Test Your Gaydar

This story was originally broadcast Oct. 29, 2004.

New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey surprised a lot of people last summer when he announced: "I am a gay American."

But a lot of people say they can tell right away -- just by looking at someone -- or listening to them -- whether they're gay or not. They say they have "gaydar." (The word is a play on radar ... seeing what's hidden.)

Apparently McGreevey's wife doesn't have gaydar. They are reported to have separated. And his ex-wife said she had no clue and most of his constituents didn't know. So if so many people can be fooled, does gaydar really exist?

Homosexuality is routinely hidden. Movie star Rock Hudson fooled almost everyone for years.

Lots of people were surprised when Rosie O'Donnell came out.

It all made us want to do our own test, so we persuaded 10 men, five gay and five straight, to subject themselves to several dozen people's gaydar.

The testers mingled with our subjects for about an hour, and then graded them straight, gay, definitely gay, definitely straight or don't know.

No one was allowed to ask any direct questions about sexuality. It wasn't a scientific test, but Northwestern University psychology professor Michael Bailey, who has done scientific tests of gaydar, said the test was valid.

On the whole, the testers did pretty well. Had they made random guesses, they would have been 50 percent right. But they were 60 percent correct -- better than chance.

"Gaydar absolutely exists. On average people do far better than chance," said Bailey.

Bailey's more scientific tests found graders to be accurate more than 70 percent of the time. Even when all they saw was a 10-second videotape, or just listened to the subjects' voices, they were right about who was gay more often than not.

In his book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen," he gives reasons why.

According to Bailey:

* Straight men tend to move in their arms from their shoulders more. Gay men do more movements from their elbows down.

* Straight men tend to slouch, gay men tend to sit a little more neatly.

Some gays have criticized Bailey, saying he's just perpetuating the stereotype that gays are effeminate.

"On average gay men are more feminine in certain ways than straight men. And it's an important scientific fact and we need to understand it better," Bailey said.

Our testers never talked about masculine or feminine, but most claimed to see clear signals -- including a deaf woman in our group.

Since a lot of cues about sexuality are tied to the way people speak, I asked her how she knew.

"The visual part of it, I think, is very important because I socialize with a lot of gay friends, and I think it has to do something with the clothes and maybe their affect. I got 60 percent right, so I don't know if I have a good gaydar or not. But I think it has to do with intuition. It's like your gut," she said.

Some testers got most everyone right. What tipped them off? Some said speech patterns did it. Others said a few of the men's eyes tipped them off.

"I think gay men have their eyebrows up," one tester said.

More people mentioned voices, or clothing. Singling out one subject, a tester said, "It's basically the flannel shirt, the Levi 501s and the combat boots. It's a gay 1980s outfit."

And apparently, there's a straight look. Most testers identified two men as straight, because of their "bad hair."

But of course none of this is 100 percent reliable.

The man who got the highest straight score -- was gay.

One of our straight testers said it's no surprise he guessed wrong. "I'm a straight man. I really have no need to look at you guys and say who's gay and who's straight," he said. "I thought they were all straight!"

On the other hand, many gays said they have better gaydar because they've needed to develop it to find partners.

One said, "I notice things that are different about myself from other people. Who else out there has these same things? And you learn to pick up on just the littlest things."

However, Bailey, in his tests, found gays' gaydar is no better than straights' gaydar.

There were plenty of wrong guesses on our test too. The straight test subject who had the highest "gay score" among the straight guys said he was used to being mistaken as gay.

"People tell me I dress well. I'm attractive, which automatically means you're gay," he said.

And this underscores how all this oversimplifies. Yes, there are stereotypes. The real deal is: gaydar does exist, but it is often wrong.

How good is your gaydar? Here's who's straight and who's gay in our top photo. Top row, left to right: straight, gay, gay, gay, straight. Bottom row, left to right: straight, gay, gay, straight, straight.

The following books have more information on the "gaydar" phenomenon: "The Man Who Would Be Queen," by Michael Bailey, and "Gaydar," by Donald F. Reuter.