‘Gaydar’ May Not Actually Be a Thing

‘Gaydar’ May Not Actually Be a Thing

Originally published on yahoo.com

Can you really spot a gay man simply by looking at him?

The “every-gay-man-is-flamboyant” cliché is thankfully dying. But the notion of “gaydar” — the supposed ability to identify a person who is homosexual without him or her affirming his or her sexual orientation — is unfortunately still thriving, thanks, in part, to a 2008 study that gave gaydar a scientific sheen.

When people judged whether men were gay or straight based on their online-dating profile pictures, Tufts University researchers found that their level of accuracy was greater than chance. This led them to conclude that the average person can determine a man’s sexual orientation within 50 milliseconds of seeing his face, an ability the scientists theorized might be an evolutionary way of helping gay men to identify potential partners, and women to eliminate unavailable guys.

But, now, findings from a new Journal of Sex Research study challenge this study’s conclusions — and call into question the idea of gaydar altogether. University of Wisconsin scientists replicated the 2008 study, selecting gay and straight men’s photos from an online-dating site, but before asking study participants to guess the guys’ sexual orientation, they had them rate the quality of each photo. What they discovered: People consistently scored the gay men’s photos higher than the straight men’s photos.

Armed with this finding, the researchers paired quality-matched photos of gay and straight men — which the 2008 study didn’t do — and then had volunteers judge their sexual orientation. “People couldn’t tell the difference,” lead study author William Cox PhD tells Yahoo Health. “They weren’t better than chance at determining whether [a man] was gay or straight.” His team then replicated these findings with images of lesbian and straight women.

The findings seem to suggest that gay men and lesbians may be more apt than straight men and women to upload attractive photos to their profiles, perhaps due to appearance-consciousness. But Cox offers another, more nuanced explanation: Since the dating pool for gay men and lesbians is much smaller than that of heterosexual men and women, they have to be more competitive online — and quite literally put their best face forward. “The gay men and lesbians more often have a picture they have taken of themselves, so they’re the only person in [it],” Cox says. By contrast, straight men and women often used photos in which they had cropped themselves out of a group shot.

But when this superficial difference is eliminated, gay and straight people are physically indistinguishable.

So if appearance isn’t a reliable indicator of sexual orientation, what is? Nothing, according to Cox. “The biggest difference between gay and straight men that’s ever been demonstrated empirically is that gay men are three times more likely than straight men to be alcoholics,” says Cox. “But no one ever thinks that alcoholics are gay,” since hard drinking doesn’t conform to the most common stereotypes of homosexual men.

By contrast, people do tend to assume that male interior designers or guys who really like shopping are gay — but the fact is, “in order for a stereotype, or any cue, to yield higher-than-chance accuracy about a target being gay, gay men must be more than 20 times more likely to possess that characteristic than straight men,” Cox writes. No differences of that magnitude have ever been documented.

What this suggests is that a belief in gaydar may actually reveal more about the people who claim to have it than the supposedly gay men it outs.

In a follow-up study, people who were told that gaydar is a legitimate form of intuition were more likely to identify men described as liking shopping or Cher, for example, as gay, compared to people who were told that gaydar is a form of stereotyping. In other words, legitimizing the idea of gaydar leads people to stereotype more. Another new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people with psychotic personality traits, such as aggressiveness and hostility, are more likely to be homophobic, suggesting that an exaggerated aversion to gay people may reveal more about the phobic folks than homosexual people.

So why, in this era of increasing tolerance, does the idea of gaydar persist?

“If you give [stereotyping] this other label — ‘oh, it was my intuition, my gaydar’ — that camouflages it and makes it seem OK. It seems fun and silly,” Cox says. But the fact is, “those stereotypes have a lot of negative consequences that people don’t always recognize.” For starters, making blanket statements about gay men and lesbians is harmfully homogenizing. “It’s like [saying] gay people are all the same,” Cox says.

In Cox’s view, the solution is simple: If you need to know someone’s sexual orientation, simply ask — “Do you have a partner?” or “What’s your sexual orientation?” are both acceptable ways of inquiring, he says. Feel awkward? “If asking is inappropriate — if it’s someone at work—then maybe you shouldn’t be speculating about it in the first place,” Cox says.

Instead, Cox suggests, examine why you jumped to the conclusion that, for example, your co-worker is gay — and then challenge the stereotypes that likely came to mind.  “Most stereotyping is something that just kind of pops in people’s minds — we don’t really control [it],” he says. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy into those beliefs. “Think about it before making the assumption,” he says. “Just be more thoughtful.”

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  1. Dennis Macaulay
    September 16, 06:20 Reply

    Chai PP

    Whenever an issue is being thrashed here you pretend to be neutral, only to go find an article or use that your series to throw epic shade!

    I see what you are doing ooo! The Orishas will ansa you


  2. pete
    September 16, 06:30 Reply

    No such thing as a gaydar. it’s stereotyping masquerading as gaydar

  3. KryxxX
    September 16, 06:41 Reply

    Oga Ken from the previous post, hope u haff hear! Gaydar keh!
    That thing is an excuse ppl use just to sleep @ night hoping that in the morning that hottie next door, along d street, in class or @ d office might just hit on you! Be hoping oh, until u jam an agbero, make a move nd they knack u akpako on d head!

