Pop Theory 10: I Want to Take You to a Gaydar

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Pop Theory 10: I Want to Take You to a Gaydar

As promised, this week we are going to contemplate “gaydar,” a concept which has been in the headlines lately, from Rosie’s gleeful product placement of the Gaydar Gun (yes, it actually exists!) on her show, to a recent study just last week conducted by researchers at Albright College about how “gaydar” might be attributable to the human penchant (according to their data) to read less symmetrical faces as signifiers of “The Gay”:

“We found differences in measures of facial symmetry between self-identified heterosexual and homosexual individuals,” says Dr. Susan Hughes, an evolutionary psychologist who led the study. “We also found that the more likely raters perceived males as being attracted to women (i.e. holding more of a heterosexual orientation), the more symmetrical the males’ facial features were.”

(I’m amused by the fact that this study, consisting of a data-set derived from the responses of 40 subjects, has had such a ripple effect in the media. Then again, people spend hours looking at kitty videos and videos of two girls, um, “playing with” a cup.)

This study is just one of many that have cropped up over the past 10 years, many of which have found their way into mainstream media to propagate the idea of “gaydar” to a broader audience. One of the more interesting studies I’ve come across is that by William Lee Adams, who did his undergrad thesis at Harvard on the anthropological causes of gaydar. He observed that its existence and its perpetuation in society — if only as slang in contemporary parlance — bespeaks its usefulness; he cites two primary reasons for its development:

“These findings are functionally important for two reasons. First, it is well documented that stigmatized groups maintain a heightened level of awareness. Gay men and lesbians may develop their sharpened gaydar to fend off anti-gay prejudice. Second, as a statistical minority, gay men and lesbians must rely on their gaydar as they pursue potential romantic partners.”

For Williams, what’s of importance is not gaydar’s etymological or ontological origin(Drunk but its functionality. It’s purpose. (Here I could postulate a correlation between this valuation and my own valuation of the ethics of sexuality over its potential origin(Drunk