This co-worker they were telling me about is very out at work, as if, “he’s never seen the inside of a closet.” I applaud the large company they all work at for creating a workplace environment that promotes the diversity of their employees. In the middle of this discussion one family member looks at me and says “I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t know he’s gay, but of course you would know…” She was clearly insinuating that because I’m a lesbian, I must know he’s gay.
All LGBT people must have gaydar – is just another bad assumption and stereotype you must avoid in all business settings. Seriously, don’t do it. This led us down the road of what gaydar is and why you shouldn’t assume all LGBT people must have it, especially co-workers. So let’s break that down, shall we?
Gaydar – what is it?
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Gaydar –
“Gaydar (a portmanteau of gay and radar) is a colloquialism referring to the intuitive ability of a person to assess others’ sexual orientations as gay, bisexual or heterosexual. Gaydar relies almost exclusively on non-verbal clues and LGBT stereotypes. These include (but are not limited to) the sensitivity to social behaviors and mannerisms; for instance, acknowledging flamboyant body language, the tone of voice used by a person when speaking, overtly rejecting traditional gender roles, a person’s occupation and grooming habits.”
Quite frequently I don’t agree with Wikipedia’s take on things but in this case it brings up a key point. The statement “Gaydar relies almost exclusively on non-verbal cues and LGBT stereotypes.” Stereotyping in general can certainly get you in trouble but stereotyping in the workplace is a whole other problematic story, regardless of whether or not that stereotype is towards an LGBT person, person of color, person with a disability, etc.
I can remember a specific statement that was said to me when I first started my job at the insurance company that eventually led me to this path of LGBT marketing. I was only there a few months at the time and was talking with a new colleague when I came out to her and she said something to the effect of “When you were first hired Trisha said to me that you had that ‘captain of the softball team look to you.'” This was referring to one of the many lesbian short hand references like the softball lesbian, lipstick lesbian, butch, femme, the list could go on. The commonality with all of these is that they are built upon a stereotype and plenty of non-LGBT people can get cast into these stereotypes even if they are not part of the community. I’ve worked with plenty of women who had traits of lesbians I know that were not in fact lesbians. Had I assumed they were I would look like the idiot and possibly offend someone in the process.
Another statement in the workplace I would recommend avoiding is; but you don’t look gay. If someone takes the time to come out to you it may have been a tough decision for them to do, be respectful of that. By immediately responding with “but you don’t look gay” really diminishes what they may have originally thought of you. Coming out in the workplace is not always easy. Read here for another post I’ve written about this.
“Never assume you make an ass out of u and me” – words of wisdom
Years ago while researching something for a project I came across an interesting article. This article was titled “The Science of Gaydar” I remember it clearly because it was really long (but worth the read) and I’m a bit of a nerd and love ‘sciency’ things so it piqued my interest from two perspectives. This article goes into extensive detail on biological and scientific reasons of gaydar. If you are interested in reading it, it was the feature article in a June 2007 edition of New York Magazine. At any rate my point for bringing this up is that there are many articles out there that are based off of studies and data showing that gaydar is real.
I’m not here to question the validity of such claims. I’m here to state that regardless of whether or not it is real or you feel as if you have it, posing questions to your LGBT co-workers over the sexual orientation of someone else is not cool. Making such statements with friends and family happens – we are human after all. But making comments that could be perceived as derogatory or offensive with your co-workers and colleagues just won’t help your cause in a business setting.
What do you think?