I once placed a personal ad in which I described myself as “gay-acting/gay-appearing,” partly as a jab at my peers who prefer to be thought of as “str8” but mostly because it’s just who I am. Maybe a better way to phrase it would have been “third-sexer,” the category advanced by the gay German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld 100 years ago. The label fell into disrepute, but lately a number of well-known researchers in the field of sexual orientation have been reviving it based on an extensive new body of research showing that most of us, whether top or bottom, butch or femme, or somewhere in between, share a kind of physical otherness that locates us in our own quadrant of the gender matrix, more like one another than not. Whatever that otherness is seems to come from somewhere deep within us. It mostly defies our efforts to disguise it. That’s what we mean by gaydar—not the skill of the viewer so much as the telltale signs most gay people project, the set of traits that make us unmistakably one.
The late psychologist and sexologist John Money famously called these the details of our “gendermaps,” which he believed are drawn primarily by life’s experience and social conditioning. Money planted some of the earliest flags in the nature-versus-nurture war by claiming that dysfunctional parents, not inborn biology, is what produced “sissy boys,” tomboys, and other gender variants. But today, the pendulum has swung just about as far in the other direction as possible. A small constellation of researchers is specifically analyzing the traits and characteristics that, though more pronounced in some than in others, not only make us gay but also make us appear gay.
At first read, their findings seem like a string of unlinked, esoteric observations. Statistically, for instance, gay men and lesbians have about a 50 percent greater chance of being left-handed or ambidextrous than straight men or women. The relative lengths of our fingers offer another hint: The index fingers of most straight men are shorter than their ring fingers, while for most women they are closer in length, or even reversed in ratio. But some researchers have noted that gay men are likely to have finger-length ratios more in line with those of straight women, and a study of self-described “butch” lesbians showed significantly masculinized ratios. The same goes for the way we hear, the way we process spatial reasoning, and even the ring of our voices.
filed under: lavender, poofy & proud blogged: 12.26 Mon, 25 Jun '07