All of us engage in stereotypes. After all, with an immense amount of information to filter through everyday, it helps to have mental shortcuts. Stereotypes can nonetheless, result in prejudiced thinking and manifest as discrimination, if one tries to make accurate judgements and broad conclusions, based on these mere “shortcuts”. The gaydar, also serves as a mental short-cut, or prototype of all things queer, and essentially serves the same.purpose. This article seeks to explore the various dimensions of the gaydar and highlight how although a concept even accepted by many in the community, can act as a barrier to the efforts being made in breaking the binary.
Editor’s Note: This article is a work of fiction and satire. The famed ‘gaydar’ may or may not exist, but we have given it a story, and you, something to ponder about. Beware all the stereotypes you may come across, they are nothing but words.
You might be familiar with the term ‘gaydar’ (or gay-radar). For those of you who are not, the gaydar is a term that is used to describe the intuitive ability to assess another person’s sexual orientation, the gaydar is absolutely fundamental to being queer. After all, to know oneself is to know the other. And if you’re gay, you must know if your neighbour is too, right?
“That dude right there? Totally set off my gaydar”
“My gaydar just beeped. There must be a queer nearby!”
“I think I just confused my gaydar with my please-be-gaydar “
Not sure if yours is ticking? Not to worry. Here’s a guide to developing your gaydar!
Gaydar: The Origin Story
Much about Sappho, the Ancient Greek poet, remains a curiosity.
“Who was Sappho?”
“Was Sappho actually a lesbian?”
“What does her poetry actually mean?”
“Did she have affairs with her pupils?”
“Was she a man?”
But Sappho herself, was a woman of conviction. No enigma escaped her. Not even that of sexuality. This was a natural consequence of her supreme understanding about the human condition, coupled with being the sole possessor of the gaydar. Recognized as the tenth Muse, Sappho had a unique gift, being able to sense the most private of passions. Along with this, she was also equipped with a gaydar, a divine instrument that aided this knowledge.
In her native land Lesbos, Sappho lived a ceremonious life, being a lyric poet as well as a mentor for young and prodigious women. The gaydar added even more charm to her already alluring life, navigating her towards her romantic and sexual interests. With time, her rivals began to claim that Sappho was living a notorious existence. However, belonging to the cult that worshipped Aphrodite and Eros, and herself having a divine knowledge of emotions and sexuality, Sappho only saw it important that she continue her work. What’s more, she saw it as her duty, to inspire this divine knowledge and sexuality in all of mankind. And she set out, on her purpose, by writing her lyric poetry and using the gaydar, to discover all the queer people on the island.
Eventually, like her poetry, she wanted the gaydar as well, to be a source of knowledge about private passions for the mortal man. According to her wishes, the gaydar was passed on from era to era, finding itself in the hands of the greatest queers of the time. Today, with all the centuries that have passed since the beginning of civilisation, the gaydar has been circulated among the queer community so much, that it has become a part of the queer psyche.
Activating Your Gaydar
Some say that the gaydar works like Spiderman’s spidey sense. Like a sixth-sense, it is a kind of intelligence that brings to one’s conscious awareness, about a queer person lurking in the corner. While some people, even those who identify as heterosexuals, seem to have a catalogue of all things gay, (which is quite frankly, the safest way to go about it), there are those who aren’t so sure. Here’s a rhyme to keep the catalogue in mind and activate your gaydar:
When you’re not putting it to good use,
The Gaydar can slip you by
But it’s easy to keep in mind,
For every kind of queer, there is a type
“Honey, those shoes with that dress?”
Having spent all those years in the closet,
The Gay man’s fashion advice is not a digression
Femininity colours his every move,
In the swaying of his hips, and his inability to drive
And manifests most explicitly,
In the construction of his choice of pop icon’s shrine
A tomboy who is going to hit on all your female friends,
Or a ‘femin*zi’ who hates all men
The Lesbian finds her sexual awakening when she first listens to Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl
and I Liked It’
When they come as a pair,
One wears the pants and the other wears the tutu
Did you hear? The both of them just recently moved in together
Much like their androgynous haircuts, too soon
Then there’s the cuffed sleeved Bisexual,
Their Vans in the air,
As they make themselves comfortable with the most awkward position to sit on a chair
A fifty-fifty of everything,
Unwilling to pick a side
It’s probably just a phase,
A stepping stone to coming out as gay
Which brings us to, the promiscuous hypersexual swinger – the Pansexual,
Conferred the title
Once they’re done with one of every gender,
And the occasional kitchenware
Essentially a bisexual, but in all dimensions,
And to end with, there’s the Asexual
Who is probably a sociopath with no human emotions
Their family planning is to reproduce through mitosis
After all, in any social interaction they become wallflowers
Unraveling the Myth – Research on the Gaydar
With A.I. that can guess one’s sexual orientation better than humans, to tell tale signs like the direction of one’s hair whorl, the gaydar is a topic of controversy even among the scientific community, with research being conducted on both proving and disproving, the capability to judge sexual orientation based on non-verbal cues. A major aspect of debate is centered on the age old question of “Nature versus Nurture”, which explores the potential roles of environment and genetics in the development of an organism, and the relationship between these factors.
