Men who 'sound gay' are discriminated against more by straight people

Homosexual men who ‘sound gay’ are more likely to encounter discrimination from heterosexual peers, study reveals

  • Researchers in the UK surveyed people about the existence of a ‘gay voice’
  • Most respondents, straight or gay, agreed voice was a better indicator of sexual orientation for men than women 
  • Heterosexuals who thought ‘gay voice’ couldn’t be changed were more likely to be homophobic
  • Gay men who believed in gay voice were more likely to think they had it 
  • They also anticipated stigma and were vigilant about being ridiculed

Gay men are more likely than lesbians to be discriminated against because of the sound of their voice, according to a new study.

Researchers found heterosexuals who believed gay people can be identified by how they talk were more likely to hold anti-gay attitudes.

That was especially true if they thought you couldn’t get rid of a  ‘gay’ voice’ even if you tried.

At the same time, gay men who believed there was a gay way of talking were more likely to think they had it.

They tended to anticipate stigma and be more vigilant regarding people’s reactions.

A majority of people, regardless of their sexuality, believe its easier to tell if a man is gay by his voice than a woman. 

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A new study from the University of Surrey found that men who sounded gay experienced more discrimination than lesbian-sounding women. Heterosexual subjects who thought having a gay voice was distinct and immutable were more likely to be homophobic

Researchers from the University of Surrey wanted to investigate beliefs about how voices connect to sexual orientation, and see if they’re linked to prejudice about people’s sexual orientation. 

For this study, the team surveyed 363 straight and 147 gay participants.

Heterosexual subjects were asked whether they thought you could tell someone was gay or straight by their voice and whether they thought gays and lesbians could change how they sounded if they wanted to.

They were also asked if they’d actively try to avoid a man or woman who sounded ‘gay.’ 

The gay and lesbian subjects were also asked about gay voice, and whether it could be changed.

All the respondents, regardless of their orientation, believed voice was a better indicator of sexual orientation in men than in women

But they were further asked whether they avoided certain people or situations because they were afraid they’d be ridiculed or discriminated against.

All the respondents, regardless of their orientation, believed voice was a better indicator of sexual orientation in men than in women.

Heterosexual subjects who thought having a gay voice was distinct and immutable were more likely to have homophobic attitudes.

Among the gay male respondents, those who thought you could tell someone’s sexuality from their voice — and that you can’t really change how you sound — were more likely to think of themselves as ‘sounding gay.’

Those men were also more defensive, anticipating ‘more acute rejection from heterosexuals,’ according to social psychologist Fabio Fasoli, lead author of a study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

‘Sounding gay reflects common stereotypes associated with gay men that are still seen as ‘negative,” Fasoli told The Academic Times. ‘For a man, sounding gay implies not conforming to the norm of sounding masculine and heterosexual.’

Whether there actually is a ‘gay voice’ — and if so, what it is — has sparked debate for generations.        

For some it’s a sibilant ‘ess’ sound, for others, a singsong quality, breathiness, or overarticulation. 

Some believe it’s an adopted trait to feel part of a group, while others insist it’s inborn.

And while some gay men are proud of their voice, others are ashamed.

‘For many gay men, that’s the last vestige, that’s the last chunk of internalized homophobia, is this hatred of how they sound,’ Dan Savage told Thorpe in the 2015 documentary Do I Sound Gay? 

Having a voice that both you and others perceive as gay ‘can shape the stigma that individuals either enact or experience,’ Fasoli wrote in his report. 

His earlier research found people perceived to have gay or lesbian voices are often considered less suitable for leadership roles.

In an earlier study from 2020, Fasoli found that women with ‘lesbian-sounding’ voices faced even more discrimination in the workplace than men who sounded gay.

Participants were asked to listen to various men and women read dialogue simulating a job interview and then try to determine their sexual orientation and gauge their suitability as an employee.

According to a report published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, both gay-sounding men and lesbian-sounding women were viewed as less competent, but the effect was more pronounced with the women.

‘A stereotype about ‘gay voice’ exists and affects people’s impression and reactions,’ Fasoli told Psypost. 

‘Although there is not a shared stereotype about the ‘lesbian voice,’ women who sound ‘lesbian’ are at higher risk of discrimination.’

He clarified that voice is just one kind of cue people use to perceive someone’s sexual orientation, with others — like body language, hand gestures and clothing, way of walking— also contributing.

‘More research is needed to understand how these cues interact and whether one is predominant over the others,’ Fasoli told the site.

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