Dare to Ask: Gaydar: How do you get it?
By Phillip J. Milano
The Florida Times-Union
Do gay people who have gaydar have it from birth, or do they learn it?
Roland, 16, straight, Fleming Island
My gaydar's always been inherent, but I didn't realize it for what it was
until I was well into my teens. I've always been drawn to people who were gay
(or who later turned out to be gay), but it's only since I started actively
thinking about it that I realized this. Gaydar uses a lot of different cues,
including voice, language, dress, movement, reaction to people and many more
things, but I very rarely actually have to think about all these things and put
them together to work out if someone's gay or not.
Pic A., 20, pansexual, United Kingdom
I think we all have certain abilities that, if we don't use them, we lose.
This extends to things like psychics and artists, etc. That said, I think
"gaydar" is one of those natural talents that some people find easier to use
than others. However, I don't know if most people know what "gaydar" is. I know
I certainly didn't recognize what it was when I was growing up.
S. Rollison, 49, bisexual female, Pennsylvania
Let's get right to the most important question raised by today's Dare to Ask:
No, Pic isn't attracted to stovetop cooking devices or people who can fly and
never grow up. Let's just say, in our little way, that a pansexual is open to
all the possibilities.
Gaydar itself, the alleged ability to tell whether people who watch "UFC
Fight Night," "The American Outdoorsman" or "Project Runway" are gay, is harder
to pin down.
There's no legit research that establishes the biological reality of gaydar,
said Erik Libey, a gay educator as well as a consultant for Gayquestions.com.
"It's not like we're producing pheromones that other gays can pick up on," he
said. "Even some gay people will say they have finely tuned gaydar, while others
say no, they're always flirting with people who are hopelessly straight."
The problem with "gaydar" is that it can become rooted in stereotypes, many
bigoted, about straight or gay people.
"There are effeminate heterosexual men who love San Francisco, and there are
masculine gay men who would rather spend a week camping in Colorado than a day
in the Castro in San Francisco," Libey said.
But c'mon, how do you tell?
Context and syntax, for starters, he said.
"For instance, someone using the word 'partner,' it's not typical of straight
people to use that ... so that would cause your ears to perk up," he said. "Or,
you meet someone for the first time, and they talk about their fabulous vacation
to Fire Island [N.Y.], that might be a marker."
Overall, caution is the rule.
"Even as a very open gay man, the only way for me to know for sure is to ask,
and rely on their information. That said, my need to know one's orientation is
not very high. If you want to take someone home, yes, you need to know, but your
cashier or waiter?"
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to email@example.com. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his