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Amodern 9: Techniques and Technologies
April 2020

Case Studies in Technique

LESSONS IN QUEER VOICE

Mara Mills

The cure is worse than the disease the stutter-doctors decided around 1910, having asked their patients for years to talk in “queer modes of voice” or in sing-song to circumvent the speech impediment.1 Edward Wheeler Scripture, a physician and experimental psychologist who directed the speech clinic at Columbia University, considered stuttering to be among the gravest ailments of speech. Not able to express himself to others, the stutterer “shuts himself up…and becomes a queer-mannered hermit.”2 Yet speech could be re-routed, released from the grip of a stutter through simple changes in vocal technique: “if he will use an abnormally low voice, or an abnormally high one, or if he will drawl the vowels or slur the consonants, or if he will speak in a choppy staccato voice.” These queer voices, it turned out, caused more embarrassment than did the stutter itself – a case of misalignment between the social and medical perspectives on queerness.3

Fig. 1: From Edward Wheeler Scripture’s Stuttering and Lisping (1912).

Stuttering was an instance of pathological speech, a defect of articulation: phonemes repeated, deleted, substituted for one another, replaced by snorts and nonlinguistic noises. Or words and speech seized entirely, caught in the throat. While some speech pathologists believed stuttering to be congenital and anatomical, Scripture considered it a psycho-neurosis, the sequela of “a diseased state of mind.”4

“Queer speech,” on the other hand, was queerly voiced, a peculiarity of modulation – an unexpected pitch, pace, or timbre that left speech sounds intact but with altered expression. Voices that were queer emerged “at odds” with their sources (bodies or situations) or their content (words). Given the contingency of the unexpected, peculiar, or abnormal at the time and place of Scripture’s writing, how can we make out – a century later – the sounds of these voices that were formerly called queer? The problem of this adjective, to paraphrase Roland Barthes, is not only the usual poverty of vocabulary for describing the human voice, but the branching meanings of queer circa 1912.5

Don James McLaughlin has recently called attention to the under-historicization of the term “queer,” despite the history of (homo)sexuality being such a well-nourished subfield in queer theory. “While scholars have demonstrated that the etymology of queer saw from the late nineteenth century onward a semantic shift toward the particularity of the homosexual,” he writes, “the height of which arrived in its popular usage as a derogatory epithet [in the mid-twentieth century], doing the history of queer means exploring also forces resistant to that shift, which obscure other, unwieldy variants.”6 Formal etymologies suggest two converging streams in English, one from the sixteenth century referring to something strange or eccentric, and another from the seventeenth century indicating something “bad.”7 Other scholars have excavated instead vernacular histories; E. Patrick Johnson pursues queer as quare, its denotations in black southern dialect including “odd,” “excessive,” and “queer of color.”8

To understand the queer voice in the first decades of the twentieth century, from the point of view of Anglophone speech pathology and its cultural milieu, requires bringing to the fore submerged senses of queer as impaired or disabled.9 According to dictionaries of English slang from the prior century, many queer things were either “bad” or “strange” as a result of defect and disease. A few examples from Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (published in several editions between 1785 and 1931) illustrate the extensive kinship between queerness and what came to be known as disability:

queer pins: ill-shapen legs;

queer lamp: blind or squinting eye;

queer mort: diseased strumpet;

queer as Dick’s hatband: out of order, without knowing one’s disease.10

To find references to queer voices, specifically, I have searched through handbooks of vocal science from the (roughly) interwar period, as well as digital libraries of popular fiction and nonfiction such as the Internet Archive. Snatches of queer voice are there, having been shelved in novels and phonetics texts – a residuum of adjectives, affective and anatomical clues.

As the small bestiary assembled in the next half of this essay suggests, some queer voices continued along the etymological path of the fantastical and strange.11 Other queer voices smacked of impairment, whether physical or emotional, and their timbre and modulation were not always amenable to voluntary control. In the second decade of the twentieth century, while Scripture was offering classes in speech therapy, the concepts of disability and impairment became entrenched in U.S. medicine and law as a result of statistical accounting and insurance in the industrial workplace: disability meant inability to work; impairments were risks of disability.12 Moreover new telephone, radio, and microphone technologies, which amplified and isolated the voice, encouraged scientists to inspect speech ever more closely.13 Queer impaired voices thus proliferated, rather than immediately narrowing to the register of the “homosexual” voice that had recently emerged in the field of sexology.

