Researchers say gay men are more likely than lesbian women to face stigma and prejudice from heterosexual people due to the sound of their voice.
Published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, the study also found that gay men who believe they sound gay anticipate (unsurprisingly) stigma and are more vigilant regarding the reactions of others.
The researchers from the University of Surrey set out to investigate the role of “essentialist beliefs” – the view that every person has a set of attributes that provide an insight into their identity – of heterosexual, lesbian and gay individuals and whether these beliefs lead to prejudice and rejection towards others.
In the first part of the study, researchers surveyed 363 heterosexual participants to assess their essentialist beliefs regarding gay and lesbian individuals.
They asked them a series of questions in regard to discreteness (e.g. “When listening to a person it is possible to detect his/her sexual orientation from his/her voice very quickly”), immutability (e.g. “Gay/lesbian people sound gay/lesbian and there is not much they can do to really change that”) and controllability (e.g. “Gay/lesbian people can choose to sound gay or straight depending on the situation”).
Researchers also investigated whether participants held any prejudices (e.g. “I think male/female homosexuals are disgusting) and avoidant discrimination (e.g. “I would not interact with a man/woman who sounds gay/lesbian if I could avoid it”).
It was found that participants believed that voice was a better cue to sexual orientation for men than for women, and their opinions on the discreteness, immutability and controllability of ‘gay-sounding’ voices were linked to higher avoidant discrimination towards gay-sounding men.
In the second part of the study, researchers surveyed 147 gay and lesbian participants to examine their essentialist beliefs in relation to self-perception of ‘sounding gay’, and whether this led them to expect rejection and be more vigilant, e.g., trying to avoid certain social situations and persons who may ridicule them because of their voices.
Researchers found that gay men’s belief that people can detect sexual orientation from voice (voice discreteness) and that speakers cannot change the way they sound (voice immutability) were associated with a stronger self-perception of sounding gay.
Moreover, gay men who perceived their voices to sound more gay expected more acute rejection from heterosexuals and were more vigilant.
“What we have found is that people have stronger beliefs about the voices of gay men than lesbian women,” commented Dr Fabio Fasoli, Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Surrey. “In particular, beliefs that gay men and straight men have different voices that allow people to detect their sexual orientation was linked to stigmatisation, possibly explaining why some heterosexual individuals stigmatise gay-sounding men regardless of their sexuality.”
Fasoli continued: “Understanding more about essentialist beliefs helps explain both the perpetration of stigma by heterosexuals and the experience of stigma by lesbians and gay men. It is clear from this study that voice and the perception of it are linked to stigma. This is important because it can have negative consequences for gay men’s wellbeing.”