New study: Gay men face more prejudice if they ‘sound gay’

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Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is a freelance editor and yoga instructor at @yen.yoga on Instagram/TikTok and @yenyogasg on Telegram.

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Gay men, more so than lesbian women, face discrimination due to the sound of their voice, according to a new study in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

During this unique study researchers from the University of Surrey investigated the role of essentialist beliefs: the view that every person has a set of attributes that provide an insight into their identity.

Previous research in this area has shown that the experience of gay men and lesbian women with stigma can lead to a higher likelihood of emotional distress, depression, and anxiety. Researchers also found that gay men who believed they sounded gay anticipated stigma and were more vigilant regarding the reactions of others.

In the first part of the study, researchers surveyed 363 heterosexual participants to assess their essentialist beliefs regarding gay and lesbian individuals and asked a series of questions in regards to “discreetness”, the ability to detect sexual orientation based on someone’s voice; “immutability” – that gay/lesbian people sound that way and there’s nothing they can do; and “controllability” – that gay/lesbian people can choose to sound gay or straight depending on the situation.

Researchers at the University of Surrey also investigated whether participants held any prejudices towards homosexuals and practised avoidant discrimination.

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.

Results from the research found that “gay-sounding” voices led to higher avoidance discrimination against gay men, with gay men who perceived their voice to sound more gay expecting rejection from heterosexuals and subsequently becoming “more vigilant”.

Tony, who lives in Cardiff, (name changed to protect his identity) said years of torment surrounding his voice had led to him looking into surgical solutions.

“People my whole life have always come for me and my gay sounding voice,” he explained.

“Especially because my voice doesn’t match my exterior. The reason I got muscular was to try and push myself to be as masculine as possible because of my voice, amongst other things.

“Being anything other that what everyone else is, people target you. I’ve even looked at surgeries to deepen my voice. People still imitate my voice now thinking it’s funny. It embarrasses me that it’s how I come off to people.”

Similar to Tony, musician Lloyd Best from Cardiff recalled working at a call centre and being told his voice was “too soft and feminine”.

“I worked at a call centre a few years ago and men on my team, including my team leader, used to mimic my voice as a joke. It made me super uncomfortable,” Lloyd explained.

“I was told my voice was too soft and feminine and I needed to be more assertive on the phones. Eventually this, and many other things, resulted in me becoming ill and basically being forced out of my job.”

Dr Fabio Fasoli from the University of Surrey said there might be different factors that played a role in perpetuating the stereotype.

“When it comes to the ‘gay voice’ there may be different factors that play a role in perpetuating such stereotypes. One of this is media and how gay characters are often portrayed in a stereotypical way,” he said.

“The most interesting findings were those showing that gay men who perceived their voices as gay-sounding, not only were more likely to expect rejections, but also were more vigilant about how others may react toward them and their voices.

“This can be very stressful and elicit a range of emotions that can ultimately affect wellbeing. I believe the findings tell us that voice-based discrimination can happen in everyday life and we should consider this when thinking of subtle ways in which prejudice manifests”.

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