Since I was six years old, I've been friends with gay men. I'm not sure what the term is for a straight woman who has lots of gay friends these days, but I've always had a lot of them.
Many of them are constantly being mistaken for straight guys, but it isn't like they're trying to hide their homosexuality in any way. They look like men — some are in excellent shape, others not as much, and some a combination of the two.
I recently read a study that investigated the belief that people are able to identify homosexual men from pictures of their faces alone, as if there's some kind of gay look.
Apparently, I'm not alone in not being receptive about this issue, as Nicholas Rule (one of the researchers) said in an interview, "Some people think it's bad to say that sexual orientation is perceptible. They feel like it's providing justification to use stereotyping. What I would say in response to that is it's better to know about this than to not know ... because the judgment is still going on. Failing to acknowledge that is avoiding the issue."
In the study titled "Brief Exposures: Male Sexual Orientation is Accurately Perceived at 50 ms" — published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology — Rule, and researcher Nalini Ambady from Tufts University, searched online dating sites, and carefully selected 45 straight male faces and 45 gay male faces.
The 90 faces were shown to 90 participants in random order, who were then asked to determine the person in the photo's probable sexual orientation (gay or straight) by pressing a button. All of the participants correctly identified the gay faces.
When the participants were asked to do the test a second time, this time with the images exposed at a rapid rate of of only 50 milliseconds (giving the subjects no time to consciously process the photo), they scored just as high as on the first test.
"The gist of it is that people can accurately judge someone's sexual orientation from very minimal information about them. You only need to see a face for less than 40 milliseconds to judge sexual orientation with the same level of accuracy than you get if you take all the time in the world. To put that in perspective, it takes 400 milliseconds to blink your eye," Rule says.
The study leaders photoshopped off the men's hair, glasses, piercings, and other factors that could skew the results. Again, participants were able to detect who was gay and who wasn't at a high rate.
Rule said that there's still much work to be done in looking at the social consequences of these unintentional first impressions, and the judgments that come from them.
I guess my gaydar has always been off, but I don't think that's a bad thing.