- People can often identity a man as gay just from his voice, a phenomenon known as “gaydar.”
- Bisexual men face discrimination from both the straight and gay communities.
- Researchers asked whether people can also identify bisexual men from their voice as well.
- The results were unexpected, with bisexual men rated as sounding even more masculine than straight men.
Previous research has established that people can tell, more often than not, whether a man is gay or straight from his voice alone. This ability to identify gay men from their voice has been dubbed “gaydar”—that is, a kind of radar for detecting gayness.
The reason why the voices of gay men tend to be distinct from those of straight men has been widely debated. Since we know that sexual orientation is due to the way that the brain was formed during prenatal development, it may be the case that these brain differences also lead to vocal patterns and behavioral mannerisms that are typically gay.
Other psychologists, though, contend that the “gay voice” comes from social learning. As men interact with the gay community, they pick up ways of speaking and acting that signal membership in the group. After all, we all learn to adjust the way we talk and behave according to the standards of the various groups we belong to.
Whether the gay voice is due to nature or nurture, it’s also the case that gay men no longer have to hide their identity. This is because society has become much more open to homosexuality in the last couple of decades, especially in the West.
However, as Australian psychologist James Morandini and his colleagues point out, such is not the case for bisexual men. Most of us have gotten over the homophobia we were raised on, but we’ve shifted instead to binary thinking. That is, you’re either straight or you’re gay.
In a phenomenon known as “bisexual erasure,” men who are attracted to both males and females are essentially invisible in a culture that labels everyone as straight or gay. Furthermore, bisexual men not only face discrimination from the straight community but they’re also ostracized from the gay community. Although this is especially true for bisexual men, Western society is ironically more tolerant of women who are attracted to both sexes.
Researchers have typically conceptualized bisexual men as being halfway between straight and gay. And there’s even some evidence to support this contention. For instance, bisexual men tend to express more feminine interests than straight men do but less than gay men.
This observation led Morandini and his colleagues to conjecture that the voices of bisexual men may have characteristics halfway between those of straight and gay men. And if that’s the case, it’s also possible that people can identify whether a man is bisexual from his voice at a rate greater than chance, just as they can do for straight and gay men. The researchers dubbed this putative ability “bidar.”
Searching for “Bidar”
For this study, Morandini and colleagues first recruited 20 straight, 20 gay, and 20 bisexual men via social media. Each man’s voice was recorded as he recited the first two lines of the Australian national anthem. Next, the researchers recruited 76 students from the University of Sydney to serve as participants. Participation was limited to those who self-reported as heterosexual to avoid the possibility that some may be overly familiar with gay or bisexual mannerisms.
The participants rated the voices on three scales. The first scale was femininity-masculinity, which ranged from 0 for “feminine” to 100 for “masculine.” The second scale was perceived sexual orientation. The responses were 1 for gay, 2 for bisexual, and 3 for straight.
The third scale also had the respondents rate perceived sexual orientation, but this time on a 9-point scale where 1 indicated “attracted to men,” 5 indicated “attracted to men and women equally,” and 9 indicated “exclusively attracted to men.” Although the general public tends to think of sexual orientation categorically, some research suggests that it exists on a continuum instead. In other words, people can be bisexual to various degrees.
The results confirmed previous studies in that these participants were also able to distinguish between gay and straight men at levels greater than chance. Contrary to the hypothesis, however, they were unable to identify bisexual men.
Although the researchers failed to find support for their hypothesis, two interesting results did emerge from the study:
- Bisexual men were considered the most exclusively female-attracted. Despite previous studies suggesting that bisexual men ranged somewhere between straight and gay on various measures of masculinity and femininity, the respondents in this study judged bisexual men to be more attracted to women than even straight men.
- Bisexual men were judged as sounding the most masculine. Quite to the surprise of the researchers, the respondents said that bisexual men sounded more masculine than even straight men.
The researchers speculated on the possible reasons for these findings. One possibility is that bisexual men were acting in a hypermasculine fashion to avoid being detected as bisexual. As we’ve already noted, bisexual men face discrimination from both the straight and the gay communities.
However, Morandini and his colleagues also note that other research has found bisexual men to have higher than average sex drive. They also rank higher on a measure known as socio-sexuality, which indicates openness to multiple sex partners and short-term sexual encounters. After all, monogamy is now the societal norm for both straight and gay men. But if you’re bisexual and sexually active with both sexes, then you necessarily have multiple sex partners.
The real take-home message from this study is that we’ve got to abandon our categorical thinking on sexual orientation. Even wedging in a third category of “bisexual” between “straight” and “gay” isn’t sufficient. There are various ways of being bisexual, from “mostly gay” to “mostly straight,” with “equally attracted to men and women" in the middle.
Furthermore, other research shows that there are multiple ways of being gay as well, for both men and women. Some gay men act in a more stereotypically feminine fashion, which is likely what’s being picked up by “gaydar.” Meanwhile, others act in a very masculine manner, and this may be why gaydar works at greater-than-chance levels but is far from perfect. The same division into masculine and feminine applies to lesbian women as well.
In the end, even a single continuum from gay to straight may not be enough to fully define human sexuality. This is because gender identity also has an influence on how sexual orientation is expressed.
Morandini, J. S., Beckman-Scott, D., Madill, C., & Dar-Nimrod, I. (2023). BIDAR: Can listeners detect if a man is bisexual from his voice alone? The Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication.