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Having gaydar anxiety?


I have it too. Still.

I’ve been wondering about it since long before I came out, and I’m still wondering. Does gaydar even exist? If so, I don’t think I have it. Or else mine is fatally underdeveloped from 50 years of disuse.

Or else there’s no such thing.

I’m inclined to believe the latter. But I wouldn’t stake my life on it. There are gay men I know – and a few women, too – who operate as if they do have it, and are pretty good at scoring with surprising individuals.

And there are others ­who swear that if gaydar exists, they didn’t get any.

In the relatively brief time I’ve been out, this topic has played around the edges of my mind a good bit. Being brand new to the tribe and trying to get dating started, the occasional awkward and clueless feelings are sometimes compounded by the feeling of not being sure who’s who. I’ve never felt like I was getting electroluminescent signals – like the blips on a screen – telling me someone was gay.

Sometimes it’s obvious, of course. Some people advertise their gayness in all sorts of ways – with clothing, conversation, where and with whom the hang out. There are others – like me I think – who try to be open about who we are, but don’t necessarily want gayness to be the most important or most interesting thing people notice (see my last post).

And there are others about whom there’s an air of mystery. People who seem to be giving off mixed signals or no signals at all. Who might be of mixed or uncertain orientation. Who might be gay but in hiding, or unaware of it themselves. It took me quite a while to figure things out. I doubt I was giving off very clear signals all that time.

And I think that’s where the truth lies. It’s more about what someone is transmitting, than about special receptors wired into certain gay brains. The trick to this is a sensitivity to the signals – those that are thrown off intentionally, and perhaps those that are not. So it has to be working on both sides – transmitting and receiving – for “gaydar” to kick in.

I’m inclined from time to time to wonder if any of this really matters. I’ve been stuck in seemingly endless conversations among gay men speculating on who’s gay and who’s not. Boring! But figuring out who’s approachable does matter, especially for late bloomers who either lack confidence, or experience or both. And there are those of us who are feeling the passage of time, and would like to have a social life of some sort – perhaps even a love life – before the final curtain rings down.

So for me it boils down to a few fairly simple factors:

  1. I’ve decided not to worry about having, or not having, gaydar. I try to pick up on what another guy is sending out. And if I don’t pick up on it, well, maybe he’s not sending anything for me to pick up.
  2. I try to avoid idle speculation. I’ll have to admit I have speculated about someone out loud on occasion, but it always felt like I was spinning my wheels. If I don’t know the guy well enough to have picked up on his signals – or to talk to him and find out, for cryin’ out loud ­– then all the speculation gets me nowhere. And if I’m not really interested in him, what’s the point in speculating?
  3. If I want to connect, I try doing a little transmitting myself. I try to come off as approachable and available – not desperate! – and wait to see what happens.

Then there’s this: I met this nice guy several months ago. We run into each other and chat from time to time. He’s a really interesting person in a lot of ways, as well as being nice looking, and I’d love to get to know him better if he’s amenable. But, he’s giving me the most perfectly balanced set of opposing signals imaginable. Every time I see him, I come to a different conclusion. I decide that he is, or is not, gay based on all sorts of “signals” – an expressed opinion, a chance remark, a tone of voice, a look, a look away. Sometimes I go back and forth on the question a couple of times in a single conversation. Either he’s deliberately screwing with my mind, or he’s not sure himself, or …

So, I’ve made a decision. To hell with this gaydar business. Next time I see him, I’m just going to ask.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/11/2011 6:49 AM

    I totally relate to your last paragraph. In my line of work I meet all sorts of people and often meet very charming men who one level seem to be into me. Ultimately I know it’s perhaps due to the nature of my work and what I’m able to do for them in that regard that is giving off the mixed signals.

    • 08/11/2011 9:40 AM

      Sounds right to me. I think I’d find the salon environment very confusing and signal-mixed.

  2. Patrick M permalink
    08/11/2011 8:32 AM

    Gaydar works better when you are young, and even so I think it is compounded of one quarter wish-fulfillment and three fourths audacity. Self confidence is the key to so much in life, yes? It was never foolproof, but that sometimes led to its own adventures, especially in these days when it seems everyone wants to experiment if the man and moment are right.
    Then, sad to say, there comes a time when dat ole devil moon goes into more or less permanent eclipse. At 59, fewer and fewer people look back when you give them the eye, and many of those that do will give you that look one gives to limp produce in the supermarket. And that’s with “age appropriate” flirting, mind you. I can’t complain. When I was a young thang, I was just as frank.

    • 08/11/2011 9:53 AM

      I like your equasion combining wish-fulfillment and audacity – especially the audacity part. And, yes, self-confidence is the key so often. A challenge for the late bloomer, but possible.

      As for the limp produce metaphor. I’m not touching that one with a ten foot … carrot. Paging Dr. Freud …

      • Patrick M permalink
        08/11/2011 2:35 PM

        sometimes Anna, a banana is just a banana….

      • 08/11/2011 2:40 PM

        And a carrot is just a carrot. And yet I couldn’t resist.

  3. dolphin permalink
    08/11/2011 9:15 AM

    I dunno, I used to think I had no gaydar as well, but then I began to realize that when, like you, I thought “oh well sometimes it’s just obvious,” that it wasn’t actually obvious to alot of other people. On the other hand, I walked into a straight club once and had some random girl I didn’t know come up to me immediately and ask “hi, are you gay?” which really threw me because I don’t even remotely think of myself as someone who is “obviously” gay.

    But as for you and the specific guy in question, there are ways of asking without asking. First make sure he knows you’re gay, which usually will help him to volunteer the information one way or the other. Why not just in casual conversation bring up “I dated this one guy once who…” which outs you, and also opens the door for an innocent “so what about you?” question into his love life.

    In a perfect world, you could just ask him out and if he would accept or not based on his interest (and it really wouldn’t matter whether he was gay or straight, just whether he happened to be interested in YOU), but in the real world, straight guys generally really don’t like to be asked out by gay guys (unfairly, to a much stronger degree than being asked out by a girl they simply aren’t interested in), so it’s best to get the inside scoop directly from the source first.

    • 08/11/2011 9:47 AM

      Per your second and third paragraphs, this guy has known I was gay from one of our earliest conversations – it came up quite naturally, not at all forced – and we’ve invited each other out for a lunch or a drink. I’ve given him openings to declare himself on several occasions, and he just skates around them. He’s a puzzle. Possibly to himslef.

      But he’s interesting to talk to just as a friend, and his sexual orientation isn’t really central to that. So, I think the direct approach will clear up this question that seems – to me at least – to be hanging in the air, and we can proceed from that point.

  4. Allen permalink
    08/11/2011 3:33 PM

    I don’t know if I have an answer to your gaydar quandary — especially since I’m more often wrong than right, always guessing conservatively that, when in doubt, someone’s straight — I have observed this all my life: If a guy is especially nice to me, always seems very glad to see me and is very complimentary about my talents, he’s straight. Gay guys just aren’t that into me as a rule — and being thus, certainly don’t want to encourage me. Straight guys, on the other hand, are free from this consideration and are on an entirely different wavelength whether they know you’re gay or not. (BTW, this rule does not apply if you’re drop-dead, Hollywood gorgeous)

    • 08/18/2011 5:37 PM

      Well, the drop-dead gorgeous part never really applied in my case.

  5. Allen permalink
    08/19/2011 2:37 PM

    Mine either. Thus, my observation.

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