Musings on “gaydar”

I’ve been reading “Fan Art” and one of the things about it that bothers me a little bit is how so many people in the book “know” that the gay people in the book are gay before the characters themselves are comfortable sharing that information.  The school the book is set in is not a nice environment in which to be an out homosexual.  (We still love Boy Meets Boy to death because it treats homosexuality as just a totally regular thing.)

I do not have “gaydar”.

I suspect that I don’t have it because I was fortunate enough to go to a very unusual high school, a super liberal college, and graduate school in an incredibly liberal city, in which people who were out did not necessarily match stereotypes.  By which I mean, it was safe enough to be out that people didn’t have to signal they were homosexual by matching stereotypes, and the people who were out weren’t necessarily outed involuntarily because they matched stereotypes.  That means that from a relatively young age, I’ve known a diverse group of people who were out as homosexual, bisexual, and trans.  I knew actual people, and while a few did match tv and movie stereotypes, most of them didn’t.

Similarly, I’ve known plenty of strong women with short hair who aren’t lesbian and I’ve known “effeminate” men who were married to the mother of their children (and not particularly religious), and if homosexual at least were not identifying as such, and I tend to trust what people say about their preferences.  (Hank Green is a good example of this, but I’ve also met many folks IRL that other folks’ve been surprised to find out aren’t gay.)

I may also not have “gaydar” because I gave up on trying to match-make after some disasters in college and early graduate school and I’ve been married in a monogamous relationship for a long time, so there are not very many instances in which someone’s orientation has been important to me.  If someone is married or partnered, I don’t want to know if they’re in an open relationship because I’m not, and I don’t need to know if they’re attracted to members of a gender different than their spouse.  All I need to know is if I should invite their partner to whatever function it is I’m in charge of (and that is usually solved with “and guest”).  So for the most part I don’t really pay attention, at least not like I did back when I wanted to actively match everybody in the world up.

One of the wonderful things about gay marriage legalization is how it has normalized homosexual/bisexual partnerships.  I have graduate students now who are no longer forced to forever say girlfriend or partner (which could be ambiguous depending on the listener); they can say wife.  They can plan weddings.  It’s wonderful because it means that they can join the same conversations that everybody else is having in a way that’s legitimate and normal for the step in the relationship that they want to be in.  My students are now seeing a diversity of lesbian and bisexual women in committed long-term partnerships.

Unfortunately, where I live right now, gay and male bisexual couples don’t seem to be as normalized as are lesbian and female bisexual couples.  We do have more out gay guys in our classes than we used to, but they don’t casually drop significant other names and stories in conversation, at least not around me like many of the women do.  Their orientation really only comes up when we’re directly discussing legislation that affects GLBT people, as something different, not as something that’s just like everybody else.  It’s still dangerous to be a gay guy in my state, especially with lawmakers against them.

I suspect that as more people don’t feel the need to hide, and as more people can easily be themselves, people’s “gaydar” will get worse because people are people and love is love (is love) and it’s hard to believe in stereotypes when you get to know a wide diversity of people.

But I dunno, maybe I’m just really bad at stalking people.

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12 Responses to “Musings on “gaydar””

  1. omdg Says:

    It probably depends on the industry, or in medicine, what specialty you’re in. I know plenty of “out” doctors in Peds, Ob, Psychiatry… but not so many in Surgery. Recently I was delighted to work with a new surgery faculty member who acted more stereotypically effeminate in the operating room than is the norm. Surgical culture leans towards “macho” and it was nice to see non-macho behavior and preferences displayed and accepted. No idea if the person is gay. Don’t get me started on acting “female” in the OR and what that means.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Professionally I know a lot of out gay guys (both married and still looking), but I can only think of one out lesbian/bisexual woman and I haven’t seen her since she moved to Canada. Of course, there are a lot more guys in economics than women. Interestingly, the horrific site, econjobrumors seems to treat successful gay guys similarly to the way it treats successful women (which is to say, horrifically).

