Although I've always wanted this particular superhuman power, I've never been very good at detecting other men's sexual orientation. Findings from a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, however, suggest I may be underestimating my gaydar abilities.
The January 2008 study investigated people's ability to identify homosexual men from pictures of their faces alone. In an initial experiment, researchers Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady from Tufts University perused online dating sites and carefully selected 45 straight male faces and 45 gay male faces. All of these photos were matched for orientation (only faces shown looking forward were used) and facial alterations (none of the images contained jewelry, glasses or facial hair). To control for context, the faces were also cut and pasted onto a white background for the study. These 90 faces were then shown to 90 participants in random order, who were asked simply to judge the target's "probable sexual orientation" (gay or straight) by pressing a button. Surprisingly, all participants (both men and women) scored above chance on this gaydar task, correctly identifying the gay faces. Even more surprisingly, accuracy rate was just as good when the images were exposed at a rapid rate of only 50 milliseconds, which offered participants no opportunity to consciously process the photo. (read Scientific American article)
I would have never had guessed this was possible from a persons face, well except for those male homosexuals who wear more makeup than my sister. But i have noticed that most (not all) male gay friends i have had did have a certain inflection to their voices. Though i guess this would make some sense as homosexuality is largely genetic and epigenetic in nature.
Some gays do make it easier than others, facial differences aside, with less than fully masculine body language (the limp wrist being a prime example), and yes there are certain speech patterns. Those often seem borrowed from the way women talk among themselves.
I've noticed the gay vibrato, as I call it. The tone and resonance of a gay man's voice often stands out to me. It's a tighter, quicker vibrato that is somewhat grating--it's difficult to describe--but it's almost as if they're stressed out. Now and then, I will hear it in a 'heterosexual-presenting' man's voice...it always makes me wonder if he's bisexual, closeted, or repressed (or, if they are indeed straight, why they share this trait). Not all gay men have this tonality, which adds another layer of mystery. :)
Funny you mention the vibrato thing. The gay roommate I mentioned elsewhere was a singer in the East Indian (Bengali) tradition and his vibrato was very tight. At first he had a habit of singing to himself. Finally, it got so annoying I had to ask him to stop in order to preserve my sanity. I like Indian instrumental music, but the singing not so much.
That is a very good point. Sexuality is not binary but rather exists along a continuum . So it would only be those people on the more extreme end who will be so noticeable.
I'd like to see this study recreated with:
-lesbians and bisexuals
-people of either gender who do not identify as glbt, but whose arousal levels during separate testing may indicate a same gender attraction
Seeing an image isn't enough. Mannerisms can be more telling. Also it depends how close they are to a safe and comfortable enviroment. Even particularily masculine and guy-next-door gay men will give off little signals that many another masculine and guy-next-door gay guy will pick up on. But it's extremely difficult in this case if you only look at an image.
I read the article on another site. The researchers concluded that their sample was rather small and so they really could not conclude that "we can spot a gay person by his facial features". What I found interesting is that most of the participants, who picked the people who were gay by their facial features also said that the majority of the gay subjects were "more masculine" than the non gay subjects, who they deemed less masculine.
Of course, some gay men are openly gay and give off signals intended to attract other gay men. Anyone other than a gay-blind person should be able to pick those gays out. However, there are many very butch gays who work out and participate in that sort of masculine culture. Then you have the "bears." Picking out gays in those two groups is a lot harder and I think that is where this research, if it's true, applies.
Y'know, I have a tough time believing that, in this day and age, that someone's sexual orientation matters at all.
I guess I look at it the same way I look at mental illness, or any other neurologically-related topic. It's just how some people are wired. Attraction has roots in biochemistry, neurology and mathematics.
I seriously believe that there are so many different variations of neurological function (under the umbrella of how all humans and some other mammals have the same basic hardware) strictly because there are so many people. More people = more opportunities for simple variations in wiring.
Or did I totally go off-topic?