When trying to establish an epigenetic or biological basis through features like facial cues, there is the issue of neglecting environmental factors that shape the psychology of gender as well as sexuality. Furthermore, there is the danger that by describing queerness as a physically identifiable trait within a strictly biological framework, it would inspire methods to cure and
prevent such a development, stating that the trait is a result of a physical deviation or mental illness. However, by neglecting the biological aspect, there is the danger of undermining the inherent features of queerness and the consequent reaction from people who would reductively attribute queerness to “bad parenting”, or solely the environment. Thus, regardless of the dominating role of genetics or the environment, it is prejudice and discrimination that truly endangers the queer identity, which ultimately seeks to discriminate, whatever the basis.
Most of the research that focuses on the social intuitions that people form about sexual orientations, involve the participants distinguishing between non-verbal cues, which at its essence works under the rationale that there are gender typical and atypical traits in terms of expressions and grooming styles. However, a limitation of this approach could be that the world is progressing to deconstruct the gender binary. With the world evolving to a more fluid and non-binary space, these traits which are largely shaped by gender socialization, would transform as well. Furthermore, most studies on the gaydar involve distinguishing only between gay and straight, which ignores the spectrum that sexuality is.
According to Frank at New York Magazine, the gaydar isn’t so much “the skill of the viewer, but the telltale signs most gay people project”, with a string of common esoteric observations like queer people being more likely to be left handed or ambidextrous, gay men having finger length ratios more common to straight women than straight men, gay men having a peculiar accent or vocal quality as well as a counterclockwise hair whorl pattern. However, this approach has been derided as largely phrenological in nature, relying on certain physical characteristics to conclude one’s sexual orientation, which is a dynamic aspect of one’s identity. Furthermore, the rush to underscore a biological basis might have a political agenda, according to Fausto Sterling, author of Sexing the Body, when the claims for gay rights should be made on moral, ethical, legal, and constitutional bases, that don’t rely on a particular scientific view of sexual development.
Not surprisingly, there have also been differences found in the accuracy of the gaydar, with homophobic people performing less accurately than queer people themselves, in gaydar studies. This suggests that identification is a better predictor than social intuition. This also highlights how homophobia is reflective of attributions based less on experience and more on prejudice, which is the fundamental issue with the gaydar – that it is rooted in stereotypes.
The Queer Community on the Gaydar
We’ve heard a lot about the average cis person’s perspective on the gaydar, as well as that of the scientific community. But what about the queer community and the allies themselves? What does the gaydar mean to them? Do they think it’s just an extension of stereotypes? Are there aspects to the gaydar that they believe in?
Let’s find out:
How would you describe the gaydar?
“An ability that people from the LGBTQIA+ community have to determine if someone they observe is also a part of the community. ” – Mahita
“Just vibes man. Pure vibes.” – K
“An intuitive feeling that the other person is not straight.” – S
“The gaydar, unlike how perceived by cis people to be a mere distinction between being masculine and feminine, where they tend to categorize ‘girly’ men as gay and ‘masculine’ women as lesbian, actually lies in subtle features. When they address their partner using ‘they’ and other neutral terms, and the way that they look at you. ” – Aanchal
How would you say that the concept of a gaydar affects the perception of the queer identity?
“It fends for stereotypes” – S
“It makes hetero people think we’re even more weird” – XN
“Most aspects of the gaydar I would say, are based on physical aspects, so in one way or the other, creates expectations about queer people wearing only certain kinds of outfits, and behaving in a particular manner, which isn’t the case always. We’re all different and these are few features that have become stereotypes over the years” – R
“Many a times, you might end up outing people that do not wanna be outed. ” – TDL
Do you think the gaydar is real?
“YES” – S
“Maybe? I mean my gaydar is at 20% accuracy but my friend says hers is at 90% accuracy.” – TDL
“I have never experienced it or engaged in it, and personally, it feels like a combination of stereotypes with a clever name. However, people make intuitive social judgments all the time, each time they meet someone. So if seen from that lens, it does seem real. Just the way intuition works, it may not always be accurate, but the possibility of it being accurate still exists.” – Ayushi
“I think it should never be thought of as anything but a made-up word to describe people’s tendency to always try to identify other people’s sexuality from afar. Sexuality does not have visible identifiers like race in most cases, and even the visible ones are highly debatable. So I guess a gaydar is just a way to rob people of their right to not disclose their sexuality by making it sound as if they have no defense against the “trained” eye. It’s a bit icky. I mean, yes most of us CAN tell what is culturally feminine and masculine behaviour, so you could argue that gaydar is real as long as you are ready to say that sexuality can be visible too. Controversial stuff. I mean, tbh, if a “gaydar” were always accurate I’d be sure people like Prince and Michael Jackson were super gay. Only because they are quite flamboyant. Isn’t the case though.” – Abhishek
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