  2. chacha1 Says:

    There was a time when, if a man I interacted with regularly showed zero sexual interest in me, I assumed he was gay. However, I was wrong about this at least twice, and fortunately I never revealed the inaccuracy of my assessments. :-) Otherwise, as you say – if it doesn’t affect me personally, I really don’t care what someone’s gender is; and I’m not trying to match people up, so … eh. People are people, and love is love.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You must be really attractive! If I had that rule, I would have interacted with maybe 5 straight men (boys) in my entire life, most of them when I was between the ages of 16 and 22.

      • chacha1 Says:

        I was on the plus side of good-lookin’ for a while there. :-) But mostly it’s just because I like men and typically don’t have trouble talking to them, so if they are predisposed to be interested, they often are.

  3. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I’ve never had any, for a variety of reasons. It’s never mattered to me what orientation anyone was, but my level of cluelessness was astounding. To the point of renting an AirBNB from a male couple and having absolutely no clue they were a gay couple until my friend and I arrived. After a few very slow tumblers clicked, I realized that they were a couple and not just roommates.

    In my family’s culture, gayness is still not an accepted thing. We never speak of it, I don’t know if they acknowledge that it’s a thing. It’s as backwards as the acknowledgement of mental health issues, unfortunately.

  4. j Says:

    Huh. I never thought about my gaydar – as a bi woman whose last two long-term relationships (including a marriage) were lesbian ones – as based on recognizing people who match stereotypes. I always thought of it as picking up on subtle cues, eye contact, etc., that were actually often easy to miss and making sure to give some recognition, since there are fewer of us, and some solidarity can be felt in that public head tilt, so to speak. I hardly ever get read as gay/bi because I’m femme, so part of being more visible is making sure to notice other gay women. Which I guess speaks to the stereotype thing, but I’d be interested to know how LGBTQ people’s gaydar is or isn’t different than other people.

  5. Linda Says:

    I’ve never really thought of “gaydar” as being about matching stereotypes. I feel like I have pretty good “gaydar” for knowing when a man is not likely to be interested in dating women, but I can’t seem to put my finger on exactly what the cues are. There are plenty of gay men who don’t match stereotypes, and those are the ones that I somehow know aren’t really into dating women, so it’s not worth trying to approach for matching or with a date offer. (And this comes into play even if I don’t think about it from a dating angle. For example, there’s a certain national political figure my “gaydar” strongly suggests is not straight, but he doesn’t seem to display any stereotypical behavior.) But for women, I have no “gaydar.” Maybe it’s because I’m not going to try to approach them, so it’s not a “sense” that I’ve developed? I don’t know.

    Is matching stereotypes what people usually mean by “gaydar?” I didn’t even realize that.

    • Linda Says:

      Interesting how that article noted that people were asked to judge someone without meeting them. It only mentioned using social media profiles and likes.

      So, I recalled today how I was judged by a gay male friend once. He had known me since high school and when I was in my mid-to-late twenties we were hanging out and he said he had often thought I was a lesbian. I was surprised by that and asked him if he had jumped to that conclusion becauses I don’t wear makeup and like comfortable shoes. I can’t recall exactly what he said gave him that impression, but I guess that shows that “gaydar” isn’t very accurate since I am not a lesbian.

  6. First Gen American Says:

    I live in a liberal part of MA and the LGBT population comes in all shapes and sizes. Most aren’t what you’d call “stereotypical”, just a “typical” crossection of all aspects of society. There are some professions though where the LGBT population is higher like the hospitality industry. So I had to take the same discrimination course for both my jobs. (One as an engineer in a middleastern owned company, the other as a fitness instructor at a spa). The content was the same but the case studies were much much different. The first had a ton of examples related to religious freedom and expression with a focus on “respect our traditions when you are on our turf.” The second had a ton of examples around LGBT discrimination. It was just very interesting how different the perception was.


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