Friday, September 14, 2007

Science Research Promoting Idea of "Gaydar"

In the latest of the recent homosexuality researching trends, researchers attempt to prove that there is perhaps some truth behind the concept of "gaydar." In an interesting study authored by Kerri Johnson, of UCLA, a key to deciding a man's sexuality may be in the way he walks.

The researchers attached motion sensors (similar to what they use in the movie industry) to 8 people: 2 heterosexual men, 2 homosexual men, 2 heterosexual women, and 2 lesbians.
Then they removed any identifiable features, like clothing and hairstyles, and had observers try to guess the sexualities of the subjects. Apparently subjects were able to accurately guess the male subject's sexuality a little more than 60% of the time. The observers' guesses of the female subjects were not statistically significant (more than by chance alone).

The fact that 150 undergraduate students (sexuality unknown) were able to identify gay men shows us, as the researchers noted, that people are able to pick up when men exhibit "feminine" characteristics. The researchers noted that the gay men walked with more of a "feminine" swagger of the hips. I do wonder why this article has already hit the mainstream media, when there were only 8 sample "walkers" total, and only 2 of them from each sexual orientation. This was a very limited study with limited results, for they could also have included bisexual people, among others. It is hard to draw conclusive implications from this short-sighted, limited study, but I did think of 3 possibilities:

1. That the concept of "gaydar" may be very real.

2. That it is probably rooted in the same psycho-social processes as other types of stereotyping.

and 3. That "gaydar" is probably more harmful than it is a funny "in-joke" between other gays and lesbians. Especially harmful to gay men in a society that has traditionally hated the concept of "feminine-acting or -appearing" men.

I do believe that women have the luxury of having a wider range of socially-acceptable actions and characteristics (and clothing). Just look back to grade school and high school, and I'm sure you can recall the 1 or 2 obviously gay boys in your class. The ones who wore pink sweatsuits and jumped rope with the girls. Who were made fun of by all the rest of the boys and bullied on the playground. Or maybe that was just my school?
The author noted that the lesbians appeared to walk with a "a less exaggerated version of an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type swagger." This means that they "slightly moved their shoulders back and forth." Uh, okay. I'm sure there was a less offensive analogy the author could have used, especially since--when watching the actual videos--I saw no noticeable differences in the ways the heterosexual women walked vs. the lesbians. Let alone an Arnold-like "swagger" coming from the lesbian walker.

"I'll be back!"

While these findings, Johnson says, aren't meant to be a diagnostic test, it can tell us how people use certain cues to categorize one another. I don't think that (categorizing people based on certain cues) is necessarily a novel idea, but it is novel to the concept of gaydar. Johnson next wants to study the implications of judging someone by those "gaydar" cues.

Well, we'll see what really comes of these, and future, findings. I fear any research on homosexuality has the potential to be greatly misused by the religious right, by "protectors" of marriage and family, and by other intolerant groups.

We'll see if the people are smart enough to decipher all the implications for themselves. And work towards a more tolerant society.


Rachel said...

i think they should do it the opposite way next time. they should mix gay men and straight men together and tell the straight men to "act gay" (whatever that may means to them), and see if people can identify the gay men vs. the men pretending to be gay. that would help us to pin-point the stereo-types.

Jane Know said...

that would be a good one.

it would be interesting if they could get an "average" walk for each category based on hundreds of sample walkers, to see if there truly is a difference.

i can just see scared parents everywhere watching their children's walks more closely now...