It’s been said you can’t judge a book by its cover, but lesbian gaydar is now proven to be a reality. Previous studies have shown that men’s sexuality can be read from certain aspects of their appearance, but now research illustrates we can do the same with women.
Northeastern University doctoral student Mollie Ruben took two groups of women and used them to record her findings. The first group of four straight-identified females and five lesbians participated in five-minute recorded interviews. After they spoke into the camera, they watched themselves over and wrote down “all the thoughts and emotions” that were going through their minds at the time. A second group was then asked to watch these videos and answer questions about the firsts’s perceived sexuality, thoughts, emotions and personality. That second group was made up of 67 straight women and 43 gay women.
The findings: Lesbian women were right on about the lesbian’s self-identifications. Gay women were better at spotting other gay women, but straight women were “better at gauging thoughts and emotions.” (Your ex-girlfriend is laughing somewhere.)
It appears that both gay and straight women could easily identify which videoed women were straight, because they seemed to be “more transparent in their personality cues and emotional expressions.” Which begs the question, what kind of personality and emotions do gay women have that straight women don’t?
The whole thing is kind of complicated, as the nine women in group one experienced “7,150 thoughts and emotions during their five-minute interview.” But what the researchers say made the lesbian subjects more clear to the gay women was that the latter:
“…may have found it more interesting, motivating, and rewarding to judge the sexual orientation of other women compared to judging their thoughts, emotions, or personality. Straight judges, they write, might not care so much about sexual orientation and thus don’t focus on it enough to do a good job of detecting it.”
Essentially, queer women are looking for sexuality cues that straight women aren’t. It just so happens that we know what to look for, too, although there’s no mention of how many lesbians pretend to see those kinds of things in straight women that often aren’t there. (Wishful thinking!)
Which brings up the point that sexuality can be fluid, and it is hard to conduct a study with only “lesbians” and “straights” without considering those who identify as somewhere in between. From the study:
“Although sexual orientation is not intrinsically dichotomous, we created a binary sexual orientation variable from the continuos 7-point homosexuality variable. Each judge watched all nine targets and made the continuous homosexuality rating of each target. Judgements of 1 (not at all homosexual) and 2 (slightly homosexual) were grouped as straight while judgements of 3-7 (mildly homosexual, moderately homosexual, significantly homosexual, very homosexual, and extremely homosexual) were grouped as lesbian. All straight targets had selected a 1 (not at all homosexual) and all lesbian targets had selected a 6 or 7 (very homosexual or extremely homosexual) so the target criterion data were grouped in the same way as the judges’ perception data.”
The researchers are also aware that there are “a number of limitations” in this study, “namely the fact that it took place in Boston, where people are less likely to have conservative thoughts and opinions about homosexuality.” But considering its the first one of its kind, it’s still good to know that we, as a community, seem to have a handle on seeing people for who they truly are, and so often being right.
Now we’ll just have to get a handle on what our girlfriends are thinking and feeling, and we’ll be a perfect species.