I was at a seminar with a group of people recently when one of them declared that he was gay. In the lunch break, one of my friends slipped over to me and whispered,
Of all the people, I never would have guessed that this guy was gay.
I didn’t follow my friend’s surprise. I hadn’t really had the chance to think about the guy too much since his declaration came pretty early in the day. But if I had had a chance to spend a little more time and if I’d been asked to hazard a guess, I’d have guessed him to be gay.
Why? According to my friend, he didn’t display any of the ‘classic gay mannerisms’ by which I take he meant the whole effeminate-loose-limbed thing that Bollywood portrays as homosexuality. Obviously. This person’s body language didn’t stand out as different. There was nothing even remotely effete about him.
And still I’m quite certain I’d have caught him on my gaydar. There was something, a little difficult to describe that set him apart from the straight men. A softness, a gentleness, a certain something that showed him to be very close to and cognizant of his own emotions.
I’m not saying that straight men are insensitive or stupid with their emotions (though a number of them may be). I’m saying that women and men, straight men that is, process their emotions and express them differently. What do we mean when we say that women are ‘in touch’ with their emotions? It means that our emotions are as close to our conscious, working minds as say, our clothes are to our bodies. We don’t really need to think too much about how we feel because well, it’s a film that’s constantly running, we already know. Chances are, if you ask a woman how she feels about something at a point of time, she will articulate her feelings much more precisely and vividly and accurately than the average man. I don’t think it is because women feel more or that we talk more. I think it’s just that we tend to keep our emotions closer to our consciousness and constantly some part of our brain is processing,
How do I feel about this? What is this feeling called? What else am I feeling? Do they contradict each other? Do they overlap?
I have a feeling men do this slightly differently. Obviously since I’ve never been a man, all I can do is guess but I’m thinking emotions are more like furniture in their mind. They don’t really think too much about it unless there’s a new piece to fit in, which they do as quickly and painlessly as they’re able to. Once that’s fitted into their minds, they focus on other things and don’t bother about it anymore, unless something demands their attention. Which may be when you pose the same above question to a man, his response will most likely be to look startled as if the thought of thinking about emotions (furniture?) didn’t occur to him at all. After which he pauses to think about it or look around inside him mind and perhaps he’ll catch something amiss. Wherein we go on to his taking time to analyze what’s different (or not). If it isn’t like the way he’s expecting to find it, he’ll probably be even more confused and dumbfounded over why you brought it to his notice in the first place.
Okay, so all of that is just the difference between men and women and how they handle their emotions. I’m saying gay men do this the way women do and not the way (straight) men do. It’s really subtle and after all, you can’t really tell what anyone’s thinking inside their heads. But if you pay attention, you might catch a glimpse of what goes on behind by what passes on their faces.
Our gay colleague didn’t hesitate for a minute in identifying and airing his opinions about the so-called soft issues of emotions. What’s more, his speech was liberally spiced with words like “I feel” as opposed to the more straight-guy-speak of “I think”. These two are used interchangeably in everyday speech but if you think about it, you may notice that women use “I feel” more than men do. And our gay pal did too, unlike the other men in the room. And hence quipped my internal gaydar,
Another thing to add is how men react to a woman’s physical presence. This isn’t something I could comment on in this particular case since Mr.Gay was seated across the room and most likely hadn’t seen me till then. There is a certain way men look at women in the first few moments. There’s an internal data-capture happening of all the visual aspects and as a woman, you can sense it. In streetspeak, it’s called ‘being checked out’. Sometimes it happens in a flash of a second, a full body scan in a second. All men do it to all women they meet. With the exception perhaps, of gay men.
Do you notice that gay men look at you straight in the eye while speaking and continue to keep looking right there? They’re waiting, watching for your response, seeking your validation, trying to guage what you’re feeling. Very like a woman. Straight men on the other hand, look at you, look around, occasionally look down, sometimes fixate on your bustline or waist or nose. They only look at you straight in the eye when they’re being aggressive, either threatening you or trying to intimidate you or going all out to seduce you. In all cases, a focussed, aggressive action. Straight eye contact is aggressive as far as the straight man goes. It’s connecting as far as women and gay men go.
That’s the difference. And the ability to catch that is what we call gaydar.