Gay men are more likely than lesbian women to experience stigma and avoid prejudice from their heterosexual peers because of the sound of their voices, according to a new study from the British Journal of Social Psychology reports.
Researchers have also found that gay men who think they look gay anticipate stigma and are more vigilant about other people’s reactions.
In this unique study, researchers at the University of Surrey investigated the role of essentialist beliefs – the view that each person has a set of attributes that provide insight into their identity – heterosexual people, lesbians and gay and whether these beliefs lead to prejudice and rejection towards others.
Previous research in this area has shown that experiences of stigmatizing gay men and lesbian women can lead to a higher likelihood of emotional distress, depression, and anxiety.
In Part 1 of the study, researchers interviewed 363 heterosexual participants to assess their essentialist beliefs about gays and lesbians and asked a series of questions regarding discretion (eg: “By listening to a person, it is possible to very quickly detect their sexual orientation from their voice”), immutability (eg, “gays / lesbians sound like gays / lesbians and there isn’t much they can do to really change that”) and controllability (for example, “gays / lesbians may choose to appear gay or straight depending on the situation”).
The researchers also looked at whether participants were prejudiced (eg, “I think gay men / women are disgusting) and avoiding discrimination (eg,” I would not interact with a man / woman who looks gay / lesbian if I could avoid it ”).
Participants were found to believe that voice was a better indicator of sexual orientation for men than for women, and their opinions on the discretion, steadfastness and controllability of ‘gay sounding’ voices were related to greater avoidance discrimination against gay-sounding men. .
In Part 2 of the study, researchers interviewed 147 gay and lesbian participants to examine their essentialist beliefs about self-perception of looking gay, and whether this led them to expect rejection and to be more vigilant, for example, in trying to avoid certain social behaviors. situations and people who can make fun of them because of their voices.
Researchers found that gay men’s approval of the beliefs that people can detect sexual orientation from their voice (voice discretion) and that speakers cannot change the way they sound (immutability). voice) was associated with a stronger perception of his homosexuality.
In addition, gay men who perceived their voices as more homosexual expected greater rejection from heterosexuals and were more vigilant.
What we found is that people have stronger beliefs about the voices of gay men than they do about lesbian women. In particular, beliefs that gay men and straight men have different voices that allow people to sense their sexual orientation were linked to stigma, perhaps explaining why some heterosexual individuals stigmatize gay-sounding men, regardless of who they are. or their sexuality. A better understanding of 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 the well-being of gay men. “
Dr Fabio Fasoli, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, University of Surrey
Fasoli, F., et al. (2021) Stigmatization of “gay sounding” voices: the role of essentialist beliefs of heterosexuals, lesbians and gays. British Journal of Social Psychology. doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12442.