Radar ? Got Any pingsAdmit it. We all do it. You do it. I do it. My wife does it. You see someone. Maybe it’s the way he (or she) walks, the way she talks, how he dresses, what her tastes are in music or movies. And before you know it, you’ve decided that the person is dealing with homosexual inclinations. Original Mohomie even provided us with a hilarious quiz.

Now, I freely admit that I have horrible gaydar, but I always run across people who tell me theirs is unfailingly accurate. But I’m skeptical. Here’s why.

There is a well-known concept in social psychology known as confirmation bias. Briefly, it says that we only pay attention to information that confirms what we think we know, and disregard or never come across, information that invalidates it. This is especially bad with gaydar, because you only know when you’re right, you never know you’re wrong. Someone can’t really ever prove that they’re straight, they only prove that they’re gay. You suspect someone is gay, and you’ll never know you’re wrong. He could live his life in complete happy, satisfied heterosexuality and you’ll never realize you were wrong, because you can keep on suspecting him.

But run into him at the Pride Parade, and you slap yourself on the back and exclaim, “I knew it!”

Years ago in my single’s ward, there was a ward busybody who was certain she has impeccable gaydar. She would tell everyone in the ward who she suspected of being gay. (I think it was her way of consoling herself with not getting many dates. If all the eligible men in the ward were gay, then it didn’t reflect poorly on her that they weren’t asking her out! On the other hand, if some of those men were straight, but still weren’t interested in her… well, the thought was too terrifying to contemplate!)

She became convinced that I was gay. (Hey, remember that saying about stopped clocks!) She “confided” this with several other of her friends and acquaintances in the ward, inviting them to speculate on my sexual orientation as well. She went so far as to invite a gay friend of hers to Church, who also had perfect gaydar according to her, for the express purpose of meeting me and pronouncing a verdict on my sexual orientation.

I don’t remember meeting this fellow, but apparently we did. We shook hands and spoke to each other for a few moments. Afterwards, he told the ward busybody that she was wrong, that he was convinced I was actually straight.

Wherever you are, my unknown friend, I owe you one. Lunch is on me!

Since then, I’ve followed in his footsteps. Whenever anyone who doesn’t know about my own SSA speculates about someone’s sexual orientation, I always defend him. He could hum showtunes, arrange flowers obsessively, and have a shrine to Judy Garland, and I’ll defend him. Even closeted celebrities.

A few years ago at a ward party, a friend of mine said, “Ricky Martin is so gay! No straight man moves his hips like that.”

“Russ,” (not his real name) I replied, “it’s because he’s Latin. Lots of Latin Americans can move like that.”

“Oh yeah right, no way. Have you looked at him? He is as gay as the day is long.”

“Russ, wishing won’t make it so. It won’t save you from heartache. You can send him nude pictures of yourself all day long, he’s still not going to ask you out on a date!”

Then, at last, he was quiet.

Leave a Reply

20 comments

  1. avatar

    Ha! And thus another question I’ve thought about: how often are we just looking to gain team members for our own gratification?

    And how often have I, particularly just after “coming to terms” with my own boy-liking inclinations, found someone WAY more attractive than I now would JUST because there was a chance he was gay and MIGHT be capable of being attracted back? Yeah…how embarrassing.

    Um…now I’m just waiting for all the comments about how you’ve revealed your own personal bias and self-loathing by using the term “defending”. Come on, oversensitive ‘homies, don’t let me down, here!

  2. avatar

    I’m always amused when somebody tells me they have good gaydar. I just want to say “dude, you better get that thing checked – cause it’s busted”

  3. avatar

    GFB

    I must admit I am guilty of this. Not that I have ever claimed to have any gaydar. As a straight man using such a term to describe any of my abilities just might seem a little to gay.

    I do always think about what people are basing their resumptions on. If it is looks, actions, voice, or style I am not sure that is good indicator. I think there is a lot of metro sexuality out there.

    I also need to ask at least to myself and sometimes out loud “what is their sexual orientation any of our business?”