Part of the flowering of scientific specialties in the nineteenth century, sexology inventoried assorted “deviant” sex acts and  simultaneously grouped many of them under the rubric of the homosexual.14 In medicalizing homosexuality, sexology made it a disability as well as a typical – if minor – part of human existence. For sexologists such as English physician Havelock Ellis, one cause of homosexuality was “inversion,” defined as “sexual instinct turned by inborn constitutional abnormality toward persons of the same sex.”15 Many of those “constitutional abnormalities” were psychological, related to “reversed” gender role and object choice in a person of a given sex. Some characteristics of inversion, however, were physical – like a deep voice in women, caused by “anatomical modification” to the larynx or palate.16 In the sexological frame, influenced by the theory of evolution, the voice was understood to be a “secondary sexual characteristic”: secondary to other parts of the anatomy; changing at a secondary stage of life (puberty); secondary in its communicative and aesthetic functions to the goal of sexual selection.

Scripture was familiar with Ellis’s work. They occasionally cited one another, moreover Ellis edited Scripture’s book The New Psychology for The Contemporary Science Series.17 But Ellis did not use the word “queer” to refer to homosexuality or inversion, nor did Scripture explicitly refer to sexological theories in his book on stuttering and lisping – although he did ask patients about their sexual habits as part of a thorough “mental and bodily examination.”18

Diverse sex acts were colloquially called “queer” in the nineteenth century, but it was only after Ellis’ theories took popular hold that the medium of the queer voice conveyed a pronounced message about homosexuality. Even then, neither inversion/homosexuality nor the new umbrella of disability completely circumscribed the queer voice, which comprised its own distinct miscellany. Certain queer aspects of the body were never completely medicalized, and the medical subspecialties disagreed about the queerness of others. Speech pathologists interpreted some vocal peculiarities as isolated impairments, others as part of a physiognomic web of symptoms and neuroses. And to contemporary sociologists, voice was more often understood to be a technique of the body – in the words of Marcel Mauss, “assembled for the individual not by himself alone but by all his education, by the whole society to which he belongs in the place he occupies it.”19 Such techniques are partly voluntary, partly out of one’s hands. A historian might take this scatterplot of detail, chart a path through it or else focus on outliers. I’ve chosen to compile categories without arriving at a master diagnosis. In the early twentieth century, queer voices clustered around impairment and injury, new technology, and a set of gender and sexual deviancies that remained refreshingly perplexing to decode.

Ephemeral-physical, queer voices spoke to drunkenness, giddiness, and harm; inhibition and insinuation; creeps and creepy sensations; the false and the falsetto concerning race and gender; and the disturbing resemblance of hominid sounds to those of non-human animals and machines. The voice affords an abundance of sound-making beyond speech; this catalog reveals the slights that cut away at the vocal range. These queer voices, sounding at the moment when disability became modern, reveal an algebra to impairment: substitutions and combinations; one impairment masquerading as another, a pathologized trait participating in another’s medicalization.20 Queer voices existed within a system of inequalities: Is stuttering less than or equal to queer? Does a particular queer voice work (e.g. at school, at love)? Is it all-gender? Is it racialized? Although these queer voices do not add up to any one kind of person, as a collection of adjectives and other descriptors they tell us about the feelings certain modes of talking, and certain talkers, inspired in listeners. Some of these queer voices were recorded by queer people; others were documented in derogatory terms. At best these voices offer lessons in the aesthetics and expressivity of impairment – taking risks when saying things.

 

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A queer hard voice, a hoarse queer voice
These queer voices hid something. They had an edge; they choked back desire; they tried and failed to repress an emotion. Or perhaps they offered an intimation, an undertone for the rare listener who understood the meaning.21

A queer wheezy or cracked voice
This voice was unprotected. Rasping, weak in volume, it raised the question of underlying impairment and hinted at an unsavory injury.22

A queer high voice
Thin and piping. This voice, it was said, was incapable of sincerely expressing deep emotion.

