Sunday, July 22, 2018

Are You Gay???

by Ellis Jane (writer), Fullerton, April 03, 2008


Is there really such a thing as "gaydar"?

Were you to get a Delorean up to eighty-eight miles per hour with plutonium and 1.21 jigawats of power, and you happened to visit Canada in the 1950's, you had better not have an unusually strong affinity for Judy Garland or the color purple.  In 1950, the Canadian Civil Service built a "Fruit Machine" to aid in the detection of gays.  Now while this may sound ridiculous to our "modern" society to use a tricorder-like device to diagnose sexual preference, the notion of "gaydar" is something still prevalent in our day to day existence.

Gaydar, to which is alluded or mentioned in shows like Buffy, The Office, or Saturday Night Live, is neither a device nor a machine.  Some people supposedly can pick up invisible vibes from nonverbal sensory information or clairvoyance, an individual's grooming habits, dress, defiance of traditional roles in their life, etc... and with these invisible vibes they have enough mastery to ascertain sexuality.  True, it is usually gay people themselves who claim to have gaydar, ergo it is not intended as an insulting system playing on stereotypes, but that does not alter the fact that it is usually oversimplified ideas that tend to influence the high frequency electromagnetic waves of gaydar.  Does gaydar not epitomize and restrict the individuality of those detected?  What of a meterosexual man with a vigorous aesthetic sense, or a tomboyish woman who never cared for long hair?

Pragmatically, gaydar is a very practical supposition for gays.  No one wants to ask the phone number of a straight married woman, or invite to dance the straight captain of the football team.  On the other side of the coin, a bachelorette does not want to embarass herself by flirting with a gay man, just as a bachelor would never want his friends to see his failed attempt to buy a lesbian a drink.  As a means of defense and self-preservation, many tap into intuitions that they assume must be gaydar.  However, just how accurate are these intuitions?

In 1999, Dr. Nalini Ambady at Tufts University developed and commenced on a research study to measure exactly that.  Even with fallacies, gays were consistently better at identifying other gays than straight individuals.  It was discovered that although those who identified themselves as homosexuals were better at correctly identifying orientation tha heterosexuals from silent videos and photographs, they were nevertheless not always accurate.  Gay women were more likely than men to be misclassified by both heterosexuals and homosexuals as straight. 

Is there such a thing as gaydar?  It is nothing mystic, paranormal, or scientifically electromagnetic.  It is more intuition than anything else, an intuition at which gays excel over straight individuals owing to their need to use it more often and the fact that they are generally exposed to more homosexuals and are accustomed to different cues.  However, just because it is a practical device does not mean that it can be trusted, or that it even exists past suspicion, so practice caution when claiming to have reliable gaydar for you never know who you may offend.

^ Willow Lawson. Nov/Dec 2005. "Queer Eyes: Blips on the Gaydar". Psychology Today Magazine.

^ The Fruit Machine: Twenty Years of Writings on Queer CinemaDuke University Press

About the Writer

Ellis Jane is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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