  4. avatar

    Robert

    I remember this term was first introduced to me 30 years ago. It was done so in the environment of paranoia around the issue of sexual orientation and secrecy which was required at the time. It was originally understood to be a trait of sensitivity to others who were gay. Was it accurate? The accuracy seemed largely based on the developed intuition of the individual “with” the gaydar. I don’t recall any straight persons ever using the term at the time.

    My experience tells me that gay individuals ( at least men) have the capacity for a deeper intuition than their straight counterparts, but this can never be scientifically proven. I agree that it is much more likely that bias plays a role in this now more than ever. There is a greater fluidity in gender conformity than before.(There’s that word again.)

    Of course, in the 1960’s. Abercrombie and Fitch was the pinnacle of S.F. conservative retail. It sold “real clothes to real men”. As San Francisco changed, so did A & F. What a difference a generation makes. I am very surprised by the popularity of the brand. Is it a gay brand? I wonder.

  5. avatar

    I might surprise a few people by being the one to take O-Mo’s bait. Well, I wouldn’t say that Borealis is full of self-hate. I knew he was “one of us” before we ever spoke to each other face to face. OK, I’ll admit I had already spoken to him electronically and meeting was just a formality. :) It wasn’t gaydar.

    I would say that I’m only mildly uncomfortable with the slant of this entry which does tend to a little negativity to the possibility that someone might find him out.

    Wherever you are, my unknown friend, I owe you one. Lunch is on me!

    Well, it doesn’t matter to me. I love Borealis. I’ve had a man crush on him for years. This entry is not self-loathing. Even if it were, I love him enough for the both of us,

    I’m one who claims a kind of predatory gaydar. I don’t claim to know with a mere conversation if someone is gay. I can spot one a medium distance away.

    I was walking in downtown Columbus, Ohio with some work buddies. A couple of blocks away was another group of men coming towards us. I picked one out of the crowd who was very attractive insofar as I could tell from that distance. My heart told me, via wishful thinking, that he was gay. I did not constantly stare at him. When I first noticed him, he was too far away to judge the direction of my gaze. As we got closer, I looked more often. When his group passed through mine, he walked right next to me, flirted briefly with his eyes, and went on. That’s one example. I could give a lot more.

    My form of gaydar is not psychic or even hyper-observant. It’s more like subconscious testing and verification. I’ve always had better than average eyesight, at least until diabetes hit. This man was probably responding to the same low-level signals I was putting out. It is driven by the fact that after all these years I’m still, at least at some basic level, on the prowl.

    I had a fascinating course in college that included a unit on flirtation rituals. There are universal flirtation rituals that are across the cultural boundaries. The way the guy looked at me and I looked back I later recognized when I took that class. How much we did that leading up to passing each other is probably why we both seemed to know.

    I’m also skeptical about women who pride themselves on their gaydar. And when any straight person talks about having gaydar, I don’t like it. I think gaydar should be a term reserved for gay people. When straight people do it, I think it should have a different name. Some of my pride showing through.

    Whatever we call it, I’m fine with people guessing, finding out, whatever. I’m OK with being this way and OK with people knowing it.

  6. avatar

    Nope, I’ve got perfect gaydar. :D

  7. avatar

    GFB

    Rex Goode,

    I agree:

    ?I?m also skeptical about women who pride themselves on their gaydar. And when any straight person talks about having gaydar, I don?t like it. I think gaydar should be a term reserved for gay people. When straight people do it, I think it should have a different name. Some of my pride showing through.?

    When I said:

    ?I must admit I am guilty of this. Not that I have ever claimed to have any gaydar. As a straight man using such a term to describe any of my abilities just might seem a little to gay.?

    I was a bit of a joke, but the act of figuring out if someone is gay seems a little voyeuristic for a strait person. Where as, for a gay person it seems more likehaving a secrete handshake or something.

    Maybe I am superstitious, but it seems to ring true as well that a gay person would have some sort of extra sentry perception in this area. I think it is more about that science of flirtation you were talking about.

    I believe that if a strait person is claiming gaydar it is just guessing, or noticing about stereotypes.

