25 November 2002

The 'Gaydar' - An Urban Legend?

Who’s gay? Who’s lesbian? Who’s straight? Who’s not? Can we tell by just looking? Is there really some special way that homosexuals can recognize another in a crowded room, gym, or mall? Straight people are curious and often mystified. “How do you know?” they ask. “I just do,” I respond confidently. Read more on the legend about the ‘Gaydar’

Équipe -Pose ta question!-

You and your supposedly straight friend are changing at the gym, your wet, naked body just a few feet from his, you catch him glancing down at your crotch, and then he gives you a look – that look… or then maybe he didn’t.  You wonder – could he really be straight?  Could he be one of ‘us’?

Who’s gay?  Who’s lesbian?  Who’s straight?  Who’s not?  Can we tell by looking?  Is there really some special way that homosexuals can recognize another in a crowded room, gym, or mall?

Straight people are curious and often mystified. “How do you know?” they ask.  “I just do,” I respond confidently.  It appears to me, from the straight people’s perspective, like I belong to a clandestine society filled with secret handshakes and speaking in tongues.  And they want in.

Many gay men and lesbians think they can tell, often even before words are spoken, who’s “family.”  Well, the proverbial honing in technique is what’s known as the ‘gaydar.’  It may not be infallible, but it seems to work.  Hey, it’s hard enough to meet people with which you might have something in common, the Gaydar gene just gives us that little edge we need.  It’s why, when show biz or political personalities come out of ‘the closet’, gay men and women often shake their heads and wonder, “Can there be anyone who didn’t already know?”

Gaydar – what is it?  Well as one straight friend of mine describes it it’s ‘’the ability to discern who is gay and who isn’t.  Gay people themselves ‘have’ a heightened gaydar mechanism.  Women or lesbians are harder to peg.”   Another chum of mine felt that it is ‘’well, obviously it is the ability to sense if a person is gay.”  And it turns out that they’re not too far off the official definition.

According to WordSpy.com, ‘’gaydar” is described as an intuitive “sixth sense” that enables gay people to identify other gays, no matter how outwardly straight they may appear.  This slang term is not restricted to gay men, lesbians use it as well.

You can even find a program for your PalmPilot called Gaydar Deluxe 2.2a that seems to give men who have trouble developing this intuitive skill, and haven’t been able to reap all of its wondrous benefits, the power of the Gaydar simply through their Palm handheld computer.   As the description states “With a simple push of a button, Gaydar will scan the thought patterns and physical makeup of a target, displaying the results quickly and accurately, letting you know if it’s time to make a move or to just sit back and drool.“  Of course, it’s all good fun.

There’s even another gadget out on the market called the Gaydar, or gay radar, billed as the first portable interactive electronic icebreaker/matchmaker for gay men and lesbians – a pocket-sized key chain that sends out a radio signal, which beeps and signals when another ‘homosexual’ is at most 40 feet away.  Of course, it only works if the ‘target’ owns the interactive device him/herself.  Hence, what are the chances that someone who would actually own a gaydar would not be gay?

Gaydar does exist… and it’s much the same way that you can tell someone’s a tourist. If you live in Montreal, London or any other big city, tourists can be picked out of a crowd 90% of the time (an arbitrary percentage which depends on your own tourist honing skills).  They tend to look up, wear very casual clothes, seem less purposeful, sometimes lost, carry cameras, etc.

Walk down the street and look into another guy’s or girl’s eyes; if he/she is straight, odds are the individual won’t hold the glance, interpreting a meaningful stare as an assertive act or even an invasion of privacy.  If the individual is gay or lesbian, most will look back, knowing what the glance means.   Even if attraction is absent, the gaze can express shared feelings, desires, and a response to their sense of association or belonging to distinctive group or community.

If, as many of us homosexuals believe, we know we’re gay or lesbian at a relatively early age, then we can learn, even unconsciously, to “be gay” from the examples around us.  Vocal nuances, the way we walk or carry our selves, facial expressions – the subtleties to “be gay or lesbian” can be read by others tuned in to the code.  In a way, since gays and lesbians are an invisible minority, it could be viewed as a survival mechanism, a sometimes-unconscious mating dance and form of mutual recognition in a hostile world. 

If you want to develop your gaydar, here’s some tips…but let’s not give away too much.  It’s kind of fun having super powers.   And remember, even someone with a well developed gaydar can be wrong occasionally (there has even been a question of whether the gaydar can be dulled by allergies or colds 😉

First, you actually should get to know/hang out with gay or lesbian people. Having friends point lesbians out to you from afar won’t help you develop gaydar skills.  Accompany your favourite gay or lesbian friend to a gay club, the gym, a coffee shop, shopping or whenever wherever he/she meets others like him/herself and see the diversity that makes up the homosexual community – a community as diverse as…dare I say…the heterosexual community.  Contrary to what the media often projects, the majority of the gay and lesbian community is not comprised of drag queens, leather folk, or crew-cut sporting military boot wearing lesbians lacking make-up.

Watch body posture and eye contact (but don’t be too obvious ;). People watching is fun in general, and the more objectively you look at people the more you’ll pick up on.  Do they turn to look at girls or guys when they pass someone cute?   When you see them talking with someone, notice how open their body is to that person.  It helps if you’ve seen them interact with a few different types of people.  Do they lean in?  Look directly into the other person’s eyes?   But keep in mind; people treat potential mates differently then they do friends or other strangers.

Look for how far they allow people into their personal space. This is more helpful when trying to use gaydar on a guy, because they’re usually more touchy about letting another guy into their personal space … if they’re straight they definitely don’t want to seem gay. Girls in general are more willing to let another girl be physically close/touch them, so it’s harder to tell.  In addition, for some reason it’s more accepted in society to see girls holding hands, hugging etc – often dead giveaways.

And don’t go on stereotypes.  Rainbow necklaces and pick triangles are the most obvious signs, but most gay/lesbian people don’t wear them… too easy I guess 😉   Clothing and mannerisms can occasionally be helpful signs, but are often misleading.  Gay people tend to set the fashion trends and hence nowadays, a lot more straight guys are making the effort to take care of themselves buying facial products, working out, eating healthy, dressing better and simply – looking good.  Relying on these stereotypes could lead to a lot of false positives (even some gay guys are at times thrown off).  On the flip side of the coin, sometimes gays or lesbians will purposefully look or act ‘straight’ – whatever that means.

Although using your Gaydar can be fun in a secret agent kind of way, the good news is we need it less as more of us alter-hero(e)s emerge from the depths of the closet. Soon it will become like a useless organ we evolved past; the antiquated appendix of gay culture.

Good luck, happy hunting, and all that 🙂