Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Studying Lesbians: Gaydar really does exist

Studying lesBians is a monthly column about recent and not so recent research on lesbians and the LGBT community as a whole. This month I want to discuss a study published a few weeks ago about the existence of Gaydar.

When I was much younger and I first started to realize I was into women, I tried desperately to spot other girls in my surroundings who felt the same way. I failed miserably and concluded that I was the only queer girl among a sea of straight women.

Of course, I did pick up on the few very obviously gay men and women who fall into the more stereotypical categories of being gay, but unless they were incredibly Butch or waving rainbow flags, all women appeard straight to me. In other words, I hadn't quite attuned my Gaydar yet.

These days I find it much easier to spot fellow queers, which is probably due to experience but also because unlike my teen self, I no longer think in extremes and I realize we come in all shapes and sizes.

Most of you can probably do the same thing, which would have us conclude there is such a thing as Gaydar. However, unless something has actually been researched scientifically, we can't really say it exist yet.

Luckily, some researchers managed to get some funding to look into Gaydar, to prove once and for all whether or not it's a bunch of nonsense or whether it really does exist.

A group of Dutch researchers published their article in the Frontier in Psychology this month entitled Sexual orientation biases attentional control: a possible gaydar mechanism. In their studies, the researchers had straight and homosexual participants process global and local features of visual stimuli trying to prove that being homosexual makes you better at paying attention to details, which in turn helps us with our Gaydar.

So everyone sat in the lab looking at squares with either just general lines or squares with a lot of detail in them. After looking at the squares for a certain amount of time, participants were asked to recall what the squares looked like.

Both male and female homosexual participants were better at recalling the squares with many details than their straight counter parts were.

In these studies they controlled for things like intelligence, age, social economic background etc. to make sure the straight and gay participants were comparable. It's only the first time psychological research into Gaydar has been done, so there is still a lot we do not know yet. Still, I find these results very interesting.

These studies indicate that it is indeed true that we as homosexuals pay more attention to detail and thus can spot each other better.

The more interesting question for me is whether we just happen to have this ability (Is it's genetic, just like being left handed or being gay) or whether we have just improved on our attention to detail over the years in order to be able to spot like minded people better.

I am sure it is only a matter of time until someone will try to answer that question scientifically as well. Until then, let's speculate among ourselves: Do you think there really is such a thing as Gaydar? And if so, is it something genetic or something you develop over time?

This post was first published on eurout.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lists Are Hot: 8 European LesBian TV and Movie Characters

Lists are hot is a monthly column for all those who love lists. This month I want to talk about some of our favourite European lesBian TV and movie characters.

LesBian characters on TV and in movies are few and far between. Cool and/or interesting characters are even more scarce. Here are some lesBian characters from the recent past who I though were worthy of our viewing time.

8. Carla on Verbotende Liebe

It was nice to see a relatively normal lesBian couple on German soap Verbotene Liebe. Carla and Stella were a joy to watch and did even get a happy end. I didn't really watch this show religiously, but I always liked the fact they had such a longstanding lesbian character in the form of Carla

Carla was a countess, which in soap land means rich, smart, beautiful and with a very exciting life. She was on Verbotende Liebe for years, and especially at the end was even allowed to have a long term relationship. I think European TV land could use a few more Carla's.

7. Fariba from Fremde Haut (Unveiled)

A lesBian movie that made quite an impression on me was Fremde Haut (Unveiled), a 2005 movie about an Iranian woman named Fariba who has to flee her country to avoid prosecution. Fariba tries to seek asylum in Germany, but she is denied residency. To avoid being send back to Iran and risk being killed for being a lesbian, she takes on the identity of an Iranian man from the refugee camp who has committed suicide.

It's interesting to see what her experiences are like both as an asylum seeker as well as living like a man. The latter becomes especially interesting when she meets Anne, who she falls in love with.

6. Kelly from La Vie est a Nous

I never quite understood most of the storylines on French soap La Vie est a Nous. They did not really make much sense to me, but that didn't really matter because it was all worth it just to get a glimpse of Kelly.

I thought Kelly was attractive and felt bad for all the stuff the writers made her go through. Even though the storylines ended up getting really bad, I will always think back fondly of a clip I've watched way too often Cooking with Garance.

5. Emily on Skins

I used to love the British teen drama Skins back in Season 3, or at least I loved the whole Emily and Naomi storyline. Season 4 kind of ruined it for me, but I still think that Emily as a character is pretty cool.

She's a teenager who after the usual hesitation is not afraid to come out and admit she likes girls and that she's in love with Naomi, despite what others might think. We need more cool queer teenagers like that on TV shows.

4. Ayten in Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of heaven)

Auf der anderen Seite (the Edge of heaven) is a 2007 German movie about the differences between everyday life in Germany and Turkey. It tells the story of Nejat who after his father dies, goes to Turkey to search for Ayten, the daughter of his father’s prostitute girlfriend. What he doesn’t know is that Ayten is a political activist who has already left Turkey and is currently in Germany.

I like Ayten for the fact that she so strongly believes in something, her opportunistic nature (after meeting Lotte for 5 minutes she moves in with her and her mother. Although one could argue she's just being a typical lesbian) and the fact she's really hot doesn't hurt either.