  8. avatar

    Winston Smith

    LOL! This post is GREAT! I am TOTALLY adopting this practice! I’ve gotten into the bad habit of picking out any minute semblance of a stereotype and “confiding” to my friends that the perpetrator must be a little gay. It’s a horrible habit and I feel bad about it—totally the opposite from being edifying in speech or controlling my tongue. This will give me something positive to replace the habit with. Not only that, but it might encourage me to think about myself in a more healthy way, rather than being overly sensitive about my own mannerisms and worrying if people around me are narrowing their -dar onto me. I’ve lost too much emotional energy already worrying about that type of thing. Not to mention the darker fact that what Rex said certainly fits for me—my “dar” is very closely associated with my prowling instinct: I could probably benefit by abstaining from feeding it as much as I do.

  9. avatar

    Winston Smith

    ps–I love the comeback line, “Wishing won’t make it so.” lol. Way to silence ’em off.

  10. avatar
  11. avatar

    In the situation I discussed in Can Two Walk Together, there was a woman in the office who was extremely flirtatious with all of the men. In fact, she came to her interview as a computer programmer, having almost zero experience and training, in a cocktail waitress dress. She displayed a lot of cleavage and leg. The women in the office were outraged, especially after looking at her resume. She truly wasn’t attractive. I may not be one to judge that in women, but she wasn’t. She loved to son herself at lunch and had this beef-jerky complexion that was really frightening.

    Over the course of the three or so years she was there, I knew that she and one engineer at the firm stayed late one night and had sex in the back room. To get her out of the office, we transferred her back east and she got pregnant with the married business manager’s baby.

    She flirted with me too. I told her I didn’t enjoy it. She said, “That’s ridiculous. All men like being flirted with.”

    “Not me,” I said.

    Well, that started the “Rex is gay” rumor, which I naturally denied with great vigor. That was about four years before I went public. She’s the last person on earth I want to admit was right. She was.

    I’m not sure why I bring this up. I guess I’m still thinking about women who think they always know. Maybe they do. I don’t think that a man who dislikes flirtation by leathery women is necessarily gay. It made me wonder a lot about flirtation. Can flirtation override natural attraction? I tend to think it does.

    I’m not particularly attracted to some of the stereotypical mannerisms that are attributed to gay men, but I’ve noticed that if a man with those mannerisms flirts with me, I feel attraction. I wish I had learned more, academically speaking, about the science of flirtation. Many of the universal rituals are gender specific and related to biology. Men display pursuer behaviors and women the pursued, not revealing her full intereset right away. We didn’t study how that translates in same-sex flirtation. I’m dying to know. And no, it’s not so I can practice.

  12. avatar

    Daniel

    I am SOOOO guilty of that! I think O-Mo is right to (if I might comment on the comment). I do it thinking “oh he could be attracted back.” I do it every day somehow… maybe I’m just desperate to gain teammates or something, but at the slightest flick of the hand or head or lisp of an “s” or just any “gayish” gesture I throw up the pink flag and laugh at myself as my mind goes “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY ALERT!”

  13. avatar

    Seeking Glittner

    OF COURSE FLIRTING CAN OVERRIDE NATURAL ATTRACTION!!! It can also fan the slightest spark of attraction into a consuming bon fire. I personally love to flirt, it is great fun. In the right circumstances, it can be very empowering. Sometimes I flirt without meaning to, it just happens. Other times, I do not perceive myself flirting, and then get told my friends, ?why were you flirting so much with _______?? ?I wasn?t flirting, I was just being nice.? ?Oh no, that was totally flirting!? And the conversation continues and ultimately leaves me wondering if I need to be less nice.

    I see what Borealis is saying, and I do not think it is symptomatic of self loathing or anything else. I think it is a humorous and pretty accurate observation. Further, one gay guy I knew told me about a game he and his friends played, ?Gay or Mormon?? which goes to show gaydar is no science, it can be easily befuddled and jammed.

  14. avatar

    The “gay or Mormon?” question is a funny one. One of my roommates when I lived back east started a new job and was commenting on the temperament of one of his co-workers. “I can’t tell if he’s gay or Christian,” he said. Turns out he was gay.

