Why We Need To Turn Off Our Gaydar


Ellen Page came out as gay on Valentine’s Day. Which is exciting. At least in my circle of friends, it’s also sparked the disturbingly prevalent “I totally called it” conversations. So here are my thoughts about the idea of a “gaydar.”

I don’t believe in it.

For a very long time people told me that their gaydar went off when they were around me. I’m very straight, but apparently my fondness for skinny jeans, my preference for hanging out with girl friends instead of boy friends, and my inability to throw or catch a ball of any sort made me gay.

I didn’t mind it all that much, because I knew that even if I were gay, I would have no reason to be ashamed. Nevertheless, through my freshman and sophomore years of high school, generally the years where teenagers begin to define and explore their sexuality, I’d get asked at least once a week if I was gay. I just let it happen and didn’t worry about it. I had faith in the people who were curious not to be malicious, a kind of privilege that I was blessed to enjoy.

Which has me thinking about our collective notions about what defines gayness. The question still puzzles me. What exactly does it mean to be a “flaming homosexual?” A “raging dyke?” These archetypal constructions of “gay” that people carry with them are ways for them to make sense of gayness, which seems like an almost understandable thing to do. But here’s a little something:

“Prejudice;” def. preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Hmmm. I sense a similarity.

We know that science kind of sort of indicates that gaydar is real. Turns out that there have been a couple of studies that show it’s possible for participants to instantly gauge the sexuality of a person based on a brief glimpse of their face with anywhere between 60 and 80 percent accuracy.

I’m going to go out on a limb and call shenanigans on science. (Whoa, buddy.) I don’t know how the results of those studies were possible, but I think it’s still safe to say that the experience of pretty much any person ever indicates that sexuality is defined and constructed by more than just a person’s face.

How is it that we came up with the idea that society creates a person’s sexuality for them? And more importantly, why do we perpetuate that idea?

We’ve managed to create a morally repugnant form of deductive reasoning, one that extends past sexuality. Imagine a hypothetical: if you knew me to be thrifty, that I possess exceptional talent for musical theater, that I have a history of dating primarily Asian girls, and that my family consists primarily of doctors and lawyers, would you draw the conclusion that I’m Jewish? None of these things are actually true, yet Jewish I remain.

Jewdar doesn’t seem all that different from gaydar.

We’re lucky enough to live in a day and age where minorities of all kinds suffer far less outward prejudice than in days gone by. Yet, when Ellen Page commits an extraordinary act of bravery by coming out in front of the entirety of the 21st century media, I have friends nudging me in the shoulder and muttering that they “called it.” And all I can think is, “So much for progress.”

Is the gaydar just another form of socially acceptable prejudice? I think it’s about time we asked ourselves that question.

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