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Works for Me: "Gaydar" is More Than a Myth

By Malcolm Lewis | Experience and Other Evidence Essays

[Murray] ”Yes even, he's gay!” [Dionne] “He does like to shop, Cher. And the boy can dress.”

—Clueless [The Movie, 1995]


Nowadays, it just doesn't take much to be able to tell. Nowadays, what you see is what you get. That epiphany crept up on me one day in spring as I sat on my sunlit stoop, smiling and spectating the streets, seemingly mimicking the sun above my head. Smiling also was this boy—this boy who had a tight, green jacket, women's jeans, and a fitted, black shirt with a low V-shaped neckline. From the way his waist swerved to the rhythm of the spring breezes, the way his elbows swung in the spring breeze, and the way he said, “Bye, Mommy” as he left his home, I just knew that he was “sweet.” My “gaydar” read “GAY”, beeping to the beat of the boy's steps.

In a world of lasting first impressions, the closer the passing boy came, the more assured I was in my deduction that he was gay. The closer the passing boy came, the more my undeniably strong  “gut feeling” evolved into concrete certitude. Likewise, The pride that the passing boy showcased in his smile, sported in his feminine clothing, and stamped into his stride illustrated the level of contentment he had in his own skin as a gay, black male and the level of audacity he had in priding his identity.  “Gaydar” (a portmanteau of the words “gay” and “radar”), a harmless tool in human psychology that allows us to determine one's sexuality on the basis of one's appearance, mannerisms, and tone of voice, and has even made it possible for me to read gay pride on the passing boy's face without him verbally outing himself. Scholars like Scott G. Shelp—graduate student at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and Psychology undergraduate of CSUN (with a focus of GLBT issues, mental health, and the internet)—expresses in his publication Gaydar: Visual Detection of Sexual Orientation Among Gay and Straight Men that “the basics of learning to pick out certain clues to gayness may be learned by anyone, not just gay people” (Shelp 2). “Gaydar” in this manner is a more covert way of adapting to the stigma of being homosexual.  

With this in mind, “gaydar” seems to be more than a myth. Several things collectively attribute to the use of “gaydar” and cause people to fine-tune into the intricacies of one's sexuality. Aside from outwardly stating one's own atypical qualities regarding their sexuality,  nuances in body makeup, body movement, and vocal inflections, the persistently projected image of homosexuals in the media, and gender expression causes one to use “gaydar.” Ultimately, the very use of “gaydar” introduces its separate set of values as a result just as it has made it possible to acknowledge the passing boy's pride without asking invading, forceful questions. Realizing the discrepancy between my lasting first impression of the passing boy and the assurance in his homosexuality, I began pondering one of the primary causes of using “gaydar” generally.

Moreover, with regard to the body language of homosexuals in comparison to heterosexuals, there are paramount differences. Overall, heterosexual men have a 0.9-1.0 hip-to-waist ratio which means that they swerve with the weight of their shoulders when they walk. On the other hand, homosexual males tend to have a more hourglass-shaped build to them, having a general 0.6-0.8 ratio comparable to that of women. This suggests that homosexuals tend to walk with the weight of their hips more than an average male but only slightly less than the average female. As a result, writers like Reiger, Linsenmeier, et. al. note how “gaydar” “allows people to be able to detect homosexuality by using...physical contexts like...physical cues of body shape and movement at the joints” (Reiger, Linsenmeier, et. al. 125). Furthermore, there is a difference between the vocal inflection of a heterosexual male and that of a homosexual male—heterosexual males generally use the air in their chests to talk whereas homosexual males tend to use the air in their diaphragm. But this is the least influenced by nature; this standard way of talking is influenced by culture. The need to make the homosexual community more distinguished caused gay males, over time, to employ and develop  phonetic nuances and lisps in their speech that, in turn, required the use of the diaphragm. In this sense, “[g] triggered by people's varying levels of awareness” (Nicolas 82) whereas body type and walk pattern are more obvious to the naked eye. Manifested in different hip-to-waist ratios, hip movement, and nuanced ways of talking, body makeup, body movement, and vocal inflections further distinguishes the homosexual community from the heterosexual community thereby causing “gaydar” to be used in the presence of such differences.

