What’s wrong with your gaydar? Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how, as someone who identifies as both femme and queer, I’ve been struggling with a certain ‘gay’ concept. If you look back through some of these posts, you’ll see that I’ve written before about how difficult life can be when the world automatically think that every feminine-looking or dress-wearing girl must be straight. However, like many people within the LGBT community, I also quite regularly joke about how some people make my gaydar ping.

It’s boring how regularly I blast the world for automatically assuming that I must be straight because of the way I dress, how I cut my hair and the make-up which I choose – but I do, because it’s so superficial. The fact of the matter is that if you conform to what Western society deems as traditionally pretty, or you look a certain way, the world just assumes that they already know your sexual orientation. Let’s face it; being gay is abnormal (in a statistical sense) – and that’s why the general population need to be educated to change their mindset. The only way that femme invisibility will disappear is if people are shown that gay people do not fit to a stereotype.

Lesbian Gaydar Questions gay gaydar 2013

I’ve talked before about how my gay friends don’t all look alike; we don’t all wear flannel shirts and undercut our hair or wear Doc Martens. But it’s more than that – my friends all wear the clothes they want to wear, they style their hair in ways that makes them happy – the way they look has nothing to do with who they sleep with. This means that you shouldn’t be able to tell whether or not a girl is gay without asking her – because there is no one single common factor which marks all lesbians. And yet… I genuinely believe that there is such a thing as Gaydar.

So if there isn’t one single factor which means that we can tell whether or not someone is gay, why do so many gay and lesbian people (myself including) believe that they can point out other gay people – and why are they so often right? Well, I believe that whilst there isn’t a checklist of things which will tell you whether someone is gay or not, there are certain pointers which gay people recognise in others, but which straight people probably wouldn’t even actively notice.

If you’ve watched The L Word, you’re probably aware of the (quite frankly brilliant) episode where Dana is trying to find out whether her current girl-crush, Lara, is a lady-lover. For those who haven’t seen it, the episode culminates in the whole L Word gang trying to work out whether Lara is ‘one of them’ – using some of the lesbian pointers that I often pay attention to at a sub-conscious level. This quote from the episode (The L Word, Season 1, Episode 2) sums it up fairly well:

Alice: “Dana, most girls are straight until they’re not. And then sometimes they’re gay ’til they’re not.”
Shane: “True, but then there are also the ones that never look back, right? And you can spot them comin’ a mile away.”
Dana: “How can you tell?”
Alice: “You read the signals.”
Shane: “Dana, it’s not a problem. All right? No — sexuality is fluid. Whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.”
Dana: “No, that is my problem: I can’t feel the flow. That thing, whatever it is, I don’t got it.”
Alice: “You don’t have gaydar.”

Even if a gaydar is actually what I described it as above – a set of certain characteristics which gay people often recognise in each other at a subconscious level, but which straight people don’t pick up on – that doesn’t help people like Dana. The truth of the matter is that even gold-star lesbians aren’t born with gaydar – it’s something which is compiled by interacting with other gay people and accepting some stereotypes do have a grain of truth in them and people-watching. But should we queer folk admit (and even strive) to have a gaydar? Is it necessary?

In an equal world it really wouldn’t matter whether someone was straight or gay, so why would being able to pick gay girls out of a crowd be something that was important? To be honest, I think that even if being gay was totally accepted having  agaydar would still be useful. As someone who errs on the side of femme, I find both having a gaydar, and other gay girls having a gaydar was incredibly helpful when it came to dating. Getting a ‘vibe’ that a girl I thought was attractive was gay was often the impetus to go and talk to her – and if her gaydar pinged when she saw me, it simply meant she and I were on the same page. To put it simply, gaydar meant that I could talk to gay girls in the same way a heterosexual man talks to a heterosexual woman – with the assumption that we have compatible sexuality.

Yes or no, gay or straight? How good is your gaydar?

No, gaydar isn’t infallible; *cough* Kristen Stewart *cough* but then straight guys often hit on gay girls too, so I wouldn’t say it puts a gay girl in a worse position than a straight guy – and when you’re a lesbian looking for another lesbian (for friendship or dating or whatever) then it really does feel like every little helps. A scientific study (quoted by Ellen no less!) said that Gaydar is only accurate 60% of the time. As Ellen notes, that’s 10% more accurate than guessing… Just saying!

What’s your opinion of a gaydar theory? Do you find having a gaydar useful, or are you of the opinion that we shouldn’t try and judge people’s sexuality through the way they outwardly portray themselves?


5 Comment

  1. Amanda says: Reply

    Gaydar completely exists, but much like Santa Claus, I think a person has to believe to experience the true magic. By the way, I love this L Word episode and would like to thank you for being able to relive it!

    1. Carley says: Reply

      I definitely believe that if you don’t believe in your gaydar then it’s never going to work well – I think it’s at least partially due to being observant and confident!

      I also loved this L Word episode – although, as I watched it when I was struggling with my own sexuality (oh, and scarlet fever!) I felt more like Dana than Alice or Shane!

  2. Leah says: Reply

    Gaydar does exist! It’s like a twinge in your belly or a bell that goes off in your head when you have a great thought. My wife and I laugh though when we will see someone at the same time and then look at each other at the same time and ask, “Did your gaydar go off?”

    1. Carley says: Reply

      Stacey and I do that too! Our local supermarket often feels like a lesbian meeting place and so many times Stacey and I glance at each other and giggle because we’ve both spotted someone else who has made our gayder ping!

  3. […] whether the gay community will ever feel like they don’t need gaydar… (You can find What’s Wrong With Your Gaydar here.) This next post looks at how ‘baby-gays’ and those who don’t yet have a gaydar […]

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