Why do a majority of gay men speak in a camp voice?
September 23, 2005 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Why do a majority of gay men speak in a camp voice? Is this put on or does it just happen?
posted by spooksie to Writing & Language (29 answers total)
Check out this thread from last week
posted by exogenous at 6:04 AM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I wasnt talking about the lisp, I was talking about the camp voice.
posted by spooksie at 6:22 AM on September 23, 2005

I'd like to know how you know a majority of gay men.
posted by trey at 6:23 AM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I believe it's a stereotype that most gay men speak with any kind of voice. You probably meet people all the time who are gay and you don't realize it. Perhaps gay men who speak in a stereotypical gay or effeminate manner want everyone to know they're gay.
posted by kdern at 6:28 AM on September 23, 2005

What's a camp voice anyway? Are these people doing their Vincent Price impression when they talk to you and holding a flashlight under their chin for the spooky look? Or is someone repeatedly asking you to play the naughty campboy and the stern councilor?
posted by phearlez at 6:36 AM on September 23, 2005

It's a stereotype, and sometimes it's used as an identifier. Some individuals seem to do it all the time, others float into it when talking to certain people. That other thread really does cover a lot of this.

I don't think it's a majority.
posted by mikeh at 6:39 AM on September 23, 2005

This is idiotic.

That's like asking why a majority of lesbians wear a mullet.

When you have spoken to a majority of gay men, get back to me.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:41 AM on September 23, 2005

What FlamingBore said.

The majority of the gay men I know (and know are gay) speak about the same as most of the other men I know.
posted by pompomtom at 6:45 AM on September 23, 2005

Well, as others have said... the "majority"... WTF?

Lessee now... (does quick calculation based on the sample "all the gay men Decani has ever known").... I can categorically state that in fact just over 36% of gay men speak with some degree of campness. Not a majority at all.

Interestingly I have known five completely straight men who spoke camply and three of them were called Dave. I'm sure this must say something about Daves. Comments - particularly from camp, straight Daves - most welcome.
posted by Decani at 6:55 AM on September 23, 2005

I just have to add my voice to the chorus here.

If you'd asked about "a majority of the gay men I know," or, better, "a majority of the men I know are gay," you would have a slightly better question. It would still be pointless, however, since you almost certainly have encountered more gay men than you think you have, and you absolutely have not encountered a majority of all gay men.

Also, are you 100% sure that all the men you've encountered who "speak in a camp voice" are in fact gay? How do you know?
posted by cerebus19 at 6:55 AM on September 23, 2005

I've known (not in the biblical sense: I'm female) dozens of gay men since moving to a major metropolitan area in the Northeast, where it's not career/social death to be out. Maybe 10% (as in, 4 out of every 40) rock that stereotypically "gay" voice--which hardly makes a majority. (I love cerebus19's comment: I've also met a few avowedly straight men who've got the campy, breathy lisp--anyone remember that SNL skit, "Lyle, the effiminate heterosexual"?)

My parents think they don't know anyone gay. I think they are looking for a caricature, and/or no one in their right mind would be "out" to them, given their views of what "the gay" is all about.
posted by availablelight at 7:14 AM on September 23, 2005

In response to Decani... See, this is what they get for shifting to the hippy loving name of Dave, as opposed to sticking with the God-Fearing name of David that they were given by the Lord and their father...

[Said as someone named David who gets REALLY TIRED of people always shortening his name to Dave... Dammit people, I introduced my self to you as DAVID, not Dave. I don't go around willy-nilly shortening YOUR name from what you introduced yourself as]
posted by KirTakat at 7:16 AM on September 23, 2005

They don't. Probably you just aren't noticing the gay men around you who speak in normal voices. You know, the postman, the police officer who pulled you over even though you weren't speeding, most of the guys you shower with at the gym, your son's teacher, that work associate you are having lunch with next week, your brother who never married. Those guys.
posted by LarryC at 7:17 AM on September 23, 2005

He probably means like the character of Jack in Will and Grace.

But yeah, this is one of those statistical "BS" moments (as others have noted), unless you can accurately identify a gay man by just looking at him, of course.
posted by madman at 7:20 AM on September 23, 2005

Do you think you've all berated the questioner enough yet?

I'll rephrase the question for him: Why do so many apparently gay men seem to affect a 'camp' voice?

Though I still have no idea what a 'camp' voice is.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:21 AM on September 23, 2005

Wow ... as a gay man I can totally understand.
Some gays enjoy talking "camp" i.e. "Heyyyy girrrrrl, that's a FABuLOUS outfit!" and it goes on and on and on. I know a few gay men who actually think they are girls, refer to their other gay friends as "the girls" and just revel in all things fabulous.

