Friday, August 17, 2007

Sharpening The Ole Gaydar

Here's another spin off a Chicago Redeye article (I love Chicago so much--can't you tell?):

I don't know how true this is for all other races of women, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not how you spot a black lesbian.

About, say, 10 years ago, I had virtually no gaydar. None. Just being queer doesn't equip you with gaydar, to me. No, I think gaydar is something that is learned for most people. It's a skill that can be acquired, sharpened...and maybe for some, even perfected.

This summer, I worked on just that without really even meaning to. Since I rode the train (the 'L') daily while I was in Chicago--and since I didn't live all that close to my job, which meant I would be on the train for a long time--there were two things that were simply inevitable: the increasing importance of the mp3 player in my life, and more opportunities to analyze people. So, by the end of the summer, person after person could step on the train and, instantly, it was like, "GAY." In other words, I could tell a gay person within seconds. I was so proud of myself. This was something that I simply couldn't do even just a few years ago.

How did I do it? And, what's more, how could I be so sure those people entering the train were all gay?

Well, there's no being sure, but I was pretty sure. Even without carrying anything with a rainbow on it, a copy of "The Advocate" (which I saw several people do this summer), wearing a fauxhawk (saw this, too), eating hummus on the train or blasting Ani DiFranco through their mp3 players for the rest of the train to hear...there were men and women who just screamed it in other ways...ways that a lot of people who hadn't spent much time observing gays would totally miss. But, for me, they were instant signs.

Let me see if I can put some of this into words for how I can instantly spot some lesbians--and trust that some of these signs for me will sound insane but they do seem to work, at least for me. First of all, let me address, what I call, this "white" list from the Redeye. If that list were put to me to figure out if I were a lesbian by another woman, she would fail miserably. I don't fit any of those signs on her lesbian-meter list, and I don't think many black women would. Softball is just not "our" sport. Basketball is more of a sign of lesbianism if you're looking at a black woman, I would say--a lot of black lesbians I've known of have been basketball players at some point. And I actually do fit this one, because I loved basketball as a kid, was really good at it and tried to play. And Ani DiFranco? Try rap music. And I mean the offensive, degrading-to-women kind. I've never heard an Ani DiFranco song, and that's something I've always been proud of.

Keep in mind that I'm not all that knowledgeable about being gay for someone who actually is gay. But I think that, with a few exceptions, the things I look for when I'm observing women are more universal than Ani DiFranco, softball, hummus, rainbow stuff, fauxhawks and lesbian friends. Here it is:

-The rap music thing in more detail (and this is really just about black women):
A lot of women like rap music, okay? But there are some women who essentially merely listen to it, and then others who more so embrace the culture. The latter are the ones who scream "lesbian" to me. This is closely related to...

-The way she carries herself
I saw black women all summer who looked like guys, and it wasn't just their hair (or lack thereof) or body build, though these things play essential parts in identifying a lesbian. These women reminded me of black males from the hip hop culture, from the way they walked and sometimes the way they talked to the way they dressed. More universal for all women are other factors related to the way a woman carries herself, which, for other women, can also involve the way she walks, speaks, wears her hair, dresses and so on. But for other races of women, it's generally not going to be in the hip hop vein. That's where you start scoping for things like the fauxhawk, which is more rock culture, or the "dyke" cuts, the stereotypical flannel and so on.

Be careful with this one, though. For white women, sure, it can be softball. Tennis is a good one, too, for white women. For black women, yup, basketball might be a good indicator. But there are a lot of women who just like sports. Nowadays, I'm not really into sports at all in terms of wanting to play any. And I only love college football because, hey, my law school is part of a university that has one of the best college football teams ever, and you might actually run into several hetero women there, consequently, who look at you as if you're nuts if you're not all into our school's team. Heck, I did when I first started law school, and now I understand these women better because I am them now. Before that, I really couldn't have given a sh!t about football. Honestly, I would say that unless a woman has an excuse such as she attended XYZ university or her family members/husband/boyfriend are so psycho about a sport that she's into it now, too...that's a sign. Even the family members thing didn't work on me--everyone in my family is really into watching basketball and football--only my law school got me into football.

