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Your Gaydar is Broken: Gender Expression Does Not Dictate Sexuality

04/29/2014 01:13 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

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We've all said it before. You've got good "gaydar" and are able to clock a queer person from a mile away. Your identification process is an innate 6th sense that allows you to sniff out queers from the heteros. It's a complex system in which you're able to discern who likes to have sex with the same gender and those who don't. Except it's not that complex, it's actually pretty stereotypical. We base our assumptions on gender expression; on how feminine or masculine the person. But gender expression does not dictate someone's sexuality.

I'm guilty of it too; seeing a masculine woman or feminine man and not only identifying them as queer but usually placing them in binary boxes of either lesbian or gay. It's wrong, and it's a learnt trait we must unlearn. Gender and sexuality are two separate things. Both are fluid, both are beautiful but are separate identities nonetheless. Attempting to connect one with the other is wrong, and we have to stop doing it.

A societal construct, gender has changed and fluctuated depending on the era, culture, and place. What was once deemed socially acceptable for women to do, to say, or to wear 50 years ago is not necessarily our cultural standard today. The same goes for masculine standards or for those who fall somewhere else in the spectrum of gender. These social constructs change and are never actually permanent, even though we'd like to believe that they are. Just like gender, there is also a spectrum of gender expression.

Gender expression includes clothing, mannerisms, even personal traits that are typically connected to gendered groups. Different gender expressions include the masculine, the feminine, the androgynous, or even those who may not choose a specific display or expression of gender at all (though that's difficult in this extremely gendered society). Our expressions can, at times, represent our gender identity, but they don't necessarily have to. They are essentially mediums for self-expression and representation.

Our sexuality, on the other hand, is the capability of being sexually and/or romantically attracted to one or to multiple genders. It is very important to understand that gender expressions are not representative of sexualities. So why do we continue to link the two?

Part of the blame for this can fall on media. Heteronormativity is seen everywhere we look. Unrealistic standards have been setup: If you're a man then you're cisgender, and you're straight. The end. There is no room for painting outside the lines. If you're a woman you're to dress a certain way: high heels and dresses are for you and only you, and femininity (or, what Western culture has defined as "femininity") should be oozing from your pores. Media has projected these nicely painted boxes and we have jumped inside of them without question.

But not all blame can fall on the media; we also have to blame the queer community. While we have pushed the hetero community for the binaries, we have also reinforced other binary identities within the queer community. Men can only wear heels if they're impersonating women in drag. If they do wear heels, they're "too feminine" and not wanted by many in this "masc4masc" homonormative world. We also associate sexual preferences with these gender expressions (the more masculine the guy is the more likely we believe he is a "top," the more feminine the more we believe the person is a "bottom"). But we all need to realize that these are stereotypes and far from the truth when it comes down to daily, individual interactions.

The problem is that in our attempt to use our "gaydar" and label people, we are perpetuating the very stereotypes we have fought against for years and therefore limiting our community. When will we fully allow others and ourselves to express gender and sexuality however we please?

Men should be able to wear heels without being labeled queer, without any preconceived notions of sexual preferences, and without judgment. Women should be able to work in any male dominant profession without being tied down to the same labels and judgments. We've come a long way as a queer community but we have to stop linking these two. We need to stop substituting one binary worldview for another, because in the end we're just placing each other in different closets.