By Bianca McNaughton
Queer people have a vastly different lived experience and view on others and the world than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. I am a queer woman and I have seen how my experience differs from that of my straight peers on many occasions. This can be in social, educational, or professional settings. This becomes extremely apparent when we discuss the issue of “gaydars”. It should be noted that I present very feminine and also enjoy traditionally feminine hobbies (makeup, nails, fashion).
Gaydar is a very different concept in its idea and execution between LGBTQ+ and cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) people. For fellow LGBTQ+ people, a gaydar is a way to find community discreetly. When we can identify others who share similar experiences to ourselves it creates a bond, especially in spaces where the majority of people are cishet. This can be done by picking up on the way that person speaks about their relationships (or lack thereof) or even having a sort of “extrasensory” ability to pick up on someone’s queerness. Finding this community creates a safe space when surrounded by people who may not be accepting. A gaydar is a survival mechanism which is necessary for LGBTQ+ people to know who it is safe to be ourselves around. This has become strikingly apparent to me when my fellow LGBTQ+ people have time and time again picked me out of the flock at social and professional settings alike based on nothing but their intuition and a “feeling” they got about me.
A cishet person has never been about to identify my queerness without me bringing it up first. This is overwhelmingly attributed to the fact that I present as a very feminine young woman. Every cishet person whom I worked with at my last job (pre-COVID) was gobsmacked when I came out them as I just “didn’t look like it”. It is also important to note that the overwhelming majority of people I worked with were university-educated young women and I do consider the majority of them fairly educated about LGBTQ+ issues. I just didn’t fit their stereotypical idea of what a young queer woman would look like. I didn’t have short hair, or rainbow pins on my backpack, or wear flannels every day like every lesbian on television. I looked like them.
I’m not saying any of this to make them seem like shallow or bad people for not recognizing my queerness or being surprised by it. It just shows the difference in what gaydars are for cishet people versus LGBTQ+ ones. Straight people use stereotypes to categorize people as an ‘other.’ Not always in a harmful way, but nonetheless a comfortable box sectioned away from them. I don’t fit in that pretty tucked away box. I’m just like them, and they don’t realize it. I am essentially an invisible queer person. I get to hear the conversations that go on behind closed doors if I choose to stay closeted.
These stereotypes are harmful as they lead to assumptions being made about people when they are simply trying to be their authentic selves. A cishet’s gaydar is also very often used to ‘out’ people, meaning revealing their sexuality to the public or other individuals without their consent. This can be incredibly dangerous for some people due to the prejudice and injustice in the world. Being outed can result in people being disowned, homeless, assaulted, or worse. Not everyone is in a safe situation and when cishet’s gaydars are used to make these assumptions and out people lives can be destroyed. This has even happened on a large scale in the past with the “fruit machine”, a machine/test made by the Canadian Government to find gay men so that they could then be fired from their roles. A Carleton professor even had a notable role in its creation. As popular as the machine was it was also incredibly inaccurate. I have personally never experienced a fellow LGBTQ+ person outing someone by use of their gaydar or explicit knowledge of that person’s sexuality. The same cannot be said for cishet people.
Overall cishet and LGBTQ+ people’s experiences are vastly different when it comes to how their sexuality affects them. The concept of gaydars is where this is most prevalent because of the stark contrast between being a survival technique for LGBTQ+ people and a tool of ostracization based on stereotypes for cishet people. This is something which I see in individuals on an everyday basis as a queer woman but it is also something which has created harm on a national scale in the past. If these stereotypes and the issue of using presumptions to out people are not addressed then we risk repeating history in the future.
Bianca is a fourth-year student at Carleton University studying Communications and Media Studies with a double minor in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies. She aspires to spread knowledge about equity and discrimination with all of her work. As a queer young woman, she hopes to raise awareness about the struggles and injustices which her and many LGBTQ+ people still experience today.