Some gays are just ... gay and don't wear it as a badge. I am openly gay but I don't ACT openly gay. I can also talk "camp" with the best of them but it isn't something I do all that often.

Not all gays enjoy seeing a gay pride parade led by drag queens and men in leather collars. Some gays revel in being gay to the "queer" side of the spectrum while others would rather just be gay while staying non-descript.
posted by Makebusy7 at 7:26 AM on September 23, 2005

Best answer: hom
posted by tellurian at 7:29 AM on September 23, 2005

Personally, I find most camp comes across as imitation Lauren Bacall.

Funny story: Back in the early 80's, Bacall was doing some radio adverts. I, not being a fan of old movies, had no clue who Bacall was (she identified herself in the ads saying "Bacall here"). I asked a friend "who is this fruit in these ads?".
posted by Goofyy at 7:32 AM on September 23, 2005

Answers from the linked thread, which nobody seems to want to read:

"There is a very distinct subset that does speak with the affected accent that people often use when stereotyping gay men. Why do they do it? I don't know. I've never asked. Have they always done it? I doubt it. Like most stereotypes, it's probably the result of a small sample of a population behaving in a abnormal fashion, from which observers make gross generalizations that all (or most) members of that population behave similarly."

"Another possibility is that gay men whose behaviors are relatively straight might have been able to closet themselves better historically. For example, the only gay guy my dad knew growing up in Syria was some wild flamer with mental health issues and a drug problem. No wonder he and his whole family grew up thinking gays were sick in the brain. I bet he knew lots of gay men. Just didn't realize it. Perhaps they, themselves, were in denial about it."

"As for the stereotypical gay 'accent' or 'voice', well, I've been told by reliable sources that I've had an identifiably gay voice since I learned to speak. Since the only gay men in my childhood weren't around that much, I imagine that they had nothing to do with it. Purely anecdotal evidence from friends seems to jibe with my experiences, as does a barely-remembered study I read years ago which seemed to indicate that the 'gay voice' arises independent of outside influences."

"In the immediately post-Stonewall days of the early 70's, this behavior of the lisp and limp wrist was fashionable in some gay circles. It meant different things at different times.

Around straight people, it was a way of saying "I'm gay. Deal with it." Amongst ourselves it was a vehicle for humor (usually of the catty/bitchy sort) and a way of marking our territory (say, the relief of being amongst one's own kind after a week of dealing with the hopelessly straight)."

"I have known at least one gay man who came out while in university, and had a "normal" voice before, and suddenly had a flaming gay accent (accent? dialect? voice?) and could switch between them. I'm sure there are people for whom it's a choice to speak that way in order to identify with their group. Maybe in this guy's case it was part of an effort to come out and not be ashamed of his sexuality -- to adopt the cultural symbols of homosexuality just to get the point across.

The other thing that occurred to me is that I have read that sibilant s's are much more tolerated in women, and so might be perceived as a female way of speaking, and when men sound/look/act like women, they're seen as gay."

posted by Tlogmer at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2005

As a gay man I wonder this too. I really wonder why it is I speak in a "gay voice" sometimes, but only in groups of gay people. I slip in and out of it mostly unconsciously. I'm not talking campy / queeny, I just mean a different inflection. It's kind of like my Texas accent, which is mostly gone but comes back when I'm really relaxed. (I save the gay Texas accent for when I want to be teh hawt).

The "gay accent" is particularly puzzling since in general accent is learned as a young child, before you're a member of a gay community. Maybe watching too much Hollywood Squares as a child made me campy, but I doubt it.

A fair number of the men I've met in Switzerland have a "gay voice" when speaking English. It's been a bit confusing.

Anyway Mary, for me the gay voice is a marker that says "I'm with people like me".
posted by Nelson at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2005

Don't jump all over someone for faulty logic. Bad logic is not the same as bad intent.

