David Thorpe is proud of his sexuality, but he’s not proud of everything that comes with that, in particular the stereotypical voice inflections that identify him as a gay man.
It might seem trivial, but Thorpe became obsessed with the high-pitched, nasally tones that he seemed to adopt only after coming out. So the New York-based journalist decided to turn the camera on himself with Do I Sound Gay, a breezy documentary that marks his directorial debut.
“I had all these questions about my voice, but really about myself,” Thorpe said during the recent Dallas International Film Festival. “By exploring all the facets of where my voice might have come from, and what it means to people, and why I might have anxiety about it, then I was able to get over some of those fears.”
After a difficult break-up, Thorpe spent more than three years exploring the origins of his voice, both on a personal level and as a larger investigation into stereotypes and how voices in general contribute to perception and self-esteem. To do that, he took speech lessons in an effort to change his voice, as well as speaking to acquaintances who offered insight into when his voice changed and why he’s so troubled by it.
“It’s a sometimes difficult conversation,” Thorpe said. “They made me feel very comfortable, and I really appreciated all my friends and family who took that step with me, because I needed to take it. I feel like I’ve gained a lot of strength from being that vulnerable.”
Thorpe also brings humor into the conversation through interviews with gay celebrities including Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”), George Takei (“Star Trek”), CNN anchor Don Lemon, and humorist David Sedaris, who makes his first film appearance.
“He’s very camera-shy, so I was pleased that somehow he felt comfortable enough to be on screen,” Thorpe said. “It was very inspiring to meet them. I needed someone to tell me those things.”
Although Thorpe said watching the finished film can make him uncomfortable, he admits the process was cathartic.
“I kind of cut myself off from my voice. It was like I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was mine,” he said. “[The film] just connected me physically to my voice. I tried really hard to not sound gay, but it didn’t work. And I’m glad it didn’t work.”