Gay Voice? Heavens to Murgatroyd!

I recently listened to a friend’s book on audio via Audible, Amazon’s audiobook platform. I’ve been a member for over a year now and love listening to audiobooks in the car, especially books read by the author. My friend did not narrate his own book. I messaged him on Twitter to let him know how much I liked it and asked him if he used ACX to produce it. He did.

ACX is also an Amazon platform that helps authors and producers connect to create your audiobook. You can pay the producer up front or you can split royalties with them. I tried producing one of my books through ACX back in 2012 and it was a nightmare.

You can listen to samples from different narrators and then pick one to offer your project. I chose a narrator and apparently he was either too busy or too overwhelmed. Months went by without me hearing from him. I emailed ACX and they were no help. They kept telling me to reach out to the narrator, which I was already doing. I just needed him to release my project so I could give it to someone else, but he never responded so my book was tied up in limbo. I gave up.

Four years later (Yep! Four years!) and I get an email from ACX saying that my project had finally been released! The narrator was attempting to close his account and had finally given up my book. I took the time to send him a very…ahem…polite email expressing my feelings toward him. I was bitter toward ACX too and called it quits.

Now, five years later after messaging with my friend, he convinced me that things have changed a bit at ACX and maybe I should give them another try. So I did. I created projects for two of my books and received auditions for both within a few days. It didn’t take long to pick narrators and it feels good to have things moving along at a fast pace compared to last time.

One of my narrators asked for character traits for each character in my book so she could work on the voices. The other created his own character traits after reading the book, and he emailed them to me to look over them. For one of my characters, he’d listed “gay voice” next to them. I cringed!

This character was not a gay stereotype. He was just a regular guy mourning his lover who has died of cancer. It made me wonder what this narrator thought about how gay people sound? I politely told him that the character wasn’t effeminate and that he should just sound like a regular guy in his twenties. I cringed again just having to correct a stereotype that may or may not have even existed in this man’s mind.

As a gay man, I know very well what “gay voice” might sound like to some people. I grew up being taunted for my own quirky voice which I always hated and still do. I hear the nasally voices or “vocal fry” that a lot of gay men tend to have on television these days. Is that “gay voice?”

Growing up, “gay voice” to me was Snagglepuss on the Looney Tunes. Remember him? “Exit! Stage Left!” I watched Looney Tunes during a time when I didn’t even know what my own sexuality was, and Snagglepuss was a cartoon so he didn’t have any sexuality of his own. Or did he? If you were gay, you knew Snagglepuss was too! They even turned him into a gay socialite who is a New York playwright in a comic just a few years ago!

I’m sure my narrator meant nothing by it, and when I sent him my corrections he didn’t say anything about them. But it made me think, as a writer, about how readers hear our characters when they read our books. We certainly have no control over that, especially if we didn’t point out any mannerisms in the story for a particular character. What’s funny about this is that I did point out some characteristics of another heterosexual character in the story, but the narrator completely missed the mark on him.

The narrator did send me a sample, and he did a great job on the character overall. Part of me would have liked to have heard his narration of “gay voice” though. But a big part of me is glad I didn’t hear it!

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