Men who go about purposely speaking in an effeminate or campy manner are likely to be gay and likely to want to be known as gay. Probably. I haven't exactly made a study of it, but I'd bet it's generally the case that:
("speaks gay" implies "is gay")
But that does not mean the reverse. It is not true that:
("is gay" implies "speaks gay")
There could be (and probably are, of course) many, many gay men who speak like the average straight man speaks:
("speaks straight" implies ("is straight" or "is gay"))

Still, I understand how people might start to make the association between the vocal mannerism and the sexual orientation. If you don't have (or you don't know you have) gay friends, then the only gays you're ever aware of are the ones who advertise it. As far as you can tell, in that case, pretty much all gays act in this obvious manner.
posted by pracowity at 8:12 AM on September 23, 2005

As mentioned in the other thread, David Sedaris recounts (in the opening chapter of his book ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day') his speech therapy during fifth grade :
"None of the therapy students were girls. They were all boys like me who kept movie star scrapbooks and made their own curtains…. We knocked ourselves out trying to fit in but were ultimately betrayed by our tongues. At the beginning of the school year, while we were congratulating ourselves on successfully passing for normal, Agent Samson [the speech therapist] was taking names as our assembled teachers raised their hands, saying, ‘I've got one in my homeroom,’ and ‘There are two in my fourth-period math class.’ Were they also able to spot the future drunks and depressives? Did they hope that by eliminating our lisps, they might set us on a different path, or were they trying to prepare us for future stage and choral careers?"
posted by ericb at 10:26 AM on September 23, 2005

'Beyond Lisping -- Code Switching and Gay Speech Styles' -- working link.
posted by ericb at 10:43 AM on September 23, 2005

There is a store here in San Francisco that sells "instant gay accent" chewing gum at affordable rates. This could explain it.
posted by johngoren at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2005

Why do a majority of gay men speak in a camp voice?

I would like to answer you question. Can you please qualify this assertion with evidence?
posted by Rothko at 2:29 PM on September 23, 2005

Can you also explain what "camp voice" means, and in what context a "majority of gay men" are apparently speaking this language to each other? Thanks.
posted by Rothko at 4:08 PM on September 23, 2005

Subcultures tend to develope group speech patterns. Think of the way many African Americans talk. Think of the way New York Jews talk. I've been told that I have a "Jewish voice." I speak really quickly in a sort of clipped way. It's not conscious. I never tried to develop it. But I grew up in a Jewish, cosmopolitan family.

"Family" is the tricky part. I was RAISED by my family, so my speech patterns were probably learned. But I also received genes from my family, so maybe there's a genetic influence too. I'm not suggesting that I'd talk this way if I'd been adopted by Eskimos. In that case, I would almost definitely speak like an Eskimo. But PERHAPS there's a genetic component than influences a largely learned trait.

Anything secondary trait that's connected with homosexuality is a mystery because homosexuality is a mystery. Let's not forget, no one has proved that homosexuality is genetic. We (most of us) assume it's genetic, because gay people spring up all the time without being influenced by other gay people. There are other reasons to bet on a genetic cause for homosexuality, but the all come down to using Occam's Razer. No one has actually found a "gay gene."


It really sucks that so many people jumped on the questioner. I think it's an excellent question. Yes, it could have been phrased better. Why not FIRST answer the question and THEN -- if you feel the need -- suggest that it was poorly worded or based on faulty logic.

Truth is, MANY gay men do have a recognizably "gay" speech pattern. This may be a tiny minority of all gay men. I don't know. How could anyone know? But ENOUGH gay men do it to make it noticeable.

I have really good "gaydar." I know it's good, because it's predictive. If I peg someone as gay, he almost ALWAYS turns out to be gay. (I have always had a large number of gay friends, and I am sometimes able to tell when someone is gay when even they can't -- though usually they are good at it too). The voice is a MAJOR predictor for me. Sure, I may be missing some gay men who don't have "the voice."
posted by grumblebee at 4:16 PM on September 23, 2005

I second grumblebee's answer: there is certainly some combination of speech mannerisms and inflections -- whether it's camp or not I'm not sure, as I don't really know what the term means when it comes to voices -- that is more common among gay men in North America then it is among straight white men.

It's not clear whether the examples grumblebee gives really are comparable to what's going on in the case of a gay male "accent", for the reasons that he himself suggests - it may come from a subculture, but certainly isn't learned, at least in most cases, from family.

One interesting thing that came up in the other thread is that some people self identified as having aspects of a "gay accent" at an early age, before it could be plausibly attributed to emulation/identification with others. If no one has studied that, it would seem like a very natural thing to try to gather statistical information about, as a possible step towards understanding whether and to what degree homosexuality has a genetic basis. I don't know of any such research, but in its absence, my guess is the best answer to the question spooksie was trying to ask is: no one really knows.

And yeah: it would be nice to see a little more benefit of the doubt and a little less jumping on people.
posted by louigi at 5:28 PM on September 23, 2005

Researchers Examine Patterns in Gay Speech - University of Toronto Research Study.

The Gay Voice - University of Toronto Research Study.

Gay Speech Web Survey - University of Central Florida Research Study.

Sounding Gay - The Economist.
posted by ericb at 5:56 PM on September 23, 2005

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