Queer Corner: Does Your Gaydar Pass the Test?



My boyfriend tells me that I can pass well. For those not in the know, “passing” means that gay, lesbian or bisexual people can pass day-to-day as being straight. It can also apply in different contexts (such as gender – transgender people living as a gender they don’t identify as, or race – mixed-race individuals being perceived easily as belonging to one racial group or another). Passing can be intentional or not, depending on the situation (just like exams, I find).


But back to the matter at hand. I am sure some people would be surprised if they met me and then learned that I was gay. I do not think that I am particularly good at exemplifying hypermasculine traits (though I try to be bear-ish), but I wouldn’t say that I’m made of sugar and spice and everything glittery (but sometimes I definitely do try). I do my best to be myself, and that includes a little bit of butchness and flamboyance, which in my opinion is good for everyone.  


You might have wondered if there was a method to tell if other people are straight or not. Is this seemingly innate act, known commonly as gaydar (unfortunately bisexuals are not included in this dichotomy), only available to certain people? Is it infallible? Is it all imaginary?


The answers to the above are all no (though I know some people would argue that they have the perfect ‘dar). Mostly thanks to popular media and culture, everyone has some level of gaydar available to them based on stereotypes of gay men and women. It’s pretty simple: gay men are supposed to act effeminately and lesbians are supposed to act the opposite.  


This assertion is a little problematic. First, stereotypes obviously are not absolutely correct for 100 percent of a population. I know gay men who are athletes and/or hate fashion, and I know lesbians who love the color pink and/or do not know how to ride a motorcycle. Is there some truth to stereotypes? Of course, but my second concern is that I am uncomfortable with what the above implies. I would be angry at anyone who insinuated that I was anything less than a man because of my sexual orientation, as I’m sure queer women would be about folk thinking of them as not being women.


You might get sick of hearing that a lot of things in life are socially constructed, but the fact is that they are and one of them is the expression of gender, to which men and women are supposed to conform. Even with this fact in mind, is there any legitimacy to an assertion of someone having a legitimate gaydar?


Scientific studies have been conducted to try and figure out how exactly gaydar works. From what I’ve found, researchers have found that there are certain markers that “tell” a person’s sexual orientation (e.g. facial structure, hair whorl, finger length). Google the latter two to see if you are biologically supposed to be gay.

There is also data about people’s scents and preference, speech patterns and mannerisms when interacting with other people. This data, while certainly showing some kind of link at a biological level to the existence of gaydar, is still being collected to determine exactly why and how this occurs and the research is relatively new and non-expansive.


But can one be trained to identify a person’s sexual orientation? From what researchers have gathered, it is true that queer men and women are better at identifying other queer people than straight people. This intuitively makes sense.

With a purely societal outlook, since gay men and women are largely stigmatized and in the minority, they are more aware of the people and behaviors going on around them and would be looking for someone with whom they could initiate a relationship.


This, however, does not mean that straight people are clueless. When conducting tests, the data also shows that sample populations consistently score better than 50

percent (the odds of them getting someone’s orientation right).


While it could be argued that it could be social cues and expectations, I will go back to the data: it shows that even when people are showed the picture of only an eye, people were able to guess correctly whether or not the person was gay better than the average (gay men and women were better though).  


There is obviously something going on, and everyone will tell you their different tricks to figure out someone’s orientation. Do not be worried if you cannot pin it down: I have gay friends who have terrible gaydars and I am personally really bad at ascertaining females’ orientations. If you really must know if you have a good ‘dar under your control, simply trust your instincts. And then come gossip with me.