STUDY: Is Gaydar Real And Does It Work Like We Think It Does?

We know that gaydar research may elicit discomfort. To some, the idea that it’s possible to perceive others’ sexual orientation from observation alone seems to imply prejudice, as if having gaydar makes you homophobic.

We disagree: adults with normal perceptual abilities can differentiate the faces of men and women, and of black and white people, but such abilities do not make us sexist or racist.

Though gaydar may not be driven by homophobia, it is relevant to discrimination policy. One of the arguments against nondiscrimination protection for lesbian, gay and bisexual people is that if sexual minorities concealed their identities — à la “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — discrimination would not be possible. We believe that such policies are unfair. But fairness aside, scientific experiments like ours indicate that such policies are also ineffective: discrimination against sexual minorities would not be eliminated by nondisclosure of sexual orientation, since sexual identity can be detected through appearance alone.

Should you trust your gaydar in everyday life? Probably not. In our experiments, average gaydar judgment accuracy was only in the 60 percent range. This demonstrates gaydar ability — which is far from judgment proficiency.

But is gaydar real? Absolutely.

Doctoral candidate Joshua Tabak and professor Vivian Zayas, discussing their study on determining sexual orientation by processing facial features and configurations, in The New York Times.