A few months ago I attended a party at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts. It was a chill, swanky affair – perfect, I thought, to practice my flirting skills with random guys.
My first target was impeccably dressed, had a great smile and seemed to know everyone in the room. I waited over an hour for the perfect moment to connect with him. Hearing him speak, I wondered why I’d waited so long. He was clearly playing for the other team.
Moving on, I struck up a discussion with two polite younger men standing nearby. They were friendly and enthusiastic but something told me they were already attached – to each other.
Looking around,I suddenly realized most of the single men in the room were gay. I guess a ceramics museum isn’t really a hotbed of male heterosexuality to begin with.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, was my gaydar accurate or was I just making assumptions based on my first flubbed attempts at flirting?
According to Nicholas Rule, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, my assumptions were likely correct. Rule has conducted numerous experiments to test the existence of gaydar – the ability to instantly pick up on someone’s sexual orientation – and discovered that not only does it exist, but it’s also accurate the majority of the time.
At a recent lecture at the Toronto Public Library, the prof shared the highlights of his findings.
Want to improve your gaydar? Follow Rule’s rules:
1. Trust your first impression
It takes less than one-tenth of a blink of an eye for our brains to decide if someone is gay or not. We do this unconsciously and yet our first impressions are accurate about 70 percent of the time. The most telling features are the hair, eyes, and mouth.
Don’t spend too much time assessing things though. “Trying too hard messes it up,” says Rule. The more time you take to think about whether someone is gay or not, the less accurate you are likely to be.
2. Listen before you look
Hearing a person’s voice improves your ability to predict if he or she is gay to between 80 and 85 percent. It’s not so much that gay men take on an affectation – it’s more that they drop one.
When a boy hits puberty, if he is straight or trying to identify as straight he makes a conscious effort to lower his voice and make his speech more monotone. When gay men come out, they often relax this and let it go, resulting in, on average, higher pitches and more variety in their inflections.
3. Watch the walk
Watch John Travolta in Staying Alive. When he struts he has swagger – indicated by the movement of his shoulders rather than his pelvis. Contrast this with RuPaul on the catwalk where it’s all about the hip sway and the sashay.
Although these are exaggerations of straight and gay archetypes, both celebs reflect how men with different sexual orientations typically move: gay men swing their hips and take shorter strides, straight men keep their pelvis more forward and take longer strides.
4. Wait until you ovulate or get in the mood
Women who are ovulating or close to ovulating have higher rates of accuracy in predicting who is straight and gay.
Interestingly, during the luteal phase (post ovulation and pre-menstruation) women are typically attracted to more traditionally masculine looking-men (read, big and hairy) than they are in the other phases of their cycle when they are likely to go for a more tidy button-down type. (FYI, this helps explain why we want a bad guy one minute and a good guy the next.)
Although we can’t exactly ovulate on command, similar effects were noted in experiments where women were asked to think about sex prior to looking at photos of random guys. In those studies, participants who were in a state of heightened sexual excitement, regardless of where they were in their cycles, also showed improved accuracy in predicting the men’s sexual orientation.
5. Have gay friends
The more gay people in your life, the better you will typically be at knowing immediately which team a person plays for, says Rule.
Despite this, straight women and men with many gay friends often think their gaydar is worse than average (whereas gay men are pretty confident about their gaydar).
Rule attributes this to the fact that people with a variety of homosexual friends are likely more exposed to the diversity of the gay population.
I found this reassuring. As a straight woman living in the Church and Wellesley area of Toronto, one of the gayest neighbourhoods in North America, I tend to think everyone in my part of town is gay.
At the end of the lecture, I asked the prof if it would be easier or harder to spot a straight man in a crowd of gays. “If, in your neighbourhood, you have to ask,” replied Rule. “He’s probably straight.”
As I left, a dark haired guy in bright red shorts and striped tank smiled at me and said “Good luck!” “Thanks,” I replied as I sailed out the door. He was cute, but all it took was one glance. He was totally gay.