You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her. You may have heard the popular term “gaydar.” A pithy combination of radar and gay, gaydar refers to someone’s ability to distinguish homosexual individuals from heterosexual individuals using indirect cues. Many people truly believe that they can spot a gay person from a mile away, possibly because in the past they have successfully guessed who was gay and who was not. Of course, what they don’t know is how many people were gay who they never noticed and how many people they labeled as gay who were not.

We could write an entire separate entry analyzing why people feel the need to decide if a person is gay or straight upon meeting them. It’s not necessarily a mean-spirited game — a single straight woman might use her “gaydar” to prevent embarrassing herself by coming on to a handsome man who turns out to be gay, for example. But often the game is played simply because we as a culture love to categorize people based on some outward characteristics or behavior — he’s gay, she’s fat, he’s had plastic surgery. We love to jump to conclusions but the truth is we are often wrong and we can only see what people are showing us.

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her
You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

For this entry, we examined the nature of “gaydar signals” — the cues people are seeing as an indication that another person is gay — as well as the accuracy of gaydar and the implications it has for how we relate to others. Before we continue, however, we thought it important to remind you of one key point — sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are not the same.

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

Sexual orientation — whether someone is gay, straight, or bisexual — refers to who they are attracted to and fall in love with. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male or female. And, gender expression is how a person chooses to show this identity to the world through his or her appearance and behavior. We note this here because the research suggests that the cues used to identify someone as gay often more accurately reflect his/her gender identity or expression than sexual orientation.

My Gaydar Is Stronger Than Yours
To believe that you can tell whether a man or women is gay (though gaydar is most often used in discussing gay men, people do think they can spot a lesbian as well), you have to believe that there are distinctive aspects to the appearance or behavior of gays and lesbians that gives them away. Some researchers have tried to pinpoint exactly which traits are most commonly perceived as “gay.”

Most research seems to suggest that not conforming to typical gender roles is the basis for the majority of initial judgments. And, to some extent this does work. One research team carried out two studies that asked people to judge sexual orientation from pictures, short videos, and sound recordings. Sexual orientation assessment had high, but imperfect, outcomes (Rieger et al., 2010).

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

Interestingly, two studies have found that observers were best able to determine sexual orientation by looking at video clips or computerized images that only showed body shape and movement (Ambady et al., 1999). Freeman et al. (2010) found that the masculinity and femininity of facial features are also common cues that perceivers use to infer sexual orientation.

One common mistake respondents in studies made when asked to guess sexual orientation was to only label those people with gender-atypical facial or other mannerisms as gay or lesbian, which meant they missed all of the homosexual people who did not display these traits. Of course, the opposite was also true, heterosexuals whose gender behaviors were atypical were invariably classified as gay (Freeman et al., 2010).

And, lest we think that gays and lesbians are immune to these mistakes, studies have shown that they only have a modest advantage when it comes to their gaydar (Berger et al., 1987; Ambady et al., 1999). A study of speech patterns found that fellow homosexuals were slightly better at judging sexual orientation for gay men but this advantage did not extend to identifying lesbians (D. Sylva, L. Sell, and J.M. Bailey, 2007, unpublished data). Other studies have found no major difference between heterosexual and homosexual respondents (Rieger et al., 2010).

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

The real problem is that gaydar is merely picking up signals of attributes linked to masculinity and femininity but there’s an “imperfect” linkage of these attributes and sexual orientation (Rieger et al., 2010). And this linkage is different in different cultures because what is considered “masculine” or “feminine” varies widely (Ross, 1983). Some researchers have suggested that sexual orientation is able to be perceived across many different cultures, at least in so far as men display behaviors, speech, or mannerisms that do not fulfill normative expectations of masculinity (Rule et al., 2011). In a survey study, however, Ross (1983) suggested that cultures less accepting of homosexuality may be less tolerant of gender-variant behavior. This could mean a heightened sensitivity in labeling people who don’t conform as gay or lesbian.

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her
You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her
You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

This idea was confirmed in a study that found Americans were more vigilant about cues than Japanese or Spanish “raters.” This may indicate that Americans think more about the topic, or that American gay men are more likely to display behaviors that identity themselves to other gay men or are more at ease displaying counter-normative behaviors than men in more restrictive and homophobic cultures. It may also mean that Japan or Spain allows a much wider group of behaviors to be perceived as within average masculinity than America does (Rule et al. 2009).

There may also be very specific cultural variations in the perception of traits. For example, some research indicates that Americans are much more likely than people from Japan to believe that individuals have fixed and stable traits, as opposed to situational ones, and therefore are more likely to make sweeping judgments about someone based on things like mannerisms and speech patterns (e.g., Dweck and Leggett, 1988; Choi et al.,1999).

You Can Tell If Someone Is Gay Just by Looking at Him/Her

The fact that gaydar can be true some of the time but not all of the time has implications for how people are treated. As Ambady et al. (2000) pointed out in their review of evaluations of thin slices of behavior, initial impressions can influence subsequent actions. People frequently assume sexual orientation on the basis of norms of masculinity and femininity and, depending on their personal values about sexual orientation, may act more or less positively to that person.

Researchers have also questioned whether gaydar is more in the eyes of the beholder than in whomever those eyes happen to see. Are people extra-vigilant and judgmental when they are uncomfortable with homosexuality and/or any gender-variant behavior? There seems to be some evidence for this. One study found, for example, that conservatives were much more likely to note differences in gay men than liberals, and were more likely to assume that someone they saw as less masculine was gay (Stern et al., 2013).

An Imperfect Measure
In the end we are left with the idea gaydar works sometimes but not all the time, because it is almost entirely based on identifying “feminine” or “masculine” characteristics. The problem with this method is that an individual’s sexual orientation is not tied to his/her own gender but to the gender of the people to whom he/she is attracted. So while not conforming to society’s expectations for how a man or a woman should dress, act, or talk is often perceived as a statement of sexual orientation, it more accurately reflects a person’s gender identity.

Don’t get us wrong, there are certainly some gay men and lesbians who you can spot a mile away because they conform to all of the stereotypes that society has set for them. For many, this is an important part of their identity and a way to show the world who they are. The next time you want to test your gaydar, however, just remember that there are as many if not more gay men and lesbians who exhibit no “tell-tale” traits and there are plenty of heterosexual men and women who don’t conform to our definition of masculine or feminine. The ultimate answer may be that you can tell someone is gay just by looking at them when, and only when, he/she wants you to.

grow your adult skills, ideas, knowledge and information for better sex life. Plz follow me…..

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store