Researchers have confirmed that it's impossible to tell if somebody is gay or not by looking at them.
Whether you’re heterosexual, homosexual, or something in between, we’re all obsessed with the concept of ‘gaydar’. And it’s no wonder: as your sexuality’s equivalent of wearing a red, orange or green sticker at a traffic lights party, the idea of being able to identify a person’s ‘type’ from a glance would certainly be a handy tool.
Which is why we’re almost (almost) sad to confirm that gaydar doesn’t exist.
Despite a study in 2008 (which has been cited in pretty much every article on homosexual dating ever since) which claimed strangers could correctly tell whether a man was straight or gay just by looking at a photograph, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have revealed that there’s no evidence to suggest gaydar is a real thing. And in actual fact, even the idea of it is bad, because it promotes stereotyping and generalisations.
‘Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate,’ says the study’s lead author William Cox, an assistant scientist in the Department of Psychology. ‘But if you’re not calling it “stereotyping,” if you’re giving it this other label and camouflaging it as “gaydar,” it appears to be more socially and personally acceptable.’
The social scientists behind the study believe that there’s a much simpler reason why participants in the 2008 study could guess a person’s sexual inclinations: the photos of the the gay men and women were actually of a higher quality than those of their straight counterparts.
That’s why, this time around, researchers divided participants into three groups before asking them to identify strangers’ sexuality. Group A was told that gaydar was real thing. Group B was told that it was a bad thing that supported negative stereotypes. And Group C was told nothing about gaydar at all.
And when the results came in, Group A were seen to have relied on generalisations (such as ‘men like shopping’) and picked out people accordingly.
It’s a big deal: as useful as it might be for your own interests to be able to tell whether or not somebody is into you (or at least, your gender), it’s far, far more damaging to promote the idea that people of a certain sexuality would ever behave or look a certain way.
And after all, there’s always Grindr.