By: Evan Myers, Assistant News Editor
Thursday, March 14, Travis Evans Sago 09’ returned to his alma-mater Furman, to ask a simple question: “Do we hear gay?” Sago’s CLP resonated with students, as a packed McEachern Lecture Hall laughed with him as he expressed how surreal it was to be back at Furman. “I can’t believe I am a CLP,” he joked.
But Sago’s event was not all fun and games. Students were forced to question their own stereotypes about the way gay people sound. Sago referenced the popular idea of “gay-dar” — the ability to predict whether or not someone is gay — as evidence of this stereotype. Moreover, Sago (a true polyglot) who speaks English, Spanish, Chinese, French and Portuguese, expressed that he was fascinated by the way his own voice was interpreted in different cultural and linguistic contexts. He explained that while living with a community of Spanish speakers in France, his colleagues often told him, “Tu hablas como una mujer, mais tu parles comment un homme.” Which translates to “You talk like a woman (in Spanish), but you talk like a man (in French).
Inspired by his experience of being perceived differently in different languages, Sago’s research focuses on “social meaning, how we create it, perceive it, and make judgements about it.” To Sago, his research is more just an intellectual exercise; it has real consequences. He explained, “We really do judge people by the sound of their voices.”
In order to combat issues of discrimination, Sago seems to be suggesting that the first step may be figuring out why certain cultures box certain people into certain categories. “We discriminate based on our own perceptions,” Sago clarifies. It is important to understand how those perceptions are constructed.
With this in mind, during his CLP, Sago emphasized the importance of studying all of society, including the entire sexual orientation spectrum. “If you are a social scientist, you want to study the whole human experience… language is the spirit of a people” Sago explains. He truly believes that gaps in research literature, and more generally who we do not study, makes a strong statement about where our priorities lie, and who we consider “worthy” to be studied.
Looking forward, Sago hopes to expand his research portfolio to include a more diverse representation of the sexual orientation spectrum as well as expanding into different languages and cultures. Later this year, Sago will be headed to Santiago, Chile to collect data on native Chilean speakers and students studying abroad in Chile. Then, he will be on the job hunt, and he expressed his desire to potentially teach at Furman saying, “I would love to come back to Furman if the opportunity came my way.” Perhaps one day soon Sago will be lecturing on inclusion, culture, social meaning and linguistics in McEachern on a weekly basis.