Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is Gaydar a Thing?

Personal Anecdote Alert!

I recently attended a friend's wedding. Although it was a same-sex wedding, those who attended were primarily heterosexual. There were also lots of kids around! But I digress (mostly to annoy any rightwingers reading).

Anyway, upon being seated at the dinner table, I took a look around the table and thought, "I guess this is the lesbian table."

Yet, over the course of dinner, all of the other women at the table began talking about their male partners.


Anyway, I thought of that story when I read of the following study:

"[Cognitive psychologist Erik Tracy] asked seven gay and seven heterosexual males to record single-syllable words (including 'mass,' 'food' and 'sell') and then played the recordings for listeners. The study participants were then asked to identify the sexual orientation of the speakers when hearing only the first letter sound of those words, the first two letter sounds, or the entire words.

The listeners were unable to determine the sexual orientation after hearing the sound of the first letter in the spoken word, for example, just the 'm' sound in the word 'mass.' But, 'when presented with the first two letter sounds [for example 'ma'], listeners were 75 percent accurate,' Tracy said. 'We believe that listeners are using the acoustic information contained in vowels to make this sexual orientation decision,' he explained."

"Seven gay and seven heterosexual males" were studied. Lulz.

On a serious note, feminism, to me, means acknowledging (a) that it is often inaccurate to make assumptions about a person based solely on hir genitals, while also acknowledging that (b) we are strongly socialized to perform gender according to what genitals we have (or are thought to have), which then often becomes a Men-Are-From-Mars-Women-Are-From-Venus self-fullfilling prophecy.

I extend this line of thinking to sexual orientation. Obviously, I think attraction to women, for me, is a real and natural thing. My attraction to women is something I have always had and not something I ever consciously chose. It is, indeed, the only thing that is essential to my sexual orientation. For as much as I might joke with my friends about stereotypically lesbian behavior, there are many ways to be a lesbian, only a few of which involve looking sporty and wanting to wear slacks and sensible shoes at weddings.

And, there are many women, like "30 Rock" character Liz Lemon, who out-lesbian actual lesbians. Except for the sleeping with women part. Which, of course is my point.

Studies like the one, above, about acoustics run a risk similar to that posed by studies about sex and gender. By lazily interpreting such studies in a "Gays and Straights speak differently! This proves EVERYthing!" manner, the media can artificially create discrete categories of people, categories that obfuscate all of the people who fall into gray areas.

Related: Bisexuality in TV/Film

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