In an effort to debunk the validity of gaydar, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a study where they challenged the “gaydar myth” according to a report on the University’s news website. The findings, which were published in the Journal of Sex Research, conclude that gaydar isn’t real. Try telling that to gay men everywhere.
William Cox, an assistant scientist at the University’s Department of Psychology who was also the lead author of the study, feels gaydar is less about being able to determine a person’s sexual orientation and more about engaging in harmful forms of stereotyping. “Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate,” stated Cox. “But if you’re not calling it ‘stereotyping,’ if you’re giving it this other label and camouflaging it as ‘gaydar,’ it appears to be more socially and personally acceptable.”
Cox and his team conducted a series of studies, one of which consisted of manipulating their subjects’ understanding of the term “gaydar.” Three groups of people were given different explanations — one group was told gaydar was real, another was told it was a way of stereotyping and the third group was given no definition. The end result? The group that was told gaydar is real engaged in more stereotyping by assuming men were gay based off of certain cues. For example, if the group was told a particular man liked to go shopping, they felt they were utilizing their gaydar in the assumption that he was gay.
Good thing they didn’t tell the group the guy liked to get mani-pedis after attending bottomless mimosa brunches. Their gaydars might have gone into circuit overload.
Cox also has a fascinating theory about men who are assumed to be gay if they wear pink shirts and it’s tied into the fact that a small percentage of the population is gay.
“Imagine that 100 percent of gay men wear pink shirts all the time, and 10 percent of straight men wear pink shirts all the time. Even though all gay men wear pink shirts, there would still be twice as many straight men wearing pink shirts. So, even in this extreme example, people who rely on pink shirts as a stereotypic cue to assume men are gay will be wrong two-thirds of the time.”
Umm, did we wake up this morning and get transported back to 1998?
Cox’s research conflicts with a 2008 report that concluded people could accurately guess sexual orientation based on photographs of people’s faces. That study somehow gave the existence of gaydar some validity within the scientific realm.
While Cox and his team of researchers are clearly well intentioned in trying to highlight the existence of prejudice through stereotyping, there is a major design flaw with studies on gaydar that has been overlooked. Gaydar is similar to the “Force” from the Star Wars movies. Just like the Force is always strongest among Jedis, gaydar works the same way for us gays. Similar to the Jedi that trains to use the Force to his advantage, we fine-tune it over time through our life experiences. Way before Grindr (aka the prehistoric times), gaydar is what we relied on to determine how many other gay men were X amount of feet away. It was, and still is, very beneficially for expanding our social circles whether it be meeting new friends or cruising in public. The signals we receive from our gaydars are how we know it’s safe to continue to engage. Take it from a guy who has done the legwork. Gaydar is real.
Gaydar is a feeling. It’s based on a vibe a man gets from another man. It’s about eye contact and body language. It takes face-to-face personal interaction and cannot be acquired by looking at photos of other men in an effort to figure out if they are of the homosexual persuasion. Therein lies a huge difference. Judging one’s appearance from a photograph or based on second-hand information about how he acts is stereotyping. Getting a phone number from a cute guy at Starbucks…that’s gaydar.
Great strides have been made in equality and the quest continues, but when it comes to gaydar, this is one of those times where we have to be separatists and say, “It’s a gay thing.”
We want to hear from our readers. What have your experiences been like when it comes to gaydar? Share your stories in the comments section.