A high man’s voice signalled effeminacy if not inversion.23 To defy an accusation of queerness in the high register, a male falsetto had to be “snug with a dark quality.”24 Writing in 1933, the prominent vocal scientist and teacher Douglas Stanley laid bare the interconnections between falsetto, effeminacy, and pathology:

The other day I was invited by a friend to attend one of the principle music clubs in New York City. My friend, probably with a view to teasing me, introduced me to a group of about five extremely effeminate men who taught singing. They immediately commenced discussing voice production. (I did not enter into the discussion.) Although they did not agree in every particular, they held one unanimous opinion. This was the to the effect that they disapproved of Caruso’s voice…The point of the story is to indicate that there are many persons who are supposed to be judges of singing (vocal teachers, singers and even critics) who are pathological cases. These persons actually dislike free, full, mellow tones. They really prefer the sound of the effeminate, mixed falsetto tones of a crooner to the glorious ringing tones of a Caruso. Any real volume of tone distresses their ‘sensitive ears,’ so that, not only do they make their male pupils sound effeminate, but they also ‘whittle down’ the voices of their female pupils to a mere squeak.25

High masculine voices bloomed unnaturally via radio. Crooning was to Stanley’s mind an abomination – “utterly to be condemned.” The unorthodox “radio technic” that afforded this modern singing style was a vector of degeneracy, miking a bedroom voice and promiscuously sharing it in public.26

A queer shrill voice
The shrill voice was thin and “white” (lacking vibrato or “color,” a “straight” tone).27 Imputed to women, shrillness might either be a phonetic descriptor or sexist jibe. For those who were socialized to use the hazardous upper register exclusively, it was a life sentence – women self-injured simply by speaking (not unlike walking in high heels).28

The queer shrill voice might equally belong to a man, especially under the influence of distressing emotions. It was high-pitched but also loud to the point of penetrating the listener in an upsetting manner.29 Intrusive, piercing: part of what makes a voice queer, the shrill voice reveals, is its tendency to cause a queer feeling.

Higher, whiter, the shrill voice shifts without a catch into a scream.

A queer husky voice
Generally a thick lower voice in women, but also a voice thick with feeling in men. A voice that contains a whisper. This voice might be appealingly at odds with a feminine body, or it might be an accessory to “boyishness,” referring (in those days) to lightweight, portable masculinity as well as innocent mischief. Depending on the interlocutor, it was off-putting or a lure.30 More suspect variations include the “queer gruff voice” in the writing of Radclyffe Hall.31 One of the first popular authors to incorporate sexological theories into her novels – and to claim inversion as an identity – Hall connected the slang term queer to the new homosexuality.32 Her characters wore their queerness comparatively lightly; “queer” was not yet the hardened slur to come.33

At the lower end of the register, representations of the husky feminine voice were often racialized as black. In American vocal physiology of the 1920s, this “unpleasant,” too-thick female voice characterized the jazz singer – whose vocalization, Stanley claimed, “cannot, for a moment, be considered as real singing.”34 Yet even in the case of lesbian and bisexual singers, black husky voices were not often called queer. According to the eugenic logic of sexology, women who weren’t part of “the European race” naturally had lower voices. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, for one, believed “the higher the anthropological development of the race, the stronger the contrast between man and woman.”35

A queer plummy voice
A plummy voice, from the Oxford English Dictionary, is “mellow, deep, resonant, and carefully articulated (in a way associated with the educated English upper classes); (hence) mannered, affected, posh, upper-class. Also occasionally: drawling; indistinct, as though hampered by plums in the mouth. Frequently mildly derogatory.” Thus a queer plummy voice was a counterfeit affectation. Performing aristocracy, it went over the top.36 It did not concur with the other signatures of class on the body, or perhaps it was above it all. Did this voice make the most of the plummy contranym: was it mellow and resonant, yet slurring with juice?

A queer lisp
Queer voice overlapped with pathological speech in the case of the lisp, defined as a “defect of enunciation.” In Scripture’s time, lisping not only implied the substitution of fricatives, but consonants like l and r.37 It encompassed some forms of slurred speech (see next entry). Lisping might be organic – tied to impairments of mouth and ear – but speech therapists described other lisps as negligent or neurotic, the result of carelessness or anxiety.38 Lisping could also be volitional, as in the example of slurring one’s consonants to cure a stutter. A queer lisp insinuated an unseemly source for a neurosis; oral malingering (feigned impairment); or heedlessness of polite society.

Today the lisp has been diminished to an impediment of sibilants, small sounds that hiss and whistle. The queer lisp is often an elected impairment, gay speech coded in an “s” – elongated, slurred, or hyper-correct.

