What is it about?

Nonbinary individuals express their identity through the use of altered or entirely new linguistic forms. Along with appearance or voice, it can affect how they are perceived by others. Previous studies have either omitted consideration of nonbinary populations entirely or examined elements such as the nonbinary language in isolation from other characteristics that affect perception. The aim of the current study was to investigate the perception of nonbinary people depending on the combination of their appearance, timbre of voice, and linguistic forms they used. An online experiment (N = 242) was conducted using nonbinary past tense verbs in the Polish language. Polish in its normative shape contains many gender markers. Results showed that masculine-sounding nonbinary people were perceived more negatively and were less accepted than binary people. The effect did not occur for feminine-sounding nonbinary people. Our research offers a more holistic understanding of how language discrimination intersects with the external characteristics of nonbinary people. We suggest that support programs could be targeted first to those who are most vulnerable to inferior treatment.

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Why is it important?

The study shows that masculine-sounding nonbinary people are less understood, worse rated, and less accepted than binary people. Moreover, the more people understand their distinct way of speaking, the less they are prejudiced to nonbinary people. These findings provide an opportunity to target support programs to nonbinary people most vulnerable to discrimination, namely those with a masculine voice. In addition, the results contribute to raising awareness that greater familiarity with nonbinary forms in society can lead to higher levels of acceptance of nonbinary people. Limitation but also a chance of the study is that it was conducted in Polish, which contains many gender markers, whereas most psychological research is from English-speaking countries.

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This page is a summary of: The role of language, appearance, and voice in the social perception of nonbinary individuals., Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, February 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/sgd0000709.
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