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LGBTQ

🏳️‍🌈 Gaydar Detector

I’ve been asked if gaydar is a thing.

Yes, it is, but it’s limited.

That’s why I have Gaydar Pro, which unlocks full functionality and removes ads. It’s only $9.99 a month. Available on the App Store.

(Insert rimshot here.)

Gaydar is indeed a thing, but so is déjà vu, intuition, and the placebo effect. It exists but is hard to explain. That doesn’t stop people from trying to figure it out, though.

Psychologist Nicholas Rule at the University of Toronto, for example, has conducted many studies into perception and judgment. His research with gay men and lesbians shows:

  • Gay men can accurately identify another man’s sexual orientation just from a face photo.
  • Lesbians can do the same with a photo of a woman’s face.
  • It takes about 50 milliseconds for this to happen.
  • You don’t need to show a photo of the entire face. It also works if you show only the eyes.
  • The results are nowhere near 100% correct, but they are much too accurate to be explained by chance alone.

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be if gaydar is a thing, but what kind of thing it is.

As an amateur skeptic, I’ll immediately dismiss the possibility that it’s mystical energy and magical auras. It can’t be pheromones, since gaydar works with photographs. Nor can it be Farrah Moan, since she was eliminated in episode 8 of her season and didn’t make it too far in All-Stars. Oh, Ru!

Here’s my unscientific, unresearched, and most likely incorrect theory:

Gaydar is most likely related to body language, facial expressions, and social cues. Gay men instinctively learn, through trial and error, what actions and characteristics indicate a person is gay. I don’t think it’s an innate skill, but it’s driven by an inherent need to identify others like us.

If this is the case, gaydar should become more accurate over time as we learn which blips on our screens are truly gay men and which are Zaddy Zac Efron. This experience prepares us to extrapolate information from incomplete data, which explains how we can determine sexual orientation from a photograph.

Perhaps the best description of gaydar comes from a short story written by a straight author and told from the perspective of a straight narrator. It’s from “The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind” by David Guterson. I remember nothing of the book but the following passage, which has stuck with me for nearly 30 years:

When I was twenty-four I saw Wyman again in a bar in west Seattle. He was shooting pool with two other men, the three of them circling the table with their cues and leaning low into the smoky light there to take their shots with the utmost seriousness. It was not so much something in their appearance, or even in their manner, that suggested what I came to conclude from the scene: that Wyman was gay, a homosexual. It was rather their intimacy that suggested it, the way in which their pool game shut them off from the world and made them a society unto themselves, so that what the rest of the bar might think of them was a matter of complete insignificance. 

David Guterson, “The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind”

Perhaps that’s all gaydar is: A skill born of necessity to bring us together and protect us from harm over centuries of discrimination, degradation, and shame. If that ain’t worth $9.99 a month, I don’t know what is.