In Roland Barthes’ S/Z, more important than the opposition of unvoiced/voiced (surd/sonant) phonemes in the book’s title – i.e. the presence or absence of vocal cord vibration, mirroring the protagonist’s uncertainty about his love interest’s gender – is perhaps the shared spectre of misarticulation, the switching of sibilants and the tongue’s propensity to move astray.39

Queer slur
Drunkenness, Lyme disease, stroke – dysarthria takes all comers.

Slurs, those most gutting words, were born in the seventeenth century from the same mother as a style of smooth music-playing (18th) and the blurring, garbling, blubbering of speech (19th). All sprang from a slurry of mud.40

A queer bleating voice
As much nasal as oral, this voice belied the singular humanness of the speech it carried. The descriptor “bleating” was equally ascribed to the loud cry of the agitator and the weak complaint of the underling. Modernist authors racialized the bleat – it was the voice of the Jew and the “Gypsy.”41 In its queer version, the wavering voice was not warranted by the word or situation. But when willfully voiced, the queer bleat revels in whining, babble, and plaintive speech.

A queer light blue voice
Fuzzy, soft, and high.42 Queer when disturbingly soothing, as when blanketing or covering for something dangerous. If blue refers to the erotic, this voice was suggestive.

A queer metallic voice
Another queer voice that calls into question the exceptional qualities of human being. Metallic voices proliferated between the 1830s and World War II, tracking alongside industrialization. Metallic voices might be tinny, grating, or strident and ringing. They were uttered by automata as well as by people. In the case of the latter, they arose from a tightening of the vocal folds or from aberrant resonance in the pharynx. Lung ailments caused a specific type of metallization in the chest and vocal tract: amphoric sound, the term for the note an empty bottle makes when one blows across its lips.

Was there a metallic voice that wasn’t queer?

“Metallic voice” is now a specialist term, owned by the fields of music and communication disorders – and more significant for its ambivalent relationship to disability. Consider this 2015 treatment by a team of speech pathologists:

Voice metallization is considered to be an efficient voice projection resource by singers and actors, and it is generally used in specific singing styles, like American country music, However, because this vocal production involves hyperfunctional adjustments in the vocal tract, and is seen as acute and annoying, it is also considered to be a voice resonance disorder outside the artistic context.43

Impairment as style: metallic voice is a wanted disorder and desired annoyance, making up a genre of singing.

A queer far-away voice
A voice speaking from a state of trance or hallucination. Or a voice that seemed to come from miles away and yet could be heard, in the days before amplification. Alternately, one caught a fragment of this voice, swallowed by wind and distance, as it called again a farewell, or a cooee to an unknown other.44

The queer far-away voice was conflated at times with queer echo, which sounded an uncanny or impossible architecture. In the early days of telephone and radio, electrical noise, attenuation, and unfamiliar apparatus bred yet another set of queer far-away voices. If the telephone gave rise to queer voices, it could also be hacked and reassembled for other queer ends:

Fig. 2: From Western Electric News (1913).

 

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The heyday of queer voice could not outlast the diagnoses and habituations that followed. Assimilated into new social worlds, some of the voices in this catalogue are no longer queer. Many vanished as “queer” increasingly contracted to the sphere of (homo)sexuality across the twentieth century. Others are even less fathomable than before, or – like the queer far-away voice – altogether nonexistent. Mediated queer voices have been naturalized along with their technological platforms. The queer undertone is uniquely at-risk, a minor voice in a new era of universal communication.

In 1900, as now, queer voice was not simply campy inflection.45 It revealed, obscured, subverted, and thickened meaning; denoted and connoted; inflected words and directly communicated its own information; injured and expressed injury. It could be intended or unconscious, authentic or contrived. What was queer about the voice might reside in an impairment of the body or the medium; in a misfit with the environment or the speech message; or in the way it affected a listener.

