“I have the worst gaydar ever!” How many times have you heard that? (And how many times was it from a frustrated girl who had dated a gay guy?)
What is it that gives you good—or bad—gaydar? Gaydar, a combination of “gay” and “radar,” is “the ability to recognize homosexuals through observation or intuition,” according to Merriam-Webster.
“Well…are you ovulating?” Believe it or not, at least one study has shown that women who are ripe for reproduction have a better-tuned gaydar during that time of the month.
Researchers at the University of Toronto showed forty straight women pictures of equally attractive men of varying sexualities, and the ladies closest to peak ovulation—those with the best chances of getting pregnant—had the best gaydar!
Isn’t that fascinating? Nature gave women the ability to sort out the most promising mates at the perfect time. (The study also found that female strippers make more tips when they’re ovulating.)
So, is being able to distinguish between gays and straights an evolutionary skill, designed to help women procreate more efficiently? Maybe! But for the most part, I think gaydar evolved as an equally important LGBT skill: survival. It’s a way for us LGBT folks to identify others like us—the ones we can flirt with without risking a punch to the face.
But how does gaydar work? Is it based purely on stereotypes? We use a handful of cues to figure out who’s gay and who’s not—how they talk, or walk, or what they wear, or if they make eye contact just long enough. And according to another study, it’s also based on facial structures.
Men have a larger width-to-height ratio in the shape of their face, which is apparently caused by testosterone being released in adolescence, the study published in the journal PLOS ONE explains. These researchers speculated that a feminine or masculine facial structure impacts people’s perception of sexuality, or gaydar. They found people could distinguish between gays and straights based only on faces (with hair obscured and no jewelry) with 60 percent accuracy.
That may not sound that impressive, but 60 percent is statistically significant since it is “several times above the margin of error,” the researchers wrote in the New York Times. So, yes—“gay face” could actually be a real thing!
Now I’m no scientist, but I would hypothesize that more attractive people (gay or straight) tend to have more accurate gaydar. (How many times have you stared down someone attractive of the same sex, or at least maintained longer eye contact than a heterosexual person would have?)
As being gay has become increasingly acceptable in recent years, I suspect that, as a species, we’re getting better at our gaydar skills. Sure, there are still the oblivious people, but as gay has become mainstream, most folks have learned which cues to look for, with more accuracy—right?
What is the future of gaydar? If it becomes less risky to hit on a straight guy (and who hasn’t done that?!), is this skill going to become less and less important?
One thing that’s probably killing gaydar: smartphone apps like Grindr. Part of the fun of being gay is the challenge of seeking out other gays in a heterosexual world! When you can just open an app where everyone on the list is gay (or…“straight but curious on the DL”) and willing to mingle (just maybe not with you), there’s no need to exercise your internal Doppler. With more Internet matchmaking and less real-life meeting and greeting, will gaydar go the way of the Dodo bird?
Gaydar can sometimes be a bad thing, though: think of how often LGBT folks are discriminated against even if they’re not “out.” Sadly, that’s also based on gaydar.
A gay couple I met at a rally after the landmark Supreme Court DOMA decision had faced that situation years ago when they first moved to Houston. It was 1970, and when they tried to rent an apartment together, they were turned down. “We don’t rent to two gentlemen,” they were told. They were not at all open about their sexuality, but the perception that they were gay still resulted in discrimination.
Forty-three years later, this is still a problem. In the state of Texas (and many others), two men can still be denied an apartment because they are perceived to be gay. They can also be fired from their jobs for the same reason.
Oh, and if your own gaydar is pinging off the charts after reading this, I’ll just go ahead and confirm it now: Duh.
Blake Hayes is the morning host at Mix 96.5 KHMX.