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Catching up with TheGayVoice: How the sound of your voice can lead to discrimination

In issue 82 of Research*eu, we featured Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow Fabio Fasoli and his TheGayVoice project, where we found out about how he was working to ascertain whether there really is such a thing as a ‘gay voice’. Over a year later, we reconnect with him and find out how his research has progressed following the end of his fellowship.

Society

One of the most intriguing aspects of Fasoli’s research was the notion that the sound of an individual’s voice could lead to subtle – and sometimes very unsubtle – forms of discrimination, with gay men and lesbians bearing the brunt of such discrimination (such as when searching for a new job) due to deeply ingrained societal stereotypes. Continued research, now with international collaboration Fasoli has continued his work on the link between voice and discrimination by continuing to publish more of the results stemming from TheGayVoice (Beyond “Straight Talking”: The Consequences of Vocal Cues to Sexual Identity for Modern Prejudice) project through 2019, some of which attracted media attention. “I’m working on how experiences of ‘sounding gay’ affect gay and lesbian individuals’ mental health,” he explains. “I’ve also started some new projects, one looking at the interplay of vocal cues conveying the perception that someone is both gay and a ‘foreigner’. Sounding ‘gay’ with a foreign-sounding accent on top highlights the fact that the person belongs to a double minority and this can elicit specific forms of stigma.” This latter project in particular has a transatlantic dimension, with Fasoli working with colleagues in the UK (at Lancaster University) and the University of Kentucky in the US.

Which dog are you thinking of?

Fasoli is also working on a new line of research he had tentatively begun to examine during the project but hopes to take further: the interplay between voice and communication. “What we say can be interpreted differently depending on the inferences we make about the speakers,” he says. “For instance, if a speaker says ‘my dog runs in the park’, what type of dog would people imagine if the speaker sounds gay? Well, our research suggests that a little dog (e.g. a chihuahua) is more likely to be imagined. This simple example shows how our social interactions and communication are very much influenced by the sound of the voice and impressions made about the speaker.”

Reflecting on TheGayVoice

Looking back on his time as a fellow and the opportunities this provided, he comments: “EU funding allowed us to conduct research that is relevant to the subtle forms of discrimination and led to many more collaborations and additional lines of inquiry. I hope my research could be of use to other fields in the future, as well as positive policymaking and interventions to support individuals stigmatised due to the sound of their voice.”

Keywords

TheGayVoice, discrimination, vocal cue, voice, gay, lesbian