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Fine tuning your handy gaydar


Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 08:02

The term “gaydar” is used to describe an individual’s ability to determine the sexual orientation of another person. This colloquial term can carry very negative connotations. Most people pride themselves in the accuracy of their gaydar, but what does this really signify?

The ability to know immediately the sexual orientation of a stranger is more than a parlor trick for most. Being able to gauge the interests of another person before ever approaching them can save you from awkward encounters and potentially harming someone’s ego.

No one wants other people to think they’re something they’re not, unless that something is a step up from where they’re currently at. Few of us would be hurt to know that someone thinks we’re smarter or more attractive than we truly are, but most people would be offended if a stranger guessed our sexual orientation inaccurately.

Sexual orientation is unknown. It isn’t something we tend to wear on our clothes or signify in any superficial way. Why don’t we? Because we live in a heteronormative society where it is assumed that all individuals are heterosexual. Approaching a member of the opposite sex with romantic or sexual intentions should be safe provided they are not already spoken for, right? This is not always the case.

For many people, in order to avoid the sting of embarrassment we try to tune our gaydars very precisely. Whether you are the heterosexual girl who always falls for gay guys or the lesbian who hits on heterosexual girls, it’s clear in our society that signals aren’t always clear and most of us have first-hand experience of this.   

Assuming you can determine the sexual orientation of another person from body cues and superficial factors can be very risky. At the adult level, having a finely attuned gaydar may be helpful in finding a potential lover, significant other or friend. 

As an adolescent, believing you have an accurate gaydar can be harmful and may lead to outing other students. When a student outs another student because they assume that student is gay, they are taking away a very special moment in that child’s life.

Most of us do not have accurate gaydars. Even though we do not wish to believe this, it is safe to assume the students who are being outed against their will may not even identify as gay, lesbian or transgender. 

How important is it to have a good gaydar? Gaydar is fundamentally just a judgment of another person. Aren’t we all a little sick of being judged by everyone else? The use of a gaydar also implies a binary — either you are gay or you’re not. I say shatter the binary and let’s all try our best to view other people as complex individuals who have multiple intersections and can’t be defined so simply.

By assuming you can quickly pick up on someone’s sexuality you are doing yourself an injustice. You are buying into a system that labels individuals based on mannerisms and superficial characteristics. There is a practical use for a gaydar, but we should move away from snap judgments and focus on actually getting to know other people. 

If you think you have the best gaydar out of your friends, test it out. Last semester SOUL held a “gaydar panel” in Perry Hall. The panel consisted of six individuals, each with a different sexual orientation. Those attending were challenged to determine the panelists’ sexual orientation based off of an indroduction and short questioning period. If you think you have a great gaydar, attending a gaydar panel may be an eye-opening experience for you.

SOUL will be hosting several gaydar panels throughout the semester. If you’d like to see a panel in your residence hall contact SOUL or a member of Residential Life to set one up. The best way to help end prejudice is to reach the largest number of people possible.

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