December 15, 2012

Gay Peter Pan-isms: the lisp

Why, of all possible speech abnormalities or eccentricities, does the lisp stand out among queer speech?

There is no single form of a lisp; it's just a generic term that captures all sorts of messed-up ways of pronouncing sibilant sounds like "s" or "z". So just because gays don't produce a sound exactly like "th", but something close to it (a "hyper-corrected" form), is just trying to wave the problem away. They obviously have some very distinctive error in sibilant pronunciation, and to the ear of the average person the closest thing it sounds like is "th". Hence the common phrase "gay lisp".

Moreover, I've heard the gay lisp even among Spanish-speakers, whether from Spain or from Latin America, and in a handful of East Asian languages like Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. So it's something that strikes them regardless of their native language. It is not a language-specific thing like choice of slang, but a common involuntary disruption to queer speech.

Here are some clues that the gay lisp is another part of the larger pattern of gays being stunted in childhood:

As a functional speech disorder, lisping has no clear known cause. It is often referred to as a speech delay of unknown origin. . . .

Lisping is also associated with immature development. Some children will adopt a lisp as a means of gaining attention. Other children will begin to lisp after they have experienced unusual stress or trauma. This behavior is part of a regression into a more secure period and can include other types of regressive behaviors such as bed wetting or wanting to sleep with the light on in the bedroom.

First, it is a delay, meaning stunted growth along the natural developmental path. It's not any old error like pronouncing "b" like "k". It's the kind of error that a stunted child makes, although most normal children will outgrow it.

And second, a child may speak with a lisp not because they got stuck in an immature state, but are regressing there after already having reached the intended, mature state of pronunciation. Regressing in order to gain attention -- reminds you of every faggot drama queen you've ever run into, doesn't it?

The review says that lisping tends to disappear for most children after a trouble period of ages 4 to 8. That reinforces that claim I've been making throughout this series of investigations into gay Peter Pan-isms that they're stunted after toddlerhood but before older childhood when they're on the cusp of puberty. They are in that resolutely "girls are yucky" phase of elementary school before 4th or 5th grade, when boys start to mature more socially, emotionally, and physically.

Finally, lisping is neither an exaggerated masculine or exaggerated feminine way of speaking, so we can rule out the popular yet wrong-minded views of male homosexuality that see it as hyper-masculinization or feminization. Females are more neotenous, so it is easy to confuse feminization with infantilization. But then along come cases like the gay lisp or the lack of a nurturing instinct that conclusively point to stunted development as the root cause.


  1. theo the kraut12/15/12, 10:01 PM

    As a teenage backpacker in Amsterdam a friend and I tried to sneak back into our youth hostel at 3 am (they would close gates early as it was a Christian(!) hostel right smack in the red light zone, the cheapest available). A couple of very sturdy "bear" neighbours surprised us climbing over the rooftops and thought us to be burglars--I can tell you that they didn't lisp or lilt, rather they roared like Grizzlies, and my friend received a solid bashing before we could escape.

    Apart from that, I didn't meet so many gays, (the last I met was an engineer with a penchant for working class guys), only few were fairies, and even those didn't lisp. So my anecdotal evidence doesn't support your thesis. Of course I know the cliché, and I witnessed effeminate behaviour, yet I wouldn't mind some data confirming the gay lisp. No offense, I concur with your political and cultural views, but sometimes you just assert premisses, that's not enough eg when arguing with liberals.

  2. Not all gays lisp, but then not all children do. Lisping does seem to be confined to these groups, though. It's a necessary but not sufficient condition.

    Some of the studies on the gay lisp are at the wikipedia page:

    They don't have unusual-sounding consonants of any kind except for the sibilants, and no detectable problem with vowels. It's just what you'd expect of a typical child with a speech development problem.

  3. I think its more egocentrism. The gays don't want to have to compromise with other people. If they have a lisp, than others will just have to live with it.

    I actually had a lisp as a child. I had to spend a considerable amount of time with a speech therapist correcting it. This is the experience with most children who have lisps - either they get help from their school, or alter it themselves, because of bullying.

