Pride Weekend, Part 2.

Jason Locke

Jason Locke | June 23, 2024

Pride Weekend, Part 2.

I’ve never liked my voice.

I’m not alone. People, in general, hate their voices. We are simply not biologically intended to hear our voices the way that other people do. I hear it and I think, “Who’s that guy?”

No, actually, I don’t. I don’t do that. I hear it and I think, “Who’s that fag?”

I said what I said.

And then, a month ago, I lost mine.

Not in the way you’d think. I didn’t start whispering. It wasn’t laryngitis. Over the course of one desperate illness, my speaking voice dropped by an octave and several decibels. Initially, I was amused by the outcome. Unable to speak the way I had, everything became reduced to a deep, husky purr. Oh, well, I thought. A few days and it’ll be gone.

Four weeks later, it’s still here, and my voice is that of a stranger’s.

That’s the thing about our voices. It’s why we wince when we read our earliest fiction when our naked ambitions and desires are most on display. It paints a picture of who we are. We make assumptions of others based on the speech patterns we hear. Their class, approximate age, education level, the region they grew up in, and gender are all immediately available. Scratch the surface and there are even more subtle differences: the ghost of forgotten dialects and extinct languages preserved when Cornish and Irish speakers made the last conversion to English generations ago, the subtle hesitation when Japanese speakers commit to saying words like “rally”, the awkward syntax that both makes sense and sounds somehow off when Slavic-language speakers try to navigate a language frustratingly devoid of declensions. Or something that I was raised to understand that was the most shameful thing of all: my sexual orientation.

In the past, I have learned to accept, if not cherish my voice. I have formed a hard, defiant shell about it. I have rechristened myself: I am not gay, I am homosexually gifted. I have learned to make it a joke. I have learned to hide my rage at being dismissed, mocked, and intimidated. But now, my voice has become discordant. The louder I get the more the cracks appear.

There is a context to my rage. During the 1980s, when the rest of the Western world was building on the excesses of the 1970s, Americans enthusiastically rejected that. “Women’s lib” became a joke, feminists were rechristened feminazis, and gay people, who were making so many strides toward public acceptance during the Carter administration, found their ranks decimated during the AIDS epidemic. In 1985, Houston mayoral candidate Louie Welch said that the solution to the problem was to shoot all the queers. Over a hundred thousand American citizens died due to governmental indifference during the AIDS epidemic. And throughout the South, already poor and militantly xenophobic—mostly against Yankees—the conservative backlash that I lived through was particularly vile.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took one day out and tallied up all of the times someone called me queer, faggot, or any anti-gay slur. There was never any context: I would be at my locker, changing classes, asking about a teacher about a homework assignment and boom. There we go. Thank you, Mr. Hunsucker, for shrugging his shoulder and saying, “Well, what do you expect?” when I stared at him in silent betrayal. That day, I tallied up the number of slurs, multiplied it by the number of days in the school year (180) and the remainder of the time until graduation. And when it reached over 10,000, I went home and took the remainder of my mother’s Xanax prescription.

Don’t do that, people. Apparently the amount of Xanax a teenaged body can metabolize is pretty high. If you’re going to off yourself, you’ve got to commit to taking a lot more than I did, or else you’ll wake up with your mother beating the hell out of you for eating her prescription and telling the neighbors you’re a druggy.

And my voice became, in my mind, the big thing that labelled me, that transformed me from the guy I wanted to be—creative, cool, funny—and labelled me, publicly, with a word and an identity I resisted because of that sense of shame. In my mind, I railed at people who made that decision for me, who “outed” me on a perpetual basis, as if I had a beacon over my head. But as I settled into that identity, learned to enjoy it, I stopped hating my voice nearly as much.

And then it came to bite me. In strange ways. The day I discovered my ex’s parents called me “that fag” when they had only spoken to me on the phone. It was 2004. The day my dean pulled me into her office and told me that I needed to learn how to “comport myself” when it came to my “lifestyle choices.” She used air quotes. And I was so indoctrinated in my own sense of shame that I apologized and confessed how unprofessional it was that I had alluded to my male partner. It was 2014.

That sense of inferiority has pervaded me my whole life. It is, I think, why so many gay people seriously consider the military. It’s not because of the perks of a nice body or the uniform. It’s not even the company of other men—most of them will be aggressively straight and kind of obnoxious about it anyway. It’s about the implicit promise that once you get out of the military, you’ll be equipped to handle yourself in a world that’s inclined to ignore you, belittle you, and intimidate you. It’s the idea that you can become your own hero, stare down people who could have bullied you and refused to budge an inch. It’s the idea that you will never again feel compelled to apologize for acknowledging that Title IX training also includes you. It’s the idea that you have a place at the table.

And that table is shrinking as anti-gay voices have gained prominence. Even the dialogue about them is somehow polite and restrained, as if their opinions are more reasonable. We even cloak bigotry in the language of phobia, as if we are suggesting that, poor dears, they’re terrified of a group of people. But the truth is that they’re not. We don’t use the term negrophobic or gynophobic. And yet, it’s only natural that we get all indulgent about their bias—so natural and ingrained that even LGBT people themselves unthinkingly say homophobic rather than anti-gay. Words have meaning to both the speaker and the listener. And by accepting that appellation for our enemies, LGBT people are also accepting that they have an implicit right to their bigotry.

They don’t.

And so, perhaps my voice has not gone after all. Perhaps this is the way that I can still speak up. And one day, whether I recover my original voice or not, perhaps I can hear my voice and say, “Who’s that dude?” And leave it at that.

 

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