Whether harsh or shrill, nasal or throaty, thick or thin, queer voices shared what voice experts termed a “bad quality.”46 They were not  fine; for a fine and “natural-sounding” voice – characteristic of the most artful performers – bore no evidence of strain or inhibition.47 Queer voices often suffered from poor resonance, or from tension in the throat. They had an air of maladjustment. Associated with pathology, they were nonetheless called upon to eliminate neighboring impairments. Their timbre, pitch, and pace unsettled: they did not disguise the fact that all voice, whether in- or out-of-control, is a species of technics.48


  1. This essay began in response to a 2017 invitation to contribute a brief, creative piece to a dossier on speech for the thirtieth anniversary issue of Qui Parle. Although I did not complete the essay at that time, I began mulling over Edward Wheeler Scripture’s curative notion of “queer speech,” and how to infer voices from the thinnest of descriptions in the archive. I want to thank my two anonymous Amodern reviewers for their encouragement, criticism, and historical suggestions. Thanks also to Nina Sun Eidsheim, Sarah Kessler, and Greta LaFleur for careful readings and comments. Heather Love gave an early round of feedback, not to mention many personal examples of queer voice, in sickness and in health. 

  2. E.W. Scripture, Stuttering and Lisping (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912), 14. 

  3. The social response to the queer voice, in this case, being more censorious than the medical one. Scripture ultimately recommended an “octave twist,” moderately altering one’s usual voice with a “sharp rising inflection” as a way to short-circuit the stutter, but without verging into queerness. Scripture, Stuttering and Lisping, 59. 

  4. Scripture, Stuttering and Lisping, 39-41. The primacy of the paralinguistic manifests here: patients deliberately compromised words to forestall dubious meaning or improper interaction. 

  5. Jessica Feldman writes beautifully on “the problem of the adjective” as it appears in Roland Barthes’ essay “The Grain of the Voice.” See Feldman, “‘The Problem of the Adjective: Affective Computing of the Speaking Voice,” Transposition: Musique et Sciences Sociales 6 (2016): 3. 

  6. Don James McLaughlin, “Inventing Queer: Portals, Hauntings, and Other Fantastic Tricks in the Collected Folklore of Joel Chandler Harris and Charles Chestnutt,” American Literature 89, 1 (2017): 4. He cites the historical scholarship of George Chauncey in this passage. 

  7. In turn, each stream has predecessor terms with alternate spellings. Philip Durkin, The Oxford Guide to Etymology (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009), 217-218. 

  8. E. Patrick Johnson, “‘Quare’ studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother,” Text and Performance Quarterly 21, 1 (2001): 2. 

  9. Tim Dean discusses the term queer as a historical label for disabled people, as well as subsequent intersections of queer and disability theory, in “Queer,” Keywords for Disability Studies (New York: NYU Press, 2015), 143. 

  10. Pierce Egan, ed., Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Revised and Corrected (London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1823), selections. 

  11. Especially true for queer non-human animal voices, a topic I leave to another author. For this genre, see Mary E. Bamford, Talks by Queer Folks: More Land and Water Friends (Boston: D. Lothrop Company, 1893). 

  12. See Sarah Rose, No Right to Be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1840s-1930s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). 

  13. Communication scholar Robert Hopper argues that the telephone called the attention of modern linguists, from Ferdinand de Saussure on, to the phenomenon of speech (i.e. as opposed to writing). Robert Hopper, Telephone Conversation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 36, 29, 24. 

  14. Benjamin Kahan has recently excavated some of the sexual deviants who remained outside the modern binary of homosexuality and heterosexuality in The Book of Minor Perverts: Sexology, Etiology, and the Emergences of Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019). He also complicates the medicalization thesis by uncovering anthropological, literary, and other influences on the sciences themselves. 

  15. Other causes of homosexuality were acquired or environmental. Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex: Sexual Inversion (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1901), 1. 

  16. Ellis, Sexual Inversion, 144 and Appendix E. See also Richard v. Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, trans. F.J. Rebman (New York: Rebman Company, 1906), 43, 437. 

  17. E.W. Scripture, The New Psychology (London: Walter Scott, 1898). 

  18. Scripture, Stuttering and Lisping, 68. 

  19. “I am a lecturer for you; you can tell it from my sitting posture and my voice, and you are listening to me seated and in silence.” Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body,” in: Techniques, Technology, and Civilisation, ed. Nathan Schlanger (New York: Durkheim Press, 2006), 83. In the 1960s, linguist John Laver similarly compared popular descriptions of different voices to their phonetic labels, noting that voice seemed to be a social index of “regional origin, social status, social values and attitudes, and profession or occupation.” John D.M. Laver, “Voice Quality and Indexical Information,” British Journal of Disorders of Communication 3, 1 (April 1968): 50. 

  20. Using a queer voice to cover, if not cure, stuttering might be understood as a form of masquerade. See Tobin Siebers, “Disability as Masquerade,” Literature and Medicine 23, 1 (Spring 2004): 1-22. 

