Gaydar: Can we detect the sexual orientation of others?

Popularly known as gaydar is a species of sixth sense which allows you to detect if someone is gay or not at a glance. There are so many people, both gay and straight, who claim to be able to deduce this information and have a “smell” of sexuality.

Psychologists, being good scientists, wonder what happens when someone declares with such certainty that they know the sexual orientation of others.

Is this a skill that we have developed to make homosexuality visible and build an identity around it? Could it be that our gaydar isn’t really as foolproof as we think it is? And if yes ,?on which we base our judgments when we are so sure we have deduced which class of people is the other having sex with?

Gaydar based on facial features

There are different interpretations of how gaydar works. One explanation says that the faces of heterosexuals and homosexuals, male and female, are different. People, by detecting these morphological differences, would be able to discern sexual orientation.

This ability has been brought to laboratory conditions several times with moderately positive results. even showing only specific features of the face like the eyes, nose, or just the mouth, participants are able to infer sexual orientation and get it right more than half the time.

This explanation is not without criticism. Many researchers believe that more than trait characteristics, what participants judge is contextual information that is conforms to homosexual stereotypes. For example, the presence of a well-groomed beard, emotional expressiveness of the face, etc., is the information that subjects use to judge, rather than the morphology of the face. Unfortunately, we are not sure for sure whether gaydar based on facial information responds to any stereotypical traits or characteristics.

Gaydar based on stereotypes

Speaking of stereotypes, this is the second way that theorists and researchers propose as a way to infer sexual orientation. From this point of view, gaydar is the phenomenon that occurs when the individual judges the sexuality of the other based on the number of stereotypes he encounters. These stereotypes do not come from nothing, but are socially constructed. In addition to being hurtful or reductive, homosexual stereotypes serve to form differential categories.

Social categories, if they can be useful because they make it possible to organize reality in an economic way, generate prejudices. To differentiate categories, we need observable attributes that allow us to differentiate categories at a glance. How? ‘Or’ What homosexuality is not a tangible property, We attribute other characteristics to this category. For example, the presence of feminine mannerisms and gestures, the benevolent aspect or the form of emotional expression. While in some cases they may be true, they do not correspond to the entire gay population.

Gaydar could be a deduction through these stereotypes, which besides causing us to err on several occasions, they are harmful to the homosexual community because of their reductionism. Basically, although the presence of “homosexual characteristics” predicts sexual orientation, we omit all homosexuals who do not live up to the stereotype. For this reason, we only get confirmation that we have judged stereotypical gays correctly, resulting in the false illusion that our gaydar is infallible.

    Scientific evidence

    While there aren’t many studies on the subject, the evidence is conflicting. As we have seen before, there is research that finds a slight effect on the correct differentiation of facial features of gay and straight people. However, inspecting the face does not explain the entire operation of the gaydar. The most complete explanation is provided by the path of stereotypes..

    In this sense, a study in this regard conducted a series of 5 experiments to examine the feasibility of hypotheses based on facial features and stereotypes. This study found no evidence in favor of recognizing sexual orientation through facial features. In addition, it is hypothesized that the ability to recognize sexual orientation in previous studies which find an effect has more to do with how the subject is presented in the photo and the quality of the photograph, than in the traits themselves.

    In this same study, we see that, judging by the orientation, the gaydar is based on stereotypes. People incur stereotypes without realizing it, which is why the feeling of gaydar is more like a hunch that the subject does not know why he or she has, instead of a logical deduction. Additionally, in trials in which researchers assert the existence of a gaydar, participants make more judgments based on stereotypes, while when the researcher denies the existence of gaydar, the judgments are much less stereotypical.

      Criticisms and dangers

      The same term can perpetuate judgments based on stereotypes. We know that gaydar is nothing more than a form of biased intuition and prejudice. When we give it a proper name, we forget that it is a phenomenon based on stereotypes. By granting the status of sixth sense, its use becomes widespread and is perceived as harmless, when, paradoxically, stereotypes with regard to the homosexual population are perpetuated and multiplied. When we talk about gaydar, we run the risk of legitimizing a social myth.

      First of all, any reasoning based on stereotypes is of little use when talking about a complex aspect of identity. Statistically speaking, for a stereotypical gay attribute (imagine “skin care”) to be useful in identifying homosexuals, it would have to occur 20 times more in the gay population than in heterosexuals. Therefore, believing in the existence of a gaydar is typical of fallacious reasoning.

      We cannot pass up the opportunity to comment on how the maintenance of these stereotypes harms social progress and the visibility of all forms of sexuality. through understand a phenomenon such as sexual orientation in all its complexity it is necessary to get rid of the shortcuts. We know that by categorizing reality, this is how we see it. Stereotypes anchor us cognitively and do not allow us to see beyond the categories we know. The visibility of sexual diversity requires precisely the break with these categories.

      As with gender, it’s not about stopping using categories, but not giving them rigid expectations or stereotypes that maintain the ways in which one’s identity manifests itself. Overcome these cognitive barriers it means being able to understand sexual orientation as it is: a simple matter of sexual preference, no matter what you look like, what gestures you use, and how much you care about your body. This is a sine qua non for integration.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Cox, WT L; Devine, P. G; Bischmann, A. A; Hyde, JS (2015). Inferences on Sexual Orientation: The Roles of Stereotypes, Faces and the Gaydar Myth. The Journal of Sex Research, 53 (2), pages 157-171.

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