The question is, is there such a thing as a “gay accent”? Quite rightly, the author begins with a disclaimer.
…before going further, let me state that I believe gay men speak with as wide an array of voices as heterosexual men. I don’t give credence to the idea of a universal “gay voice.”
I would add from my own experience that not only do most gay men not speak in a way that indicates their sexual orientation, but that some men who do “sound gay” are — as far as one can tell — heterosexual. (We could perhaps agree that a good example of this would be the BBC television performer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.)
Neither article mentions women’s voices. There is the equal question, whether there exists a recognizable “lesbian accent”. If there is, then similar reservations would apply.
It appears that Podesva’s article is based on the speech of a single gay man living in San Francisco. It turns out that the whole Spring 2011 issue of American Speech is devoted to “Sociophonetics and Sexuality”. So one would hope that it contains further relevant research based on the speech of more than one single individual. Unfortunately the UCL Library has discontinued its subscription to the journal, so I have not yet read this issue.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. As Podesva’s informant’s speech shifts from the formal to the informal end of the formality scale, it is claimed that his accent becomes more “Californian”. This is supposed to involve a number of related vowel changes. Chatting with friends, the subject
exhibits three markers of California English in this latter situation: the word “bad” is pronounced with a vowel closer to the vowel in “bod,” and the vowels in “boot” and “boat” are both pronounced fronter.
An opener TRAP vowel? Fronted GOOSE and GOAT? Does that remind you of anything? Yes, these are characteristic features of British English as compared to American.
Thirty years ago, in Accents of English (CUP 1982, p. 21-22), I wrote
…it is of interest to ask what speech characteristics are perceived as effeminate or mannish, respectively. I suspect that many of them are prosodic matters — intonation, pitch range, rhythm, tempo. […] Many gay men can certainly switch ‘camp’ voice quality and vocal mannerisms on and off at will.
— to which I would now add “and so can many people who are not gay”.
After further discussion, I continued
…it may frequently happen that a pronunciation which would be entirely usual in one locality may sound effeminate in another. This appears to be the case, for example, with the use of a voiceless intervocalic [t] in words such as better, party — normal in England, but in America widely perceived as unmasculine. The same applies, I suspect, to the use of [ɑː] in BATH words.
To which we evidently may be able to add the qualities of TRAP, GOOSE, and GOAT.
If Americans perceive a British accent as sounding gay, do we Brits perceive an American accent as sounding butch?
On the other hand, what about a northern Ireland accent? Voiced intervocalic /t/, back GOAT, harsh voice quality (all = butch), but even opener (and backer) TRAP and even fronter GOOSE (= camp). How confusing.
I think there’s a lot more to it than this.