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FREEDOM OF SPEECH

“Do I sound gay?” asks Lee Clatworthy

I’m propped up in bed after popping my straight festival cherry – other than Parklife, which doesn’t really count as a festival as you can get there on the trusty 135 bus. Having been not so much sun-kissed than repeatedly snogged over five days, I have three litres on mineral water on a drip, and I’m rotating Aloe Vera gel and Clinique’s Moisture Surge on my seared face and scalp.*

*Other branded moisturisers are available.

One of the most salient and amusing points made about LGBT Pride festivals is that heterosexuals should think themselves lucky that they’ve never needed a Straight Pride.  Spare a thought then for Seattle-based Anthony Rebello, whose attempt at organising a Heterosexual Pride resulted in a no-show for the thousands invited on Facebook. What Rebello hadn’t realised is that festivals act as a surrogate Pride for many people, but instead of hot cop drag, they get to don an ethnic poncho or a wacky hat instead whilst paying over-the-odds for lukewarm noodles in a polystyrene tray, cheering on their favourite acts selling their latest album and, here’s the most obvious comparison, getting off their faces and having indiscriminate sex all weekend. We have Gay Christmas, the straights have Rave Christmas. The difference is, at the festival I attended, everyone gets a tattoo to remember their pumped stomachs and Chlamydia by. Oh, and the tents. Could you imagine the horror of celebrating Pride on a campsite? Nowhere to plug in the hairdryer or hang your costume changes.

Festivals, Pride or otherwise, allow everyone to not just be themselves, but to be the version that is often hidden away from neighbours or professional colleagues. Inhibitions are cast aside, as is clothing. They say whatever happens at the festival, stays at the festival – well tell that to my flaking epidermis and the GUM clinics. If you can’t be good then make sure you’re safe, and that includes the Factor 40 sunblock.

That freedom to be you is possibly the greatest gift of Gay Christmas. The one weekend of the year where we feel comfortable enough to be the truest version or ourselves, to let it all hang out. Quite literally in some cases.

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In everyday life a lot of us feel constrained by what society perceives is “normal”, whether that’s how we look or how we sound, so it was with great interest that I watched the trailer to David Thorpe’s fascinating new documentary ‘Do I Sound Gay?’ where the journalist and filmmaker explores his own concerns and neuroses about his “gay” voice, and interviews other high-profile media homos.

It’s a subject that hits close to home. Working weekends as a doorman for Serenity Security means that I have to affect an intonation somewhere approaching masculine, if not authoritative. Out of work however, and my migratory background and slight effeminacy means (to my ears) that my voice softens and I sound far less butch.

It’s often during childhood that uneasiness over how we sound is ingrained. A friend of mine described why he often switches parlance; “I have different voices for different situations, but that was something I had to learn at school. I was a common working-class brainy kid that got a scholarship to a posh public school so I had to learn “posh-speak” pretty quick to avoid getting bullied. I switched it off as soon as I got home, and I’ve done that ever since, quite unconsciously at times. I know what voice works best for most situations; apparently my talking-to-cab-drivers voice is hilarious. I slip into “geezer-speak” very easily.”

It’s something I can identify with, having been moved from one side of the country to the other by my parents when I was young, except I had to adapt my “posh” Home Counties accent to the drawn-out vowels and burr of the West Country in order to avoid being beaten-up. Another friend, also a writer, has described how anxiety over how he spoke led to reticence in class; “I became aware my voice was more ‘girly’ than other boys’ at a very early age. I seemed to have so many ‘tells’ when I was a child that it was difficult to rein them all in. I could just about walk into a room and sit down without it becoming obvious but the voice – oh the voice – it always let me down,”

leeclatworthy-pic3-pages122&123“I reverted to silence. I didn’t answer questions in class, would avoid shouting out – whether in joy or misery – in the playground and would pretend I was ‘shy’ in front of grown-ups I didn’t know. What can be so nerve-wracking about being a freelancer or going to meet lots of different people: I never know how they’re going to react to my voice. The voice…in my head, all I can hear is the little boy in the corner who everybody says talks like a girl. And so, in these meetings, interviews and offices, I shake their hands and wait for them to speak first. Only then can I relax.”

Yet another mate told me that as a teenager he often recorded his voice and practiced sounding “less gay”. His high-rolling job today means he often has to speak publicly, yet he’s unable to watch himself back, less that pubescent panic comes back to plague him.

Stonewall may be tackling homophobic bullying in schools, but it occurred to me how many gay men, including incredible successful ones, can become damaged by experiences early in their life. This is why LGBT Pride events are so important. If we can’t live our lives happy, joyous and free every day, at least we can have one long weekend when other people’s opinions don’t matter to us.

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