Asked whether she was shocked when her grandson came out of the closet, "Do I Sound Gay?" director David Thorpe's grandmother says of course, because "You always seemed very normal to me." Ouch. Kind of a kick in the teeth, which can't possibly help one's lingual articulation, which is the subject of Thorpe's very entertaining exploration of the sibilant S and the overarticulated P, T and K -- as well as homophobia, self-loathing, gay-bashing and the ways a homosexual can change his voice. And why would you want to? He gets into that, too.
The premise is that Thorpe has broken up with his boyfriend, and blames his loneliness in part on the way he sounds (as it turns out in the film, there's some basis for his fear). The director covers a lot of territory, during a movie that is part memoir, and part "concept" documentary -- a film about an idea, in other words, which is a highly creative and probably most daunting form of nonfiction cinema, because there's no template and no limits. And no footage. Thorpe gets his information across using some of the more conventional devices, such as "candid" conversations with friends about the issue of gay talk, interviewing articulate gay celebrities such as George Takei, fashion guru Tim Gunn ("When I first heard my own voice I was appalled") and sex columnist Dan Savage. And talking into the mirror.
But he also gets the physio-sociological lowdown from some highly informed linguistic authorities about what exactly the "gay accent" means, where it comes from, and why it evolves among people who might have little else in common other than their sexual orientation -- and, of course, their immersion in a culture where gay people have long been portrayed as having sounded a certain way.