  21. Although these voices weren’t rigidly gendered, more men than women seemed to use them in fictions of the ‘teens and ‘20s. 

  22. For one example of the queer, cracked voice as injured (by exposure to the elements), see: J. M. Synge, The Works of John M. Synge, Vol. I (Dublin: Maunsel & Co., 1910), 56. See also Havelock Ellis quoting Cesare Lombroso on the rough, cracked voices of “those guilty of sexual offences.” Ellis, The Criminal (New York: Scribner and Welford, 1890), 83. 

  23. To use the language of the era. The term transsexual would not be coined in English until the end of the 1940s, and transgender another twenty years later. For a reading of the high contralto voice of Jimmy Scott, a jazz singer whose career took off around 1950, as a transgender voice, see Jack Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: NYU Press, 2005), 55. Halberstam writes, “His transgender voice extends the category of maleness rather than capitulates to the strict dictates of gender normativity. In this context, the term transgender appears as an adjective to describe a voice rather than as an identification category that describes Scott’s gender identity or sexual orientation.” For a reading of Scott’s voice from the perspective of critical race studies, see Nina Sun Eidsheim, The Race of Sound: Listening, Timbre, and Vocality in African American Music (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), Ch. 3. Scott often attributed his voice to Kallman Syndrome, suggesting the need for an extended intersectional analysis that includes disability studies. 

  24. Yes, dear readers, the word here is “snug” and not “sung.” Douglas Stanley (with Alma Stanley and Stanley Watkins), The Science of Voice, 4th edition (New York: Carl Fischer, 1948), 17. First published in 1929. 

  25. Douglas Stanley and J.P. Maxfield, The Voice: Its Production and Reproduction (New York: Pitman Publishing Co, 1933), 185-186. In queer theory, much has been made of the ambiguity of queer (i.e. homosexual) representations in film and literature, however in scientific texts, memoir, and other historical documents what was queer about a voice was often rather explicit. In other words, traits that might be obvious and on-the-surface to a speech pathologist (whether these traits were simple impairments or part of a physiognomic sexological system) could be mobilized as aesthetic codes. On the ways homosexuality is “consigned to connotation” in movies, see D.A. Miller, “Anal Rope,” Representations 32 (1990): 123. 

  26. Stanley and Maxfield, The Voice, 141; Stanley, The Science of Voice, 17. For a comprehensive history of crooning, see Allison McCracken, Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015). 

  27. Stanley, The Science of Voice, 14-15. On the historical distinctions between shrillness and falsetto, and the shifting relationship of both categories to pitch, see Simon Ravens, The Supernatural Voice: A History of High Male Singing (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2014), 84. Both shrillness and whiteness of voice have multiplying and contested meanings between the early twentieth century and the present. 

  28. Stanley, The Science of Voice, 9, 122. Recent popular accusations that American women politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, are “shrill” have led to renewed interest in the sexist connotations of that term. In one fascinating response, Tina Tallon argues that inbuilt bias toward lower-pitched voices in electroacoustic technology, from the early twentieth century to the present, has led to widespread distortion and “tinniness” of the feminine amplified voice. Tallon, “A Century of ‘Shrill’: How Bias in Technology has Hurt Women’s Voices,” The New Yorker, 3 September 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/a-century-of-shrill-how-bias-in-technology-has-hurt-womens-voices?reload=true

  29. For example, the sound of Peter Kluck’s queer shrill voice as he commits a murder. In Henry Christopher Bailey, The Gamesters (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1919), 168. 

  30. On the latter twentieth-century “butch voice,” see E. Glasberg, Sarah Kessler, Taylor Black, Mairead Sullivan, “The Butch Throat: A Roundtable,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 30, 4 (December 2018): 75-94. “More than anything,” says Glasberg, the butch voice “wants you to listen for it.” And Kessler’s theory of asynchronicity smartly links the discourse and technical logic of electroacoustics to ill-fitting “voice-body pairings.” 

  31. Radclyffe Hall, The Unlit Lamp (London and New York: Cassell and Company, 1924), 219. 

  32. Havelock Ellis noted that the voices of female inverts, “prostitutes,” and criminals all “took a masculine direction,” but in none of these cases did he use the word queer. Sexual Inversion (London: Wilson and MacMillan, 1897), Appendix E; Man and Woman: A Study of Human Secondary Sexual Characters (London: Walter Scott, 1894), 237; The Criminal, 83. 

