Straight talk about gaydar: How do individuals guess others’ sexual orientation?

What, then, are the consequences of gaydar? As described above, people may use gaydar in different ways. However, research has shown that perceiving someone as gay/lesbian from his/her verbal or non-verbal behavior elicits stereotyping and avoidance (Fasoli, Maass, Paladino, & Sulipizio, 2017; Knöfler & Imhof, 2007; Lick & Johnson, 2014). For instance, Knöfler and Imhof (2007) have shown that straight people unaware of interacting with gay people of the same gender avoid full-face conversation and show anxiety-related behaviors (e.g., reduced eye contact, frequent face self-touching). Also, men who perceive themselves as gender atypical, or less masculine, are anxious when interacting with strangers possibly because of aware of the risk of (mis)classification as gay with all the consequences that this may imply (Jacobson, Cohen, & Diamond, 2015). Recent studies have shown that men perceived as gay are judged to be more suited for stereotypic professions (e.g., nurse, English teacher; see Rule, Bjornsdottir, Tskhay, & Ambady, 2016), and less suited for powerful positions (Fasoli et al., 2017). Hence, on the one hand, using gaydar as a strategy to constrain people within opposite categories may simply diminish the value of sexual variety and, on the other hand, may trigger implicit bias or prejudice.


What We Don’t Know About Gaydar

Research has produced mixed results about the accuracy of people’s gaydar, with differences depending on the specific cue(s) under investigation. Our review has focused more on studies about the accuracy of gaydar about men; there simply have been more of these studies carried out so far. A few studies have suggested that perceived gender non-conformity may drive gaydar judgments even more strongly for women, possibly because there are fewer alternative stereotypes to the gender stereotype when it comes to lesbians rather than gay men (Munson, 2007). In addition, consequences of gaydar have been studied in terms of discrimination and social avoidance. However, gaydar researchers have not yet investigated how being noticed because of one’s voice or appearance makes a gay man or a lesbian feel.

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