How's Your Gaydar?
Let’s talk about your “gaydar” for a second, and then maybe never talk about it again.
Gaydar is this thing that people (typically straight people) like to bring up in casual conversation as if it is a superpower they either proudly wield or are ashamed about not having, which allegedly alerts the person as to whether or not other people are gay.
The proud wielder: “I knew he was gay before he came out. My gaydar has never once been wrong. I should get an award or something.”
The barren and ashamed: “I never even thought about the possibility of him being gay. My gaydar is practically nonexistent.”
But, what is your gaydar, really? What is setting apart those who are preternaturally gifted at diagnosing others as gay from those who simply cannot tell the difference between Elton John and John Cena?
From a language perspective, it’s a really lazy combination of the words “gay” and “radar,” which I very much hope we have all put together by this point. No shame if you hadn’t, though. Okay, maybe a little shame if you hadn’t, but let’s move on.
The definition of gaydar, according to Urban Dictionary, is this: “The ability/gift of being able to detect homosexuality in other people.”
Simple and wholesome, right? It’s cute and fun. It’s a way to identify the gays among us.
But what if it isn’t?
I’m not a psychologist, but I think a gaydar is a glorified form of stereotyping and borderline prejudice that has somehow become publicly acceptable because it’s gift-wrapped in a cutesy package.
People are not born with an intrinsic ability to sense queer people. And if it’s not a genetic mutation, then it must be that people are taking context clues into account in order to formulate an opinion on someone else’s sexuality - those context clues being stereotypically “gay” actions, emotions, or behaviors.
Oh, his voice is higher than I’m used to hearing in a man? Ping the gaydar. He wears a lot of feminine-leaning clothing? Ping the gaydar. He shows more emotion and sass than what I am used to observing in a man? Ping the gaydar.
You see, a gaydar is nothing more than an excuse to stereotype, whether it be straight people stereotyping queer people, or queer people stereotyping each other - neither of which is productive.
People talking about their gaydars made me uncomfortable long before I could explain or understand why. It always felt off to me, especially coming from straight people.
With straight people, in addition to the stereotyping, it serves to “other” us. It’s small, but diagnosing other people as queer makes it seem like we are specimens to be observed, or worse - that there is something wrong with us. It immediately separates the diagnoser from the person who was diagnosed and creates a divide. It always made me feel a little bit hunted, even if the term wasn't being directly applied to me.
Stereotypes are bullshit. Some gay men have high voices and wear feminine-leaning clothing and show more sass and emotion. But some don’t. Some gay men are so masculine that they could successfully pose for the Brawny paper towel logo (which is possibly a horrible example, as the Brawny man sets off my gaydar - KIDDING).
Your gaydar doesn’t work, because it isn’t a thing. You assuming that a gay man was gay before he came out because he wore pink nail polish once isn’t an accomplishment, and you not knowing that a man was gay before he came out because he won the local rodeo three years in a row is not a failure.
Your gaydar is a stereotype machine and it doesn’t work because stereotypes don’t work.
People using the term “gaydar” in 2020 is not the biggest problem queer people have to solve. It barely blips on the gaydar - I mean, radar. But, if you are reading this, I’d like to ask you to consider retiring your gaydar. Shelve it. Let it rest. Preferably forever.
And if you are one of the lucky few for which it is a true genetic mutation and all queer people you see shine like rainbows, humor me by keeping it to yourself. You scare me.
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