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"Gaydar" is More Than a Myth

By Malcolm Lewis | Experience as Evidence Essays

The day I decided to put my mother's clothes on my back became the day I unknowingly loaded a barrage of burdening questions onto my shoulders. This was the day that I became an androgynous android of some social experiment. They called it “Gender-Bender Day”; I called it my calling.

My motive was to defy stereotypes and generalizations, but knowing this produced anxiety. As I slipped on my mother's tight pants, I felt anxiety crippling my legs; as I slipped on my mother's shirt, I felt stress crack my ribs; as I slipped on my mother's jacket, I felt the slices of social suicide on my wrists. So, I took a breather and immediately reprimanded myself for being self-absorbed and took pride in what I was standing up for.

In this pride and off to the bus stop, I stepped outside of my door into the real world where they called me “faggot” and “gay” under their breaths for wearing what I was wearing. As I rode along the bus route on my way to my high school, I sat with my head filled not with shame but with confusion. It was not until I entered the doors of my high school that I felt a sense of assurance, for most students had ventured outside of their homes to set an anti-norm in the school halls; there were lesbians and gay males wearing “feminine” clothes, “masculine” clothes, and everything in between—as were the heterosexuals, bisexuals, and others. Nevertheless, I had to face the harsh reality of exiting the doors of my high school onto the trek to the accursed bus back home. Alas, I arrived home with an air of confusion; I asked myself “why was I the subject of curiosity?”

As an ally of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning and Ally community (LGBTQA community), participating in Gender-Bender Day was seemingly my duty. Gender-Bender Day was proposed by the Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school as a means of breaking away from stereotyped gender roles imposed on us—and as a self-identified male with androgynous characteristics, I decided to invert my gender self-identification and present myself as a female with androgynous characteristics. But there was an antithesis betwixt the setting of my school—structurally accepting and familiar—and that of the opinionated outside world—filled with bigotry, tolerance, and everything in between. In this world of first impressions, people employ whatever mechanisms they can to determine a person's identity; the comparison of my clothes, mannerisms, and accent to the norms ingrained in their minds served as a tool to detect my sexuality. These assumptions had led to a miscellany of overheard comments on the bus that day.

Society views “gaydar” (a portmanteau of the words “gay” and “radar”) as a harmless tool in human psychology that allows us to proactively determine one's sexuality on the basis of one's appearance, mannerisms, and tone of voice. Hence, many would argue, even some of the LGBTQA community, that “gaydar” is a series of quick, impulsive physiological exchanges between people.  However, the LGBTQA community also argues that disconnect between these exchanges is prevalent and renders wrong assumptions. Both of these stands express two particular evaluations of “gaydar”; “gaydar” acts as tool of assumption, and in some cases, as a medium of quick networking and insight. Or, “gaydar” proves to be both confining and inviting.

Realizing that my encounters with strangers and their first impressions of ephemeral, I look at the larger issues at hand: 1) people began viewing heterosexuality as the default sexuality in men and women, and homosexuality as a variance or choice—as much of a choice as choosing the clothes you decide to wear and 2) people view gender expression as a direct indicator of one's sexuality.

There are hundreds of thousands—and perhaps even millions—of young males and females that fall victim to this “gaydar”; those victims are entrapped by labels that are bound by archetypes the media portray: flamboyant, over-stylish, feminine men and bawdy, loud, and masculine women in shows like MTV's The Real World that are put on a nation-wide pedestal, causing millions upon millions to grow to accept each stereotypical gay or lesbian as a representation of the LGBTQA community. Shows like this in the media lead people to make mixed comments about me that eye-opening day—comments like: “he's not gay, he's transgender” and “he's dressed like a guy and a girl, so he must be bi.” It was then that I realized such effects of this “gaydar.”

This arbitrary way of confining me to the “gay” label takes away from my identity and associates me with other stereotypes of a homosexual male: that they are sexually licentious, uncommitted interpersonally, and effeminate psychologically. This “gaydar” ultimately influenced  people, on first encounter, to create an unrepresentative character of how I “should” be as opposed to how I actually am—a sexual virgin, committed interpersonally, and psychologically androgynous (both expressive—“effeminate”—and instrumental—“masculine”).

But, is there another way to determine a person's sexuality on a first-impression basis? No. During my trip to and from school, people classified me as gay, bisexual and even transgender. But I personally do not identify as straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender—I am a postmodern sexual; I do not identify with a label so that I would not conform to the stereotypes associated with such a label. I believe that sexuality is a more spiritual realm to be explored as opposed to physical. That is not to say that “gaydar” should be totally avoided. “Gaydar” encourages interaction between people. For example, amongst the miscellany of comments on the bus, an elderly woman of about 60 years of age said, “Leave him alone, he's his own individual, he's not a label.” However, if “gaydar” is used as a tool to assign people who display stereotyped characteristics a label, then, in that sense, it should be avoided.

As much as I would have liked to announce to the bus not to pass any judgments on my sexuality, it would have been virtually impossible to erase the thought of “gay, black male” from their minds. Labels are prevalent, and are important to most people in forming their identities. Essentially,  people pass judgments on others to make sense of their own identities. However, if the media make the effects of  “gaydar” clearer to the public, then perhaps the issues regarding “gaydar” would be exploited so people can better acknowledge its existence—both its conscious and subconscious existence. No single being has a single right to prevent people from using “gaydar” or believing in it because sexuality is so abstract in itself that any one person trying to resolve the use of “gaydar” is trying to destruct a construct. However, it is difficult to support “gaydar” when people assume others' sexual orientations in the basis of stereotypes; it is difficult to support “gaydar” which attempts to tear down the walls of uncertainty between communities.