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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.