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Kathryn and Cecile: not gay

Think you can tell if someone is gay? Think again

A new study claims that the ‘gaydar’ doesn’t exist, and dismisses it as harmful stereotyping

Having a good ‘gaydar’ – also known as being able to accurately guess someone's sexuality based on their appearance – is something many people pride themselves on. However, a new paper published in the Journal of Sex Research may have just refuted its entire existence.

The research, led by the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, challenges the existence of the “gaydar myth”, and dismisses it as harmful stereotyping.

“Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate,” lead author William Cox explains. “But if you're not calling it 'stereotyping,' if you're giving it this other label and camouflaging it as 'gaydar,' it appears to be more socially and personally acceptable.”

Cox and his team of researchers proved this by providing three groups of participants with different explanations. One group were told that gaydar was real, another was told that it is stereotyping, and the third group were left with no proper definition. 

The group who had been told that it was possible to tell someone's sexuality from their appearance then began to stereotype significantly more than the other groups. For example, when being told that one man enjoyed shopping, they immediately made the assumption that he was homosexual.

“If you tell people they have gaydar, it legitimises the use of those stereotypes,” Cox says. “There was a subset of people who were personally very prejudiced, but they didn't want other people to think that they were prejudiced. They tended to express prejudice only when they could get away with it.”

He also claimed that, because such a small percentage of the population identify as homosexual, that groups would often get their numbers completely wrong. 

“Imagine that 100 per cent of gay men wear pink shirts all the time, and 10 per cent of straight men wear pink shirts all the time. Even though all gay men wear pink shirts, there would still be twice as many straight men wearing pink shirts. So, even in this extreme example, people who rely on pink shirts as a stereotypic cue to assume men are gay will be wrong two-thirds of the time.”