“Is this the lady of the house?”the anonymous droning voice of an early 2000’s telemarketer would often ask when I answered my landline. Now, I undoubtedly have what is commonly referred to as “gay voice” which I guess if you’re a cable company in 2004 sounds distinctly female. If I could go back in time, I would answer those calls and really play up the lady of the house routine and you know say stuff like, “Why yes it is! I apologize for taking so long answering the phone. I was making finger sandwiches for women’s auxiliary.” Alas, I never did and usually let the comments ruffle my feathers. More often than not, I would snap at the poor minimum wage worker on the other end of the line. My annoyance didn’t really make sense since my girly voice wasn’t exactly a news flash, as I’d been living with it my whole life. I would also get an occasional “ma’am” slid in on these calls too. Which I now think is hysterical given the fact that many of my legitimate female friends also in their forties aren’t huge fans of that moniker. Nevertheless, embracing my big gay voice wasn’t really something I did back then. When you’re waist-deep in a decades long hating yourself marathon, despising what you sound like is just part of the package.
I was never one of those kids who could “pass” for straight or even remotely normal and of this earth. I’ve marched to my own pink glitter covered disco beat since I entered this world and that’s just the way it is. Being a special gayer-than-gay kid was, as you can imagine, not exactly comfortable in the 1970’s and 80’s. We didn’t have gay characters on TV. We didn’t know any queer neighbors. And side from folks like Boy George on MTV, we didn’t have a whole lot of positive openly gay role models. Naturally, I was a failure at anything athletic. I had no interest in anything traditionally “boy.” I was simply an effeminate kid who liked imagination, reading, movies and being alone with my stuffed animals and dolls. The unfortunate thing was that I was labeled gay by other kids and adults even before sexuality had ever entered my mind. Therefore it was equated with something awful and shameful long, long before I’d even thought of kissing a boy. When I finally came out of the closet it was met with a chorus of “No duh” and light shaming that I had been so dishonest for so long. It was an impossible situation. So thank god for drugs and alcohol and hanging out in nightclubs. With lots of substances, I could be myself and hang out with other freaky people who didn’t care what sounded like or who I was attracted to. I was a long way off from liking myself but at least when I was high and with my people, I didn’t really notice it as much.
It’s fucking bizarre how your own sexuality and journey to like yourself often becomes about other people and their reaction to it. Yet feeling less than and that people didn’t like who I was, as is, really messed with my mind and kept me loaded for many years. So when I finally got sober, I was faced with the daunting task of actually trying to like who I was. Big gay voice included. That first year of sobriety I took a speech class at Santa Monica College. When we had to do a 3 minute introduction speech, mine was what you’d expect: sassy, very gay and really self-effacing. As I spoke, it was met with a chorus of loud laughter and not the laughter of people making fun of me but people who enjoyed what I was saying. Likewise at meetings, sharing and speaking helped me be truthful and tell my story regardless if it was too weird or too queer. Again, it was usually met with a lot of laughter and head nodding from people who could identify. The great thing about 12 Step programs is that the attendees are so mangled that the outside shell of person doesn’t matter and they are instead connected to the message and the shared experience.
Later on as a playwright, I was given the opportunity to use my voice further but this time speak through characters. I even did talk backs at the theater and hosted different events. The fact of the matter is I like talking and speaking in public and it’s something I’m pretty good at. Getting sober helped me find my way back to that. I even host my own podcast and have appeared on others and I can honestly say I no longer cringe while listening to my big gay voice.
Writers and people in recovery alike often wax self-indulgently about the journey to find their voice, that years of dysfunction stood in their way of hearing who they really are. While it sounds like a load of self-help section manure, the struggle was indeed real for me. Turns out all I had to do was stop killing myself with booze and drugs, get brutally honest and embrace all of myself, big gay voice included. Being gay, funny, effeminate, weird, vulnerable, sensitive, sassy- it’s all just part of the package and one I happen to like very much.
So even though I no longer have landline (nor doesn’t anyone else under the age of 65) I would happily answer the question today, “Yes, this is the lady of the house. Who the hell is this?”