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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

My Experience with Gaydar

When I was doing my Master’s, I had a very close friendship with another female student. We are both loud, flamboyant, ultra-feminist women and we are both on the heavy side. So one professor decided we were a lesbian couple. 

Once she overheard me and my friend talking about going out to meet guys and she was very disappointed.

“But I thought you were a gay couple!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been telling everyone at the department how cute it was that you are just like me and my partner when we were young! Please tell me you are gay.”

This was extremely uncomfortable and not because my friend and I have a problem with being considered gay. If it were another student who said it, we’d just laugh and move on. But the idea of a professor discussing her fantasies about our sex lives with colleagues was disturbing. And hey, we were adult women, we got over it. For a teenager who might just be figuring out their identity, finding out that your sexuality is a subject of gossip and conjecture among professors might be quite traumatic.

Gaydar is total junk. It doesn’t exist. You can’t possibly know. Often, people keep figuring this stuff out about themselves during their whole lives. Thinking that you are qualified to guess is presumptuous and can be very hurtful. My principle both in my private life and work is that if a person feels like sharing something with me, they will. Until they do so, I’m not wondering, guessing or assuming because it’s a ridiculous thing to do. 

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9 thoughts on “My Experience with Gaydar

  1. The Dark Avenger on said:

    How sad that she can’t conceive of two women being close without being sexual.

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  2. Shakti on said:

    I suppose “gaydar” is a thing to the extent that other gay people want to find partners without being shot down by someone straight or even beaten up. In the past, and in other parts of the world where being gay is illegal, it means sussing out who is LGBQT without actually asking outright. But otherwise? “I know you’re ____ before you know you’re ____” is presumptuous.

    You still can legally be fired for being gay and people can refuse to rent to you because you are gay in this country. There is no federal protection. I’m not sure whether that applies to people merely thinking you are LGBQT.

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  3. Dreidel on said:

    Well, a lot of people seem to think that they have an innate “gaydar” ability to guess other people’s sexuality by perceived non-verbal cues. I think it’s basically bunk.

    In various places I’ve worked, I’ve occasionally had female coworkers say to me, “You know (some male coworker) is queer, don’t you?” My (honest) response was, “So how could you possibly know that?” And the inevitable answer: “Oh, you can always tell!” Once or twice a male coworker remarked about two female coworkers who were friends as being “lesbian.”

    When there was public discussion about allowing gays in the military, several prominent generals said favorable statements like, “I worked with a lot of gay men in the military, and they were fine soldiers.” (Positive statements, but again, how the hell would they know, when open homosexuality was illegal?)

    I worked with hundreds of people in my civilian and military career, and honestly never thought once about whether they were gay, or Presbyterian, or Jewish, or what their off-duty interests might be. All that was irrelevant to the workplace.

    The only “signals” that I ever (usually correctly) recognized were from heterosexual women who were giving me the “eye” — yes, it works both ways — but if there was any “other “radar” bouncing around, I wasn’t tuned to its frequency.

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  4. Crystallizing Chaos on said:

    The whole thing is beyond ridiculous. That people would come up with this sort of ‘ranking’ is idiotic.

    What has any of this got to do with teaching the actual subject matter?

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  5. I’m human and of course I speculate about some aspects of some students’ lives (they’re young and inexperienced and often as transparent as a pane of glass) but I keep it to myself and would never talk to another instructor about it.
    But I’m at the stage where it takes me the whole semester to even begin to associate their names and faces at the same time so it’s not very personal…
    I do sometimes talk about their academic performance with other teachers but I leave speculations about the rest of their lives out of that.

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  6. Fie upon this quiet life on said:

    People used to think I was gay all the time. It came in handy in grad school. Our apartment (where I lived with my husband) was in walking distance to a lesbian bar with cheap, strong drinks. We used to hang out there with another male friend. Everyone thought they were a couple and that I was looking for a woman. The owners weren’t very nice to straight people that often stumbled in there, but they were always great to us and they called me honey.

    I also got hit on by a woman two weeks ago. I thought how sweet that anyone out in the single world thinks I’m “hit-on”-able. Very flattering, really!

    Anyway, I’ve never had good gaydar. And few have ever had correct perceptions of me either.

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