I used to be skeptical of the concept of “gay-dar,” arguing that it reinforces harmful stereotypes. And intellectually, I guess I still find it somewhat problematic for that reason.
But at the same time, I just can’t deny the real, lived experience of exchanging a look with someone that seems to say, “I’m queer, too.”
I didn’t really start noticing this until after I came to terms with the fact that I’m a trans man, so I think the reason that “gay-dar” never made sense to me before that was I was uncomfortable with my own queerness, so it made sense that I was not tuned to other people’s. I think it also has to do with the fact that I wasn’t visibly queer until after I started to present in line with my masculine identity. Now, if I’m recognized as FAAB (which a good deal of the time, I am) it’s obvious that something about me isn’t everyone’s idea of “normal” in terms of gender or sexuality.
So now that I’m pretty visibly queer and comfortable with my own queerness, I feel as if sometimes people make eye contact with me in this way that cishet people don’t, a look that’s knowing and affirming. In the context of a culture that assumes cisgender identity and heterosexuality, the look is often accompanied by the slightest of smirks, like an amusing secret, that seems to say, “Yeah, I’m not ‘normal’ either.”
I take issue with a lot of ways in which all people who aren’t cishet are lumped together. Like I said, I’m really wrestling with the implications of this intellectually. But I just can’t deny that this is something that I feel like I experience with startling frequency. And if that’s problematic, I’m willing to explore why.
What’s interesting to me is that you say “visibly queer”. I know what kind of look you mean, but the thing is, for me that’s something that occurs a couple times a year. Actually I remember the last time I felt like someone randomly noticed how queer I was, and it was in February. I know why, too. It was a black tie thing, and I was one of three women in there not wearing a dress.
Most of the time in gay bars I think they think I’m just tagging along with friends. Especially gay men - I’ve had them talk about attractive men with me when I didn’t even know them. (I don’t know, maybe that happens to butch lesbians too? :P) Usually I have a lesbian friend come to my rescue. One time I ended up having to rate the entire Dutch national soccer team, which was fun, but I have my straight friends for that. Of course I should pretend I’m not bisexual in those cases.
That’s my problem with other people’s gaydar - I feel like I’m usually not on it, and that is completely due to how femme I am.