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.