gender or sexuality of parents does not matter – only that their love, both for each other and their child, is genuine.

*note: images were taken from a free preview of the book online*


And Tango Makes Three. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from

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

Richardson, J., & Parnell, P. (2005). And Tango Makes Three. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Taylor, N. (2012). U.S. Childrens Picture Books and the Homonormative Subject. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9(2), 136-152. doi:10.1080/19361653.2011.649646

What is Bromance?

Bromance is a brotherly friendship but typically men show extra affection in bromance relationships as compared to other friends.