Gaydar: How To Talk About Sexuality

How to Ask if Someone is Gay

Sexuality is a topic of heated debate all over the world. In America, we’ve been making strides to turn this into a normalized conversation. When you’re making friends or building relationships, sexuality often plays a role in those interactions. So, what if you meet someone, and you have a feeling this person is part of the LGBTQ+ community?

Remember, everyone is human, and we’re all trying our best. But we understand that curiosity is a part of human nature. Sometimes you need to know in order to point a conversation in the right direction, sometimes it is because you are interested in the person romantically, and sometimes it is just wanting to know so you can connect with them on another level of friendship. Whatever the reason is, there are right and wrong ways to start the conversation. It can be a minefield trying to figure out the right thing to say, or if you should even bring it up! But don’t worry, starting conversations like these can be awkward, but like riding a bike, it gets easier and smoother with confidence, practice, and the right tools.

smiling man waving a rainbow flag
Everybody deserves to feel included and accepted, LGBT-affiliated or otherwise.

Often times the hesitance to have these types of conversations comes from the fear of offending someone. You don’t want to ask someone who isn’t gay if they are and offend them, you don’t want to ask someone who is gay if they are and have them think you are going to treat them differently! So remember, if you mean well, those subtle cues of inclusivity will shine through.

Question Yourself

First things first. Before you talk to someone about their sexuality, have a conversation with yourself!

Is their sexuality relevant to you?

It’s important to know why you need to know this. Curiosity is a valid reason as this subject should be more widely accepted, and as a friendship grows wanting to know more about someone is normal. The more open we are, the less of a stigma there will be.

If there is an actual relevance, like the earlier example with wanting to date or deepening your friendship, then that is a solid starting point. Keep it in mind as your anchor as you move forward.

Will this change your opinion of this person?

Either way is important to know going in. If you’re going to treat the person differently, you should realize this. If you’re going to treat them poorly if you don’t like the answer (either way), then you’re better off not knowing.

Are you willing to keep their secret if they’re not comfortable with more people knowing?

Unfortunately, we still have people harassing members of the LGBTQ+ community. We still have anti-gay torture camps, and we still have hate crimes. As much as we’d like to bring everyone into the light, it’s their personal choice to disclose this information. If you feel like this is a secret you would not, or cannot, keep, reconsider whether you really need to know.

Are you at least on a friendly footing?

This seems like a given, but I felt like I should mention it anyway. Be on at least some kind of pleasant relationship with this person.

This is the difference between eating ice-cream on a bench with someone and then navigating into more serious territory, and sitting next to someone on the bus, then you open the conversation with a question on their dating practices. Without some entry, it will most likely come off as awkward and unwanted.

Individual Unknown

You did it. You took the time to educate yourself and prepare. Now here are some tips to get you started:

hands holding rainbow LGBTQ letters
Revealing hidden information can be scary. Remember to be sensitive to another’s fears.

Offer a nicety

Generally speaking, if you come to someone with a peace offering, whatever you’re asking will start off well. This can be as small as a genuine compliment. And if the hints weren’t enough, ice-cream is a popular choice, same as coffee.

State your answers to the above checklist

If it’s relevant, you won’t change how you treat them, you’re respectful of their choice, and you’re at least on a friendly level, you can ask. Work it into the conversation and be natural. Don’t just come right out with the list.

Ask respectfully about their sexual orientation

A common one would be: “Hey, I’m wondering if you’re gay. It’s important because [above stated reason]. This doesn’t affect things. I’m just curious.” Don’t just walk up and say: “Ay, I just wanna know. You gay?!”

An Example Situation

Theo just moved to a new neighborhood, and he wants to make friends in the community. He noticed earlier that his neighbor, Ophelia, hosted a neighborhood garage sale the week before he moved in. He feels like getting to know her would be a good way to ease into the social pool.

He also noticed that she is single, cares for her garden, and has a lot of stickers on her car. One of them is a rainbow flag. Theo assumes that this means Ophelia is a lesbian or that she is a part of the LGBT community as an ally.

Conscientious, Theo would like to make a good impression, but knows that any conversation will be skewed if he doesn’t know how to address Ophelia. He loves gardening too and has noticed how kind she is. So, he asks if he can bring over some new potting soil and help prepare her garden for spring. She readily agrees.

As he walks over, potting soil in hand, Theo answers the prior questions in his head. He likes Ophelia and wants to at least have a friendly footing in the community, but he is also interested in dating. He is fairly sure she is open with her sexuality, but still wants to maintain decorum. His opinion of her won’t change, only his knowledge.

rainbow painted pride face
Pay attention to the masks people wear. Is it because they feel unsafe? How can you create a safe space?

“Morning,” Theo says, and waits near the garden gate. “It’s a great day, isn’t it?”

“It sure is,” Ophelia replies and waves him forward. “Thank you so much for this, it saves me a trip to the store.” The two get to work spreading the loamy earth into the planter. After a while of pleasant talk, Ophelia mentions a new event coming up, Pride Month, and how she is planning a float idea. Theo sees his chance.

“I did notice the stickers on your car, and I was wondering how you identified in the community,” he says. “I’m heterosexual, and I consider myself an ally. I was just curious because I’d like to get to know you more and wasn’t sure how to proceed.”

Ophelia smiles at that and sets her garden trowel down. “So the stickers did their job, huh? That’s good to know. Thanks for being direct about it; I’d like to think I’m bisexual, but you know what? I’m really not sure. Dating is a lot harder than what you read about.”

Theo now knows more about his neighbor, how to treat her, and in the process, built more of a friendship, wherever it leads.

This should get you the information you need while maintaining mutual respect. And I can’t state this enough: everyone is human with different facets, wants, and desires. Everyone is trying to make it through the day from high school students to senior citizens.  Yes, sexuality is important because it makes up a large portion of our behavior, but it doesn’t define a person. Let’s make our world a better place, one respectful conversation at a time.

About The Author:
Cassandra Love

With over a decade of helpful content experience Cassandra has dedicated her career to making sure people have access to relevant, easy to understand, and valuable information. After realizing a huge knowledge gap Cassandra spent years researching and working with health insurance companies to create accessible guides and articles to walk anyone through every aspect of the insurance process.

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