  4. #Chestnut
    September 16, 06:44 Reply

    It always baffles me,how easy it is to get financial support to carry out any “research” u want to,abroad…as in ANY research!
    Anyway,gaydar is a thing,just that the effeciency might differ in different ppl.I mean,let’s be honest,sometimes u see a stranger who is “straight-acting” and not wearing pink,and not a hairstylist or wedding planner or whatever, yet there something about him that just “marks” him…(Hey Banky W,how u doing?)

    • Dennis Macaulay
      September 16, 06:58 Reply

      My dear I am with you on this one!

      I have a new colleague, no iota of feminity, no pink ties and rose colored socks as it were. He plays rap music and chioma jesus only but I know and he knows I know so he avoids me.

      Standing beside him alone you can almost smell a freshly fucked ass (**runs away**)!

      Omo I stick to the assertion that there is such a thing as gaydar!


      • pete
        September 16, 07:25 Reply

        How does a freshly fucked ass smell?

      • Wendy Williams
        September 17, 06:55 Reply

        May God have mercy on you Dennis!!! Smell of a freshly fucked ass? Chai. I died!

  5. KryxxX
    September 16, 06:46 Reply

    But I still shaa know that I take over a hundred pictures but only d best haff to fly online! And by best I mean……1 or 2! ?????! The hustle is strong oh! The kingdom of God suffereth violence nd only the violent shall take it by force!. #MarkYourTerritory!!!

  6. Ruby
    September 16, 07:16 Reply

    That one concern una Oyibo!!!
    I know that the “Gaydar” exists and its super efficient *most people I know could sniff out the gay in you like Bloodhounds*
    So that one na una own conclusion…

  7. Eros
    September 16, 08:02 Reply

    All this one they are talking is just story.

    If it looks like a fish, smells like a fish, acts like a fish, does the power-walk-when-no-one-is-looking like a fish, listens to Beyonce like a fish and so many more fishy criteria, then by all that is queer, fabulous and divine, it a cock-sucking fish!!

    *walks manly out of here in my Vera Wang gown and hopes everyone’s gaydar is broken*

    • Zana
      September 16, 09:17 Reply


      Eros, please who are you? You are one hell of a character. Witty and funny. Wow!
      “All the fishy criteria”

  8. Ace
    September 16, 08:06 Reply

    Yeah, one more research to make people become less stereotypical, Which is good. But to say that the gaydar doesn’t exist? Lie! They can say it is not always accurate but definitely not nonexistent. I literally just look at some people, no feminine trait at all, and I can tell they are gay.

  9. Max
    September 16, 08:11 Reply

    There is gaydar biko. I just don’t know how to explain it. Maybe its intuition, maybe it’s something else, I dunno.

      • Max
        September 16, 09:33 Reply

        No one ever said it was 100% fool-proof.

  10. Dimkpa
    September 16, 09:34 Reply

    I think this is the result of trying to prove a pre-determined point.
    The method used is biased if you ask me. The mere fact that gay people have better pictures already is part of gay profiling. It only shows that a guy with a good picture is more likely to be gay.
    Another thing is that identifying a person as gay involves a lot more than looking at a single picture. It includes the speech, gait and so many other nuances. So the whole conclusion based on just looking at a picture is erroneus. I mean I was once spotted by one girl just by how I ‘hung my hand’ in a moment of letting my guard down.
    Again on this issue of stereotypes, I don’t see it as an entirely bad thing. It is true it is not right to stereotype a particular individual based on one trait. However it is undeniable that gay men share certain interests and behaviours, a fact I think we should embrace. The reason is that if a gay man in Kafanchan shares the same behavior and traits as another in Bangkok, it only goes to show that these traits come from a shared innate disposition to that behaviour and not a random choice. I liked musicals and show tunes before I even knew it is a stereotype for gay men.
    Stereotypes exist because they are true when considering a group though may not necessarily be so for a particular individual.

    • Lothario
      September 16, 18:37 Reply

      I was about to say this. Using pictures as the test for this analysis is totally wrong… Gaydar is dependent on a lot more than just looking at a person’s picture.

  11. HERO
    September 16, 09:50 Reply

    Gaydar is real ooh, I went 4 clubbing in Cally with like minds friends, there was dis particular Bouncer that looks like Gentle Jack(Nollywood) that just struck me, Мy friends felt l was getting Mad so we had 2 bet. As usual Мy Gaydar did not fail. The worst of all is this huge guy was a pure Bitch who wore a Y string, imagine the rest. Funny enough he is 25 and still a hetrosexual Virgin.

  12. sensei
    September 16, 16:03 Reply

    This study is faulty as Dimkpa has already pointed out. And gaydar is something that gay man possess not the entire population. If they repeat this study, asking gay men to do the picking, they may have different results.

  13. Kester
    September 16, 16:43 Reply

    @eros you won’t kill me here with laughter, I just burst out loud @cock sucking fish. But seriously gaydar exists o. I believe because of the harsh environment we are in our senses are so honed to the point of uber sharpness. Although konji interferes most times but generally one can spot a sister in a crowd……….

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