There comes a time in every openly gay man’s life, when you have to tell a female friend that the guy she has been hitting on for the past two weeks, is wholly and entirely gay, like Elton John-level gay. Disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger and depression ensue before she can reach acceptance – coupled with lots of ice cream, vodka and holding back her hair.
Fortunately for the said friend, heterosexual cisgender men who would be interested in her are aplenty. So there is no reason to feel terribly sorry for the straight woman who fits perfectly as one half of a ‘one man, one woman’ equation that rules the world. Us gays don’t have that kind of time to bitch and moan. We need to pick our men carefully and get our groove on if we don’t expect to die alone with a hand in our pants.
That”s why Almighty gifted humanity arguably the greatest gift of all – the ‘gaydar’ – a play on the word ‘radar’ – which is defined as, “the ability to spot people who are gay without the benefit of any explicit information about their sexual orientation.” The divine ensured that sexual minorities had a sounder piece of this spotting equipment (proved by a study) in order to help navigate the oppression, killings and sheer discrimination, he was going to send our way.Safe to say, the gaydar exists.
On the surface level, it’s operation seems rather simple. By a simple division of visible traits as masculine and feminine, you can tell if someone is gay or not, if there is a simple gender mismatch (eg. a guy wearing a pink shirt – considered feminine). However, scientific studies have shown that the procedure is far more complex and it involves factors we consider almost unconsciously – physical factors (how your hair swirl looks, index to ring finger ratios, face shapes) and linguistic factors (voice range, how you pronounce your vowels, cultural factors).
These judgments often occur quickly with responses like, “My gaydar is pinging/ringing/broken.” Queerphobes and straight people tend to fare worse using it. Tough.
While gaydar ability leans towards accuracy, it is not without its limitations. For starters, it does not distinguish accurately between the variety of sexual orientations on the spectrum and ends up being a hetero or non-hetero (more often, gay) instrument. Moreover, it tends to judge orientation for women more accurately than for men. We have patriarchy to thank for that. Under tough gender norms, men have very little wiggle room to be feminine before they are called gay.
Moreover, there is serious resistance to ‘using’ a gaydar simply because many feel that it is discriminatory and homophobic to judge someone’s sexuality based on stereotypes and gender expression. While that may be true, attempting to know a person’s sexuality is not wrong by itself – it’s the intention that counts.
Lot of people tend to forget that in a world prior to Tinder, Grindr, Blendr, Mixie, etc. the only safe way for gay people to engage with their like in public spaces was through this method. Based on signals, cues, vibes, eye contact and body language, if you could get a guy’s number without misidentification and violence, it was only because of a gaydar. That’s how we used to meet people, create social networks, cruise in public and establish our own safe spaces. For queers, it wasn’t a love story waiting to happen. We had to work really hard to make it happen. And it largely still is that way.
However, know this. Instead of trying to scratch your brains out standing in the corner of the room trying to figure out of what sexual persuasion that person is, if you think it’s safe enough, the best way is to keep the gaydar aside and always ask and find out in real time.