How do I get gaydar?


Hi John,

Thanks so much for writing in to us at AlterHéros. It sounds like you’re trying to find out whether or not your friend is bisexual or gay and if there is a way to figure it out by using gaydar. Firstly, you should know that gaydar does not really exist. It’s not some kind of mechanical detector that you can use on others. Gaydar (the combination of the word “gay” and “radar”) refers to the ability to identify a person’s sexual orientation by using intuition to interpret an individual’s personality, mannerisms, style, etc… Though there have been studies that show that gay men have shown to be better at identifying other gay men or other peoples’ sexual orientation, generally speaking, anyone (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ), straight etc…) can claim to “have gaydar.” That being said, gaydar isn’t something you can just “get.” For the most part, people who claim to have gaydar believe that they can tell someone’s sexual orientation by making judgments on their behaviour based on stereotypes (e.g. the way they dress, act, their occupation, grooming habits etc…). However, like all stereotypes, they do not apply to everyone, so gaydar can often produce “false readings.”

In any case, if your friend tells you that he is bisexual, it’s best if you believe what he is telling you. Your intuition may tell you that he is gay and in the closet (you could consider this your gaydar), but if he’s telling you that he is bisexual, there is not much else you can do about it other than accept it as the truth. He has chosen to label himself as bisexual and even if he is actually gay, he is not obligated to tell you anything.

It seems almost natural for humans to need to box people in to certain categories (like gay, straight, bisexual, male, female etc…) and when we feel that something doesn’t fit, we try to put them where we think they belong. It is understandable that you want to give your friend the “right” label but a label is something you choose for yourself. Let’s look at an example: Let’s say that you are a strict vegan who does not eat meat, eggs, dairy or seafood and you have a friend who is a vegan as well but occasionally, you’ve seen him sneak in a tuna sandwich or a slice of cheesecake. According to you, that’s not really being vegan, but does that mean he can’t still consider himself a vegan? Is he being sneaky about it because you are vegan and he wants to avoid judgment? It’s sort of the same thing with sexuality; even if by your standards, he doesn’t seem to be a very bisexual person, he’s allowed to label himself as one. He could even be saying he’s bisexual because he wants to avoid any kind of judgment.

There are many reasons why people don’t come out of the closet. Mostly it is because they fear judgment. This is not to say that you are a judgmental person, however your need to know about his sexual orientation sounds like it may be pressuring him to come out when he’s not ready. Even in the best of situations (i.e. supportive family, friends and community) a person may choose not to come out because they have to come to terms with being gay themselves before affirming it to other people. If your need to know his sexual orientation stems from a desire to support him, that is a wonderful thing; however, for the moment, the best thing is to just give him space, some time and an open non-judgmental ear for him to talk to. Just try and remember when you were questioning your bisexuality; how would you feel if you had a friend that kept suspecting that you needed to come out of the closet and was trying to figure you out before you were ready? Remember how you felt and be the person you had or wish you had to support you on your path towards figuring out your sexual orientation.

All in all, you really can’t know a person’s sexual orientation for sure. These things can change over time so it’s really based on how the individual feels. Sorry to tell you that there is no such thing as true “gaydar” and that there’s no sure bet to figuring out your friend’s sexual orientation. Who knows, maybe he really is 100% bisexual and your need to know whether or not he’s gay is a waste of time or maybe he is actually gay and he’s just not ready to come out yet. Whatever the case, be there for him if you care about him and accept what he tells you. If you have any other details, questions or need more advice, please don’t hesitate to write again. Good luck!

Sincerely,

K-Wo for AlterHéros


About Kay Wo

Kay holds a master degree in sexology. She has also been involved in public speaking to youth on fighting homophobia in schools, as well as working with youth living with HIV. Kay volunteers also for CAEO Québec (Gay Line, Gay Online and SILK).

Since I joined the AlterHéros team, I have greatly enjoyed my time as an “Tell the expert” expert. Not only do I enjoy writing up tid bits of advice to inquiring minds, I feel that I have gained a lot from hearing about the problems and inquiries of individuals from all different walks of life. This has afforded me to think outside the box, outside of my own context and to expand my understanding of people, sexuality and a wide range of other subjects. This monthly challenge has benefited me in many ways and I have always appreciated how easily it fits in to my schedule. Not only that, but the staff have always been friendly and flexible concerning my needs.

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