  33. Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928). While it is almost a cliché of queer studies to point out the re-appropriation of the word queer by activists and academics in the 1990s, the conversion of “queer” into a homophobic slur in the first place – and the relation self-appointed queers of earlier decades held to that slur – requires more research. 

  34. It also characterized the double pretense of the blackface song performer. Stanley, The Science of Voice, 9. 

  35. Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, 42. Ellis wrote directly about eugenics in “Birth Control and Eugenics,” Eugenics Review 9, 1 (April 1917): 32-41. He also distinguished between voices of “the European race” and “the lower races” in Man And Woman, 97. Of course, black queerness was located by contemporary authors in a host of other traits and behaviors. See for instance Nella Larsen, Passing (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929). 

  36. For a recent instance of a plummy voice marking a class division within American gay culture, see Wendell Rickets, Everything I Have is Blue: Short Fiction by Working-Class Men about More-or-Less Gay Life (San Francisco: Suspect Thoughts, 2005), 7. 

  37. In an essay on the paralinguistic, it seems appropriate to flag in the paratext my own girlhood acquaintance with speech therapy to “correct” a sigmatism. 

  38. Scripture, Stuttering and Lisping, 111. 

  39. S/Z is Barthes’ close reading of the novella “Sarrasine” by Honoré de Balzac. The letters refer to the main character Sarrasine, and Zambinella, the “castrato” with whom he falls in love. Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974). Many scholars have offered close readings of the phoneme pair s/z, for instance Steven Connor in “Whisper Music,” lecture at the Tate Modern, 15 February 2007, http://www.stevenconnor.com/whispermusic/ . See also Glasberg, discussing Koestenbaum, on the disability gain of castration. (“The threat of castration promises that in losing you gain.”) In “The Butch Throat.” On “disability gain,” see Michael Davidson, “Cleavings: Critical Losses in the Politics of Gain,” DSQ 36, 2 (2016), https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/4287/4307. 

  40. “slur, n.1 and n.3.” OED Online. March 2020. https://www-oed-com.proxy.library.nyu.edu/view/Entry/182320?rskey=daOjOO&result=3 (accessed March 02, 2020). 

  41. Consider the bleat of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, in 1984 as “he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed – and all this in rapid polysyllabic speech.” George Orwell, 1984 (London: Secker and Warburg, 1949), https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/orwellg-nineteeneightyfour/orwellg-nineteeneightyfour-00-h.html. See also James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1916), 229. 

  42. Laver, “Voice Quality and Indexical Information,” 48. 

  43. Congeta Bruniere Xavier Fadel et. al., “Acoustic Characteristics of the Metallic Voice Quality,” CoDAS 27, 1 (January/February 2015), http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2317-17822015000100097. For a related argument about “vocal disability…as desirable practice in hip-hop performance,” but which links impairment to “authenticity” as opposed to (queer) metallization, see Alex Porco, “Throw Yo’ Voice Out: Disability as a Desirable Practice in Hip-Hop Vocal Performance,” DSQ 34, 4 (2014), https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3822/3790. 

  44. The “cooee” is a term in Australian English for outdoor call-and-response (e.g. to find someone lost), appropriated by settlers from an indigenous language. 

  45. While this essay has been concerned with “queer modes of speech” in the early twentieth-century voice sciences and popular imagination, numerous authors have meditated on queer voice at the other end of the century, and into the 21st, referring primarily to (homo)sexuality. See, for instance, Wayne Koestenbaum, The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire (New York: Poseidon Press, 1993); or, more recently, David Thorpe’s documentary Do I Sound Gay? (2014). 

  46. Stanley and Maxfield, The Voice, 156. 

  47. Paradoxically, a “natural,” uninhibited voice was characteristic of the best singers and performers. Stanley, The Science of Voice, 3. 

  48. Voice is a technique learned within a social milieu yet constrained by an individual body. Voicing repurposes designs for eating and breathing: the larynx divides the world into “food” and “air,” giving the environment access to the interiors of the body. The larynx is a peculiar sort of organ, much of it a cavity. A space of reclaiming, the larynx turns waste – an exhalation – into sound. 


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Image: "Intereactions," (Screenshots) by Eric Schmaltz with Kevin McPhee and Graeme Ring (2017).