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Do I Sound Transgender? It Depends Who You Ask Open Access

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Research with male-to-female transgender speakers (i.e. transwomen) typically relies on listeners to provide perceptual measures of voice. Little is known about these individuals and how their characteristics (i.e. sex and sexual orientation) influence perception- particularly perception of transwomen. Twenty cisgender men, 21 cisgender women, and 22 transwomen provided a reiterative reading sample of “The Rainbow Passage.” Ninety-three listeners were placed into four groups based on gender (male/female) and sexual orientation (straight/non-straight). Listeners provided perceptual measures of speakers’ sex (male/female), gender performance (1-100, 1 = very masculine, 100 = very feminine), and sexual orientation (1-9, 1 = straight, 9 = gay). Only listener sexual orientation was a significant factor in perception of gender performance of the transwomen voices; transwomen were perceived as more feminine by non-straight listeners. Since the group of transwomen was statistically distinct from the cisgender male and female groups, we propose that speech of transwomen be characterized outside of a binary (i.e. along multiple dimensions). Measures used in this study can be regularly applied as outcome measures in the voice feminization process. These findings have implications for future research and clinical practitioners serving transwomen. Transwomen may also consider these findings when interpreting feedback from communication partners.

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