But the difference between the homosexual and heterosexual community does not manifest itself just in the physical form, media portrays that the difference also manifests itself in behaviours. In every-day life, there are hundreds of thousands—and perhaps even millions—of young men and women that attribute to the daily use of  “gaydar”; those people are alleviated the from verbally “coming out” to family, friends, and even complete passersby  because icons in popular culture serve as the voice of the homosexual community. Bombastic, trendy, effeminate men and audacious, charismatic, strong, assertive women in shows like MTV's “The Real World” are granted the opportunity to be put on a nation-wide pedestal, causing millions upon millions to grow to accept gays or lesbians of the LGBTQA community. Shows like this that remonstrate the overall giddy, assertive, and audacious attitudes of homosexual men makes it easier for me to hone my analysis of the physical differences in a male and to bring it into perspective on a more psychological standpoint. Famous, reoccurring lines of the homosexuals represented in such shows like “I'm gay and proud, honey!” begin to be reinterpreted by society as a standard of the homosexual, psychological self. And as much as attitudes and behaviours are paramount components of the human psyche, the attitudes and behaviours of the homosexuals portrayed by the media equally affects how one perceives them, thereby unfolding increasingly novel values of using “gaydar.”

“Gaydar” is not only affected by how the media rends society's perception of homosexuals through the homosexual icons popular television, but it also affected by how each homosexual perceives and expresses their own gender. The clothes that one decides to wear are a powerful indicator of one's emotional state of being and the arrangement of such clothes reflect one's attitudes. Ultimately, the clothes that we—heterosexuals and homosexuals alike—wear is a choice, a decision. Males are instrumental (“masculine”) by nature whereas women are expressive (“feminine”) and the level of detail in our clothing—whether it is matching, symmetry, colour arrangement, fit, and pattern—reflects such expressivity. Therefore, there are gender-normative “rules” in society that qualify men sporting less-fitting, less-vibrant, less-patterned clothes as non-expressive, therefore instrumental, beings. Reflected by the flamboyant men of MTV's “Real World” and showcased by the swaying hips and the vocal inflections of the passing boy, homosexual males are more expressive and androgynous (possessing both instrumental and expressive traits) behaviourally and physically. However, in order to sustain their psychological, expressive schemata, homosexuals choose to sport more fitting, vibrant clothes. As a result, sexuality influences choice of clothes and  clothes become one's sexuality in a sense; it is a biconditional situation.  “[B]y using gaydar, it allows us to explore correlations which “may enhance our understanding of the nature and development of sexual orientation, as well as other sex-typed behavio[u]rs” (Reiger, Linsenmeier, et. al. 124)—behaviours like choosing one's outfit for the day. Therefore, the selection of more expressive clothes by male triggers one to employ their “gaydar”—that is, in culmination with the other physical and behavioural indicators.

Some would argue that “gaydar” is mythological and is a mere tool of assumption. However, as shown by the biological factors present in homosexuals (varying hip-to-waist ratios, for example) indicates how this is more than a myth and that the cumulative consideration of physical, behavioural, and psychological factors that homosexuality affects iterates that “gaydar” serves as a tool of validation not assumption—just as any scientific discovery would have been concluded after the formal hypotheses have been put into fruition. Each action served as a means of identifying the sexual orientation of the passing boy that day. But what are the means defined? Proactively determining the sexual orientation of the passing boy was just more than a simple “inkling”; “gaydar” is more than a myth. “Gaydar” is caused by noted physical indicators of one's homosexuality—manifested in different body proportions, body movement, and vocal inflections—caused by behavioural in homosexuals—ubiquitously projected images of  charismatic, audacious, and assertive attitudes portrayed in popular culture—and caused by one's psychological, nuanced gender expressivity—homosexuals nonconforming to traditional, instrumental, “masculine” norms and ascribing to feminine vibrancy via brighter clothes, for example. Ultimately, the value of “gaydar” is that it acts as a tool of acknowledgment—a means of acknowledging pride, a means of alleviating homosexuals from “outing” their selves, and a means by which we can all celebrate our differences. The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will. Trust me, it works for me. 



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