-Body build
This is actually a pretty huge clue, for me. Obviously, there are some really feminine, perfect-bodied women who are lesbians. However, the women who are not like this are easier to spot if you're looking for a lesbian. The one thing I've noticed in a lot of lesbians is us queer girls tend to have really awkward, non-stereotypically feminine bodies. Many of us couldn't look the picture of femininity even if we tried because of this. And this is hard to explain. But I do have an example.

Has anyone noticed how Ellen DeGeneres kinda has big knockers? Okay. And I think big boobs are associated with femininity. However. There's a point in which boobs are too big, even for men, or they are less appealing because they don't really blend in with the woman's body. I think this is what helps create the "Duh, she's a lesbian" look for Ellen--her big boobs don't exactly fit with the rest of her body, which is actually kind of boyish. So, her boobs, for me, really stand out because they look weird on her frame. I've seen this in many other lesbians, too, and this is a problem I actually kind of have. Some queer girls just seem to have gotten a huge dose of boobage, and it just doesn't look right on our frames.

Then there are those women who essentially don't have knockers at all, which, oftentimes with the rest of their body build, highlights their boyishness. I'm talking people like Katherine Moening, i.e. Shane, from "The L Word." And then there are women like the ones who look hip hop or are muscular, who are just built like men. They are the opposite of the Shanes--their figures are a little more manly than boyish. The bottom line is, we don't have traditionally feminine bodies with "perfect" measurements--we're either given too much or not enough, and some of us could fool people into thinking we're guys just from our builds alone.

-A black woman's hair
I don't know what the deal is, but I have noticed that a lot of black lesbians have "natural" hairdos. They don't do that perm stuff. Obviously, I'm an "exception." I think this might be closely related to...

Not just with black lesbians, but a lot of us queer girls are not--how shall I say it--as interested in how we look as hetero girls. This is not to say there's anything wrong with or lesser about a black woman having natural hairstyles. I'm really referring to what some women have said about how much easier it is to have natural hair. So, then, I'm referring to a lack of interest in upkeep in terms of physical appearance. We're not trying to spend two hours in front of a mirror, dealing with makeup, hair products--or 8 hours in a beauty salon--just so we can go look awesome at the Walmart that is, like, right down the street and from where I need about three quick items (and I say it like that because I do know hetero women who do this--my mother is one of them). That's not to say we're going out looking homeless. We're just not into knocking ourselves out or dressing uncomfortably to look hot, especially when we're going somewhere that's not essential and/or will be around people we don't know or care about.

Clearly, there are lesbians who are like this, also, and there are straight women who are not all that high maintenance. I'd still say chances are good if you're seeing a chick that doesn't look like she's into going the extra mile to look excellent that you've got a queer one on your hands. And I think I fool people with this one, because the one thing I, at least, look like I do spend time on is my hair. Depending on the situation, my clothes look as if I've given thought to them, as well. I put it like that because "look" is the key word--I pretty much never sweat my clothes or hair. In addition, I smell "girly," even though that's also the result of swiftness rather than attentiveness, and naturally have nice nails, eyelashes and crap like that. I can't tell you how many times hetero women have asked me how I've gotten my XYZ like "that," usually hair or my fingernails.

-Facial features
There really is just no explaining this one, but there are people I can look dead in the face and see they are gay or lesbian. It doesn't matter what they're wearing, how their hair is, what their body type is like. There is just something about their face that makes them "look gay" to me. Oftentimes, they look similar to other people I've known who were gay or lesbian, i.e. they have some features in common. For example, there's just something about Chad Allen and Neil Patrick Harris--something about the way they look is similar enough to make me completely unsurprised that they are gay males. White gay males sometimes just seem to have this snobby, pseudo-sophisticated look to them that screams "homo" to me, and that leads me to...

We all know the stereotypes of how gay men speak, walk, do their hands, etc. But there is more than one way to identify, at least, a gay male by how he speaks, i.e. gay men tend to sound more intelligent and sensitive than hetero men, to me. And I feel like I'm drifting from the point of this, which is really to discuss how to spot lesbians. However, I actually think it's easier to spot gay males. I haven't exactly noticed or nailed down for sure anything similar in lesbians in terms of speech the way I have with gay men, although I do have a vague notion that these kinds of things exist for lesbians. I just haven't finished drawing the conclusion that lesbians speak or act like X.