3. Agnes in Fucking Amal (Show me love)

My favourite European lesbian movie is probably Fucking Amal (Show me love), the Swedish film from 1998 about two seemingly different teenage girls who go to the same high school in a little town called Amal and end up falling in love with each other.

I love Agnes, who is a shy girl with not many friends and a huge crush on Elin, the most popular girl in school. Life seems terribly hard, the way it can only feel when you are a teenager, until she finds out her crush likes her back and everything changes. She's a pretty cool and cute 14 year old.

2. Pepa on Los Hombres de Paco

I used to love to watch Spanish TV show Los Hombres de Paco. Granted, it was very very weird, but I loved the character of Pepa and her relationship with Silvia. I am not talking about what they have done with her this season (Is anyone still watching?), but about the brazen, hot, funny and sometimes bad decisions making Pepa during the few seasons she was pursuing Silvia. You know, in the days before she was sleeping with guys.

1. Luce in Imagine me and you

My favourite TV and movie lesbian has to be Luce from the British comedy Imagine me and you from 2005. For those of you who've never seen this film, it tells the story of Rachel who is about to marry her long term boyfriend Heck, whom she has always thought of as the love of her life. That’s when she meets Luce and everything changes.

Luce is a florist who's witty, charming, fun to hang out with and also really hot. The lovely Lena Heady does a great job in portraying this character.

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That concludes the list of European Lesbian characters from TV and film. So what do you think? Do you agree with the list? Are there any characters missing? Let us know in the comments.

Read previous lists are hot columns here.

This post was first published on eurout.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Studying LesBians: Dutch study looks into whether a gay friendly work environment is profitable

Studying lesBians is a monthly column about recent and not so recent research on lesbians and the LGBT community as a whole. This month I want to discuss a recent study into profitable effects of a gay friendly work environment.

I am very lucky to work at university, where in general the work environment is very gay friendly. I have always been surrounded by out colleagues and I've never encountered any problems regarding my sexual orientation at work.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky. What makes a work environment gay friendly is probably a combination of several factors, including the line of work you're in and what kind of people work there.

One of the major influences on how gay friendly your place of work is, is the general atmosphere at work, which for a big part is decided by management of the company you work for.

When the people in charge are very positive and open towards people's individual differences, this will influence the rest of the workers as well. Either by seeing sexual orientation is not a big deal or because homophobia isn't tolerated.

There can be many different reasons why the company you work for is gay friendly or not, but a big influence for most bosses is whether something is profitable or not. Therefore, it's much more effective to tell companies being gay friendly can make them money than that it's "the right thing to do".

I was very interested to hear about a research report that was published in the Netherlands last week that looked into the pros of a gay friendly work environment on the Dutch business world (You can read the entire report in Dutch here).

The study was conducted in name of the Dutch ministry of economics, who asked the SEOR to look into it last summer.

Each year Stonewall publishes the Top 100 most gay friendly companies

The first thing I noticed was the difference between how the report was discussed in the gay media and what the report really said. For example, Dutch LGBT youth website Expreszo, wrote that a gay friendly work environment lowers costs and increases market share. In addition, the GayKrant's headline is "Visibility gay workers good for companies."

This is mainly because that's what the press report said that's been sent around, however when you read the actual research report they are far less positive and certain than that. In fact, the main conclusion of the study starts with:

There is insufficient hard evidence to prove that diversity pays and that economic advantages can therefore be gained from effective diversity policy and a good working climate for homosexuals in particular. The business case is therefore not strong.

Now, that doesn't sound very positive to me. I do have to admit that the rest of the report is rather positive and goes into much detail about every way in which having a more gay friendly work environment can benefit companies.

For example, they give specific suggestions what companies could do to be more gay friendly, including giving more recognition and acknowledgement to the specific position of homosexuals at the place of work.

This mainly includes increasing awareness, being supportive and a whole list of other stuff that sort of speaks for itself as things that would improve our positions at work.

Benefits for companies are mainly on the individual level, as if you can be out at work and be yourself without getting hassled, you are a happier and more productive worker, don't call in sick as often etc etc. They name other advantages, but I'm not sure if every company wants things like "a gay friendly image".

They also list reasons that prevent companies from having a gay friendly policy, including management not understanding the importance of diversity policy, they are worried about their image or they simply think there's no need for diversity as they aren't aware of their closeted workers.

Reading through the report I noticed that even though more and more companies have some sort of diversity policy on paper, there are still only few Dutch companies who actively do something with it.

I am not sure whether this is worrying or that perhaps things aren't that bad in many companies and no specific plans need to be in place. Unfortunately, the report doesn't go into detail about this.

The report stresses good reasons to implement diversity plans are that they don't really cost that much, the labour market is changing and becoming more diverse, and the importance of corporate social responsibility. I wonder if that's enough to have those companies that aren't that gay friendly yet switch practices.

All in all it's an interesting and much needed study, but unfortunately like many of these reports, the results aren't very specific or conclusive. They suggest more research is needed to give a clearer picture, which in other words means it will be a while before something will really be done.

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What do you think of this study? How gay friendly is your place of work? Do you wish they had a diversity policy or do you think there's no need for it?

This post was first published on eurout.