One of my girlfriends has a problem: she always falls for the gay guys. Her friends are always excited for her when she’s dating someone new; we’re excited for her personally, but also excited that there will most likely be a newly out gay boy by the end of the month. She always asks me if there is a way to be able to “tell” queer and straight people apart just by looking at them. She isn’t the first, and this is one of the questions I get asked the most by all sorts of people.
Queer people have been known to have a sixth sense, sometimes called “Gaydar,” that they are rumored to use to find other people like them. How does this mystical power work? Is it focusing on another person’s mannerisms? Clothes? Hairstyle? Sound of their voice? Interests? Or is it something deeper than simple observation, like mind-reading or using advanced satellite transmissions?
I would have to say that Gaydar is composed of a little bit of everything of the above (except the last two, because you only get them after you’ve attained “Super Queer” status, which takes years). If I could give you an exact guide, I would, because it would be ridiculously helpful for everyone. The problem, however, is that there is no scientific method to employ to guess someone’s sexuality just by observing them. Rather, do what Jewel does, and follow your intuition.
For queer people, this sense develops almost naturally. In my opinion, it’s your brain trying to find you someone to be compatible with, so it looks for certain “tells” in other people that might be evidence of them being queer, thus giving you a chance with them. If you’re straight, you have this ability as well, but with such a larger population of potential choices, you wouldn’t notice it as much. Your brain looks for the opposite sex (first and foremost), and then quickly analyzes them to see if you’ll be attracted to them. If your brain says “no,” it’s best to turn away from them at the Jug, as you’re probably in for an awkward night/next morning. It’s similar for queer people, except the intermediate step for us is often, “Is this person like me? Are they batting for my team?” (to be so crude).
It’s more or less an educated guess, based on what you know about the queer culture that you live in and how you interact with the straight culture that is dominant. I could write about one type of person that pops up on my ‘Dar pretty easily, but it doesn’t make it unbreakable and always correct. Not every gay man is a fabulous drag queen in waiting, and not every lesbian is just itching to get out of her 2:45 class to hang some drywall. Queer people are a quite diverse and varied group, and this is particularly true on our campus. So if everyone is different, and you don’t specifically know right off the bat, how do you find out? Or develop your own sixth sense, for that matter?
The easiest and safest way is to begin using gender neutral terms when talking about people’s potential partners, until they are explicit about whom they desire. It’s easiest to not assume either way, because you’re just as likely to be wrong as right. Even us seasoned professionals aren’t 100 percent right all of the time. Ask leading questions if you’re really curious, though blurting out “Are you one of them queers?” is rude. Find some tactful way of bringing it up.
So does Gaydar exist? If you’re looking exclusively for stereotypical queer people, then yes. But this is but a small portion of the queer population at large, and the signs might not work for everyone. There’s no true “gay test” (believe me, I tried them all on the internet) and there’s no foolproof method to finding queer people (though sometimes at night, it’s rumored that you can find them dancing on the old golf course around an iPod playing “Everybody Dance Now”). Some people are better at finding them than others, just like some people are better at painting or staying awake in class. The best thing to do is to not assume, but if you are in desperate need, find a friend like mine and just follow them around for a day. You might uncover a plethora of “closet cases” on campus. Good luck searching!