The other day I was listening to a recording of myself giving a speech. And well, I hate my voice. The noticeably and relatively higher pitch from my vocal cords. The tingling tremolo that lingers in my mumbling murmurs. The infinitesimal slivers of nuance between my “talking voice” and “singing voice”.
As some may know, these nuances have also been ideologically flattened into binary ways of thinking about gender and sexuality. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been sequestered in my 10 x 12 living quarters in a fourth floor apartment in the west side of San Francisco, but I’ve noticed that this sonic flattening has seemed to occur less in recent days.
However, when I was much younger, the audible sounds I made when I talked were often questioned when they slid above E4 on a piano. Tormented and taunted, I was taught to feel ashamed. I was taught to suppress my voice into quiet whispers, never exceeding 125 Hz. In contrast, when I sang, I was unquestionably allowed to transcend the appropriate vocal registers for a man. Especially before coming to terms with my own sexual identity, this contradiction confused me.
This nuance in my talking voice has a linguistic label: the gay lisp. Some characterize it as an imitation of female patterns of speaking. Some characterize it as a simper widened by the broad complexity our vocal cords can employ—fluctuations of pitch, legato articulations, and slippery slopes of slurs and glissandos between notes and words. But for me, it is a name for a fear groomed by social norms and cultural representations of men and nurtured by the visceral reactions that instinctually manifest when I hear my own talking voice. I was taught to hate my voice.
Nearly two decades later, I’m happy to report that I’ve grown so much to appreciate the sonic frequencies that pulse through my body. But on days when the sun sets a little too low, the hatred I have for the audible timbre that whistles and waves through me sometimes resurfaces and emanates within my trapezius as if it were soldered underneath the stress-laden knots of a dormant tumor, rotting from the jarring slurs that teenage boys once spat on my face, my lockers, my gym clothes and textbooks.
But how can I blame them, when at home, this is what they learned from their 10-year old fathers and 8-year old grandfathers? And are their fathers and grandfathers to blame when they learned it from the ones before them who learned it from the ones before them? Where did it start and where did it begin?
Despite feeling a sense of change in contemporary public opinion, the vacancy of responsibility haunts me. While some have unlearned the toxic trivializing censure of one’s voice based on the way it sounds, my voice will always be with me like a frequent memory, a frequent frequency that follows and reveals me.