Studying gaydar

Admit it: More than once you’ve probably had to rely on that mysterious sixth sense to figure out if the person walking down the street plays for your “team.”

BY

July 02 2006 11:00 PM ET

Affectionately
referred to as “gaydar” by gays and straights
alike, that special sense that tells you if someone is
gay or not is actually a real and necessary trait,
according to a study conducted by gay 24-year-old
Harvard graduate William Lee Adams. Adams commissioned the
study for his senior thesis and has been grabbing
national headlines ever since it was featured in
The New York Times and Psychology Today in
2005.

“Gaydar is
not seeing someone carrying a PFLAG sign and knowing
he’s gay,” says Adams.
“It’s picking up on subtle—sometimes
indescribable—cues that can be remarkably
telling.”

The Fayetteville,
Ga., native’s research looked at the accuracy of
gaydar when judging facial expressions and other
nonverbal behavior from short video clips and
photographs. He’s currently working with
collaborators at Harvard and Tufts University to
continue the research, which they plan to publish.

Why did you decide to study gaydar for your senior thesis?
My interest in gaydar stems from my interest in social
psychology, not from my sexual orientation. At Harvard
I worked in a lab that studied nonverbal
communication, and sexual orientation is relatively
uncharted territory in that domain. Of course, my
sexual orientation did make me aware of the gaydar
phenomena.

What does gaydar mean for GenQers?
Young LGBT people regularly feel isolated and
alone. They should go with their instincts to find
people like themselves. It takes one to know one.

Is gaydar something you can learn?
With any social trait—say, the ability to
detect deceit or read people’s
moods—there is variation between individuals. Gaydar
is no different.

Why do we need gaydar?
In terms of finding a partner, who wants to waste time
mistakenly pursuing a heterosexual? Gaydar makes the
hunt more efficient.

You’ve recently been living in Southeast Asia. Do
people over there have gaydar?

Definitely. When I went to Cambodia last week
preteen girls insisted on calling me out, and in
Thailand people were remarkably forward and accurate
with their predictions. Perhaps some cues are universal
across all cultures.

How good is your own gaydar?
[It’s] finely tuned. My first year of
college I suspected that half a dozen people were gay.
By graduation they had all come out, and I had
silenced my skeptics.

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