Recent scientific studies have proven the existence of ‘gaydar’. That is, the ability to determine sexual orientation from appearance alone. Many of you are probably reading this and thinking “well, yeah”, but what if I told you it was from facial appearance alone, without makeup, jewellery or hair? The ability to determine sexual orientation purely by the facial features and the distance between facial features.
Fascinating, right? The New York Times reports:
We conducted experiments in which participants viewed facial photographs of men and women and then categorized each face as gay or straight. The photographs were seen very briefly, for 50 milliseconds, which was long enough for participants to know they’d seen a face, but probably not long enough to feel they knew much more. In addition, the photos were mostly devoid of cultural cues: hairstyles were digitally removed, and no faces had makeup, piercings, eyeglasses or tattoos.
Even when viewing such bare faces so briefly, participants demonstrated an ability to identify sexual orientation: overall, gaydar judgments were about 60 percent accurate.
60 percent accurate is not completely accurate – there is certainly a margin for error, however the difference between knowing and guessing was still statistically significant.
Another interesting finding from the study was that participants were more likely to accurately guess the sexual orientation of a female face than a male face. It is believed that this is because a male face displaying slightly effeminate features was immediately assumed to be gay, however a female face that was slightly masculine was not.
…in both experiments, participants were more accurate at judging women’s sexual orientation (64 percent) than at judging men’s (57 percent). Lower gaydar accuracy for men’s faces was explained by a difference in “false alarms”: participants were more likely to incorrectly categorize a straight man as gay than to incorrectly categorize a straight woman as gay.
Why might “false alarm” errors be more common when judging men’s sexual orientation? We speculate that people overzealously interpret whatever facial factors lead us to classify men as gay. That is, it may be that straight men’s faces that are perceived as even slightly effeminate are incorrectly classified as gay, whereas straight women’s faces that are perceived as slightly masculine may still be seen as straight. That would be consistent with how our society applies gender norms to men: very strictly.
The really interesting part about this finding, for me, was the way this demonstrates gender stereotyping within society. A female is allowed to be slightly masculine without automatically being perceived as homosexual, whereas a male is not afforded the same ability to mix gender stereotypes.
If a boy were to wear dresses, for example, people are more likely ask if you think he is gay (in fact, go read this post from Mrs Woog about that) however if a girl is to wear pants or blue or want to play with trucks, nobody cares.
The final result?
Should you trust your gaydar in everyday life? Probably not. In our experiments, average gaydar judgment accuracy was only in the 60 percent range. This demonstrates gaydar ability — which is far from judgment proficiency.
But is gaydar real? Absolutely.
What do you think? Do you think you can judge a person’s sexuality from their appearance alone? Do you think it matters? Should men be afforded the ability to engage in “feminine” behaviours in the same way females are able to engage in “masculine” behaviour?