As promised, this week we are going to contemplate “gaydar,” a concept which has been in the headlines lately, from Rosie’s gleeful product placement of the Gaydar Gun (yes, it actually exists!) on her show, to a recent study just last week conducted by researchers at Albright College about how “gaydar” might be attributable to the human penchant (according to their data) to read less symmetrical faces as signifiers of “The Gay”:
(I’m amused by the fact that this study, consisting of a data-set derived from the responses of 40 subjects, has had such a ripple effect in the media. Then again, people spend hours looking at kitty videos and videos of two girls, um, “playing with” a cup.)
This study is just one of many that have cropped up over the past 10 years, many of which have found their way into mainstream media to propagate the idea of “gaydar” to a broader audience. One of the more interesting studies I’ve come across is that by William Lee Adams, who did his undergrad thesis at Harvard on the anthropological causes of gaydar. He observed that its existence and its perpetuation in society — if only as slang in contemporary parlance — bespeaks its usefulness; he cites two primary reasons for its development:
For Williams, what’s of importance is not gaydar’s etymological or ontological origin(s) but its functionality. It’s purpose. (Here I could postulate a correlation between this valuation and my own valuation of the ethics of sexuality over its potential origin(s) — but this is just mean beating my own drum — Go Cynthia, Go!) Gaydar literally protects (“fend[s] off anti-gay prejudice”) and preserves (because, of course, “The Gay” blooms when in love!).
A reader (“Cold drink…”) of one of my previous posts on intuition explicated her notion of “gaydar” as an externalizing form of intuition:
OK, how superb is this commentary?! I think the final sentence encapsulates her overarching assertion: that gaydar “is an outward projection of that intuition,” an intuition, she articulates, that is profoundly connected to surmising what she identifies as “gay” but what, in actuality, is pinpointed through gender deviancies.
This “outward projection” is enabled by perception, primarily visual, non-verbal cues (but not solely visual cues, need I mention how a fine, husky, butch voice makes me turn my head). I want to posit — and here, I’d love your thoughts, gentle readers — that gaydar is comprised of the interplay between intuition and perception.
But I want to debate the idea that what we’re identifying is sexuality. I think what we’ve deemed “gaydar” is actually “gendar” (get it?)—because what we’re reading are attributes of gender that we understand with and contextualize within socio-cultural cues and norms. Because there is a cultural association, correct or not, between gender deviance and sexual deviance, an elision is created in which we conflate gender with sexuality, confuse gender as sexuality. Or, as I wrote my second Pop Theory column:
How would you define gaydar? Do you think that perception and intuition are its key components? As well, do you believe it’s actually “gaydar,” or might we want to re-think this concept in favor of calling it “gendar”?
Dr. Marcie Bianco is now a resident of Brooklyn but is still gloriously unemployed— as only one with a handful of useless degrees could be. She currently serves as the Editorial Director of VelvetPark.