This is a phrase I can actually personally embrace. It is one that I certainly hope is used to describe me, or my posture in the world, at least once in awhile. Though I am not sure anyone has ever said to or about me: he’s as Queer as a $3 dollar bill. I am however under no illusions that it has not crossed many people’s minds after their first encounters with me.
As I have written about many times for this group I am a strong advocate for discovering and accentuating the differences between gay and straight. That is after all why, now 40 years on, I am still frequenting the LGBT Center of Colorado. I feel our greatest gifts to humanity will involve bringing unique ways of looking at the world through our queer eyes and not groveling to try and show the straight world we are really just like them.
We start throwing off clues at a very early age that we are different from our hetero brothers and sisters in so many ways. I am always fond of sharing one of Harry Hay’s favorite stories on difference. I am paraphrasing here a bit but it involved an episode where he was called out by some other boys for throwing a baseball like a girl. Female acquaintances at the time corrected him saying you don’t throw like a girl you throw like a sissy.
Harry was able, eventually perhaps, to recognize this as not a slam on his masculinity but rather an example of how gay boys are not like little girls but rather an entity uniquely all their own.
The straight world with their binary blinders on see things as either masculine or feminine. They very often confuse non-typical behaviors as belonging to the opposite gender when in fact it is a behavior neither female nor male but something totally different, totally other. Perhaps it is an expression of a third or fourth gender?
A recent documentary by the filmmaker named David Thorpe called “Do I Sound Gay” is a wonderful case in point supporting the possibility that we really are different in very intrinsic ways. [ This is a link to the trailer for the documentary. ]
The film deals with Thorpe’s own personal journey around wanting to not “sound gay”. The film looks at this phenomenon as it effects many gay men but I suspect a similar though perhaps less impacting version of the issue could be true for lesbians. There is a tone I often subtly identify as a lesbian voice and it is always comforting when I hear it. Comforting even when the voice is calling a basketball game or trying to communicate just what it is going on with female golfers.
This business of “sounding gay” is one of those issues though that I feel is more problematic for gay men. Thorpe’s presentation seems to vacillate between the gay sounding voice being an innate characteristic or rather perhaps learned from older gay mentors and therefore something that can be un-learned. I prefer to think of it as quite intrinsic to who we are and that this simply comes through and is allowed to flower with our coming out and acceptance of our queer identity.
I am to this day frequently mistaken for a woman especially on the phone. Though I do not think the “gay voice” is common to all gay men it is certainly for many. And perhaps those gay men with a masculine sounding voice are simply better actors than the rest of us.
The only recording of my voice from the 1960’s I am aware of is an old tape re-mastered to CD a few years ago of my talk to my senior high school class in 1967 on my return from Mississippi. I was down there with several others on a self-discovery trip about American racism for a group of clueless white middle class teenagers from suburban Chicago. My main mentor in those days arranged the trip, a progressive Holy Cross nun named Sister Alberta Marie. In presenting to my classmates I actually do remember being conscious at the time to speak slowly. Perhaps this was to avoid slipping into “gay speak” and having classmates at least quietly remark to themselves: “well, he certainly is queer as a $3 dollar bill”.
You can check out the recording here and decide for yourself just how gay I sound. In the interest of full disclosure I think I was consciously trying to butch it up especially since this was recorded just a month or so after my first sex with another man. Check out the long “S’s” especially when I say Mississippi, so much for coming across as butch.
Trust me I was absolutely not aware of any gay-mentors in my life to have learned this queer-speak from!
I am particularly fond of the documentary “Do I Sound Gay” in part because it raises a myriad of issues around accepting our queerness and the often debilitating internalized homophobia that accompanies that journey. The film is available on several platforms including Netflix and also on You Tube, iTunes and several others.