    As you've documented, nobody shames undesirable behavior anymore. I see the "gay lisp" as being another example of that. OF course, because gay men are more infantile on average, its even worse with them.

  4. Going along with my above post, it might be worth it to examine whether there are more or less speech therapists in elementary schools. Of course, there could be more because of the "overproduction" and proliferance of bureacrats in falling-crime times. But it still might yield more insight.


  5. Sorry to triple-post. But just to illustrate how much things have changed, when I was 8-10 years old(early-mid 90s), my elementary school would automatically send kids with speech problems - such as a lisp - to the school's speech therapist. Evidently, many gays are not getting this treatment.

    Don't get me wrong, I missed most of the "wild times" and I guess at heart you could class me with the Millenials. But I can still remember some stuff from the early 90s..


  6. Gays do make a point out of trying to force their ways on others, who must accept it all without objection.

    Still, why this particular speech quirk? They could have chosen any other list of distinctive speech patterns to force on listeners. Yet they're mostly what you'd expect to hear from a developmentally frozen 7 year-old boy.

  7. NPR's FAAAvorite queer David Sedaris writes about how he was sent to a Speech Therapist at his public elementary school, along with another effeminate boy. The female therapist made it clear the boys were speaking in a fag manner and she wouldn't stand for it. Evidently he could correct it during the sessions, but refused to do it otherwise.

  8. Not sure it damages intelligibility at all or causes assimilation or confusion at all (so I'm not sure if, properly it can be classed as an error or just a habit, however ever much it annoys non-gays or what have you).
    Their "supers" are clearly "SSupers!" and not "Thupers!".
    I don't think anyone actually hears gays as pronouncing their s like a th.

    Just that "lisp" is the way people describe any kind of unusual sibillant pattern.

    e.g. Sean Connery's distinctive s as sh ( pronunciation gets described as a "lisp" by lots of folks (google sean connery lisp).

    Also of interest this study found that young boys were more likely to be rated as female by listeners ignorant of their gender when they used the "gay" hyper correct s,d.d2k

    So it would be interesting to see if there actually is a sex difference in men and women and boys and girls, in which case if there is this looks like we're back to feminisation (the mainstream theory) again.

  9. When it comes to their speech, and even many of their mannerisms, pre-gay effeminate boys seem to be imitating not their mothers or their sisters but their elderly grandmothers or great grandmothers.

    I mean, think of their use of nouns of address like "Yes, dear" or Would you hand me that, dear?"
    Their moms don't talk like that, only much older women.

    Their tendency toward affected speech is more the emphatic speech patterns exhibited by elderly women who have a tendency to draw out their words and talk precisely, emphatically, "Well, now, how about we_just_sit_down_and have some_ tea, shall we?"

    You could say this is childish imitation of what they perceive to be the speech patterns of the adults in their lives, but so frequently, those patterns are not those of women the age of their mothers but rather grandmothers, and old grandmothers, at that.

    It's funny, too, because thinking about the two gay men I know best, both were raised with their grandparents in their houses with their parents.

    Sounds crazy, but I wonder if male homosexuality is more common among men who've lived with grandparents in their infancy or toddlerhood. If there is a pathogen trigger, maybe it's more likely to be transmitted by older folks.

  10. There are studies that have established that gay men and women have different otoacoustic emissions from straights. Supposedly, such development occurs from hormones in utero.
    I don't know if this would account for a different perception of sound that resulted in differing speech habits, though.

  11. Think the siblilant "s's" of Truman Capote.

    I know you're young, Ag, but have you seen a lot of tape of Capote?

    Some of his appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" must be on Youtube.

    Gore Vidal? I'm trying to recall if he had a sibilant propensity, but I just recall his sarcasm and his precision of articulation.

    Now, William F. Buckley...I know he was married and all, with kids, and was a blue blood, but for God's sake, if ever a man seemed to be gay, it was he. He has some sibilants going there along with the up and down of intonation.

  12. on auditory system differences in straight/gays:

  13. Turns out bedwetting is caused by constipation pressure on the bladder.


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