Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Scrambled Gaydar

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Scrambled Gaydar

Article excerpt

NOT SO MANY YEARS AGO, DECIDING WHETHER SOMEONE was gay took only a split second: a series of visual clues--his too-tight T-shirt, her razor-short haircut--served as an invariably reliable shorthand. Lately, however, the process of determining orientation has become long science rather than quick art, and I never notice the change more acutely than when someone under the age of 30 swims into view.

The other day, for example, I was in line at the local supermarket when a cute guy, whom I estimated to be in his early 20s, queued up to the left and scrambled my gaydar. Determined to crack his code, I examined all the outward signals. He was sporting a gold hoop earring, but so, these days, does every kid in Kansas. He was wearing a tight pair of blue jeans, but the brand name was Guess. He had condoms in his shopping basket, but that betrays prudence as much as preference. On the other hand (shoot me for stereotyping), he was browsing GQ, he was buying shallots, and he brightened noticeably when the hunky checkout guy gave him a grin. Ship listing gayward--barely.

On the way out of the store, I decided to pursue the puzzle by chatting him up. (No question about me.) When visual clues fail, I told myself, search for conversational ones. The guy responded in amiable-enough fashion, exuding neither the uppity attitude of gay-bar quarry nor the how's-it-goin'-bud friendliness that straight guys so often use to deflect close attention. He did, in fact, live in my building, with a pal from college and the guy's girlfriend. He was working as a waiter while looking for a job on Wall Street. He had to walk quickly, he said, because he wanted to watch a tennis match on television. He wasn't particularly garrulous, but he displayed at least a working knowledge of the topics I was using to suss him out: a recent art-house film, New York hot spots, the best place in the neighborhood to buy bread. His manner told me little: It was neither smooth nor butch. As we reached our building and parted, where he worshiped was still a mystery to me. What made him, like so many urban dwellers in their 20s, as inscrutable as the Sphinx?

There are the obvious reasons, of course. …

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