    At the same time I got a second side-job at Banana Republic, which I would think would be the selling point on just about anyone’s gaydar. But, alas, as I overheard a conversation of some co-workers talking about each of the male employees, speculating about which ones were/might be gay (the ones who weren’t open about it, and there were a few of those), and when they got to my name, one said, “He’s gotta be gay; he’s too nice to be straight”—to which the other replied, “No, he’s not gay; he’s Mormon. All the Mormons I’ve met are nice like that.”

    On the flirting thing, I love to flirt until there’s some semblance of seriousness about it. I can only flirt with those I have zero genuine interest in. When I was a freshman in college, I was known for being a flirt. There was a girl I had a mini-crush on, a fact I kept to myself, and one day a friend was commenting on my flirtiness and then said something about me having a crush on Ginger (not her real name). I said, “What are you talking about? I’ve never flirted with Ginger?”

    “I know,” she replied. “She’s the only one you never flirt with.”

  15. avatar

    Winston Smith

    So what you’re saying is that a European Mormon doesn’t even stand a chance. Style points AND a gracious temperament? Definitely guilty until proven innocent.

    Ty, you used to work at Banana Republic? lol. For some reason that really is making me laugh. Anybody on the blog use to work at Abercrombie? C’mon–out with it. ;-)

  16. avatar

    Yes, it’s true. I confess. BUT, I hasten to add that working at BR and A&F are two entirely different animals. I’d be a bit more embarrassed to admit if I had worked at A&F. :) Or even shopped there, for that matter. One of my bosses, who was something of an style-prone alphamale, would always come into BR to buy dress shirts and ties. BR isn’t just for… uh… our kind.

  17. avatar

    isobel

    first of all, a shorter, but equally funny gaydar test from one of my favorite moho bloggers:
    http://www.soymademegay.com/2008/07/5-ways-to-spot-a-gay-mormo/

    gadar for the lesbians: is anyone’s as strong or confident?? in my experience, i feel like i’ve developed a pretty good gaydar for spotting the gents, but i find that, especially with lipstick lesbians as well as bisexuals, like myself, labeling the ladies a completely different animal. anyone else agree??

    and on the topic of flirting, well, if there is a science to it, i was born with genius capabilities. i used to use it unabashedly and uncensored in every situation possible (i still feel my tendencies high, but try to control it better!), keeping my self-esteem high, even counting how many people i could get to respond to it daily. but there came a time when i realized i was creating more havoc than help for myself, and others, and that, like my ssa, this “gift” would need to be tempered as well. this reality of this issue for me was really brought home this summer when it took me a good week and a half to realize *how much* i was flirting with one woman, and how incredibly hurtful and misleading i had already been and would yet be if i continued. so i agree, rex & winston, the less gaydar/flirt pumping, for me, the better!!

  18. avatar

    isabel,

    I was really struck by your excellent self-checking when you realized you were potentially hurting someone with your flirting. I need to look at it more like that. I don’t really flirt anymore, but the temptation is still there and I resist it. This will give me another thing to remind myself when I feel like doing it.

    Rex

  19. avatar

    cc

    I got a kick out of reading these gaydars. Debating whether to send it to my son or not, because he has talked about this.

    I remember about 3 years ago when the Evergreen group visited my house for a weekend. They all brought great desserts. They arranged them so well and commented on my house decor and how close the house behind mine was!

  20. avatar

    SW

    This is very entertaining to read, yet, highly informative to all. Thank you bloggers for inputting your experiences and insight into the “flirting” subject, as I have always wanted to hear, and possibly discuss, what flirting really is. I agree with the “Mormon or Gay?” concept, as I have always been suspected for years about either. It’s nice to find a place where friends in the same boat feel comfortable airing out that which is publicly hard to address for fear of hatred, violence, and rejection of people. I exercise my gaydar quite often, but I realize that it does damage to both parties, in the long run. My trying to figure out if a guy’s interested or not has been a lingering thought for some part of my life; it confuses me on a daily basis. I try not to dwell too much on it, though, since I understand clearly how much it sucks to hold back on feelings when it comes to someone that almost feels like the real deal in your heart as well as your mind.