Saturday, October 16, 2010

That’s So Gay/Lesbian/Straight!

[Originally written for Swish Edition.]

OKTrends, the research arm of the online dating and hookup site OKCupid, recently released a statistical analysis of the “hundreds of millions” of its gay and straight user interactions. The findings were presented in a blog post entitled “Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex,” which is a worthy read for Christian Rudder’s wry observations alone. The results are fascinating, and sometimes counterintuitive. While Rudder presents the study as one about sex, its most interesting findings are about the personality differences (and similarities) between gay and straight men and women. The site analyzed the “essay text” of its users’ profiles for phrases “most correlated to a particular sexual preference.” In other words, the most common phrases OKCupid members used to describe themselves, given their gender and sexual orientation.

I’ve taken the most common user phrases from the site and put them into a simple table* (see below). OKTrends broke out the results into four categories: gay, lesbian, straight male, and straight female. I’ve displayed in bold any response that refers to a specific artist or artistic work (be it a book, movie, play, or TV show), rather than a generic word or phrase (like “my band” or “baking”). Also, I’ve highlighted responses that represent matches between the categories with the following colors: yellow for gay/lesbian, pink for gay/straight female, green for gay/straight male, purple for straight male/straight female, and blue for the one instance of an intra-gay match (thanks to a spelling quirk).

Let’s take a closer look at the results.

The first thing you’ll notice is that gay men are most likely to refer to a specific artist or work in their profiles: a whopping 84% of the responses. Gay men are followed by lesbians (54%), straight males (31%), and straight females (20%). So a gay man is most likely to define himself by his taste in culture, while at the other end of the spectrum, a straight female is most likely to define herself by a more general descriptor (“independent,” “church,” “close with my mom,” “flip flops” [?!]). The top phrases for each category are

Gay: The Devil Wears Prada
Lesbian: The L Word
Straight male: Band of Brothers
Straight female: “My girlfriends”

Remarkably, only straight females have actual human beings as their top phrase. Apparently gay men prefer to mention the fictional bitchiness of Miranda Priestly over the flesh-and-blood bitchiness of their closest friends.

There are a plenty of quirky choices here, and I could spend all day picking them apart. For brevity’s sake, here are some highlights by category

Gay – While the usual suspects are present (Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Project Runway), there are also some genuine surprises. How to explain the handful of straight boy fetishes? X-Men, Final Fantasy, and Kill Bill are all mentioned here, but not on the straight male list. Notably, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald appear, while the stereotypical standbys Cher and Bette Midler are MIA. (Though M.I.A, herself, is ninth on the list.)

Lesbian – In his post, Rudder notes that “The L Word” is by far the top phrase among gay women. Seems about right. Yet, while gay women so identify with their cable TV show, gay men don’t with their analogue, Queer as Folk (which doesn’t even make the list). The general phrases on the lesbian list add up to a perfectly descriptive whole when read together: piercings, social justice, a girlfriend, writing poetry, my animals, tea, obsession, mom, drama, sex. Sound like anyone you know? By the way, the word “sex” only appears on the lesbian list. Go figure.

Straight male – I thought professional sports would dominate the list, but only one appears unambiguously: UFC. It’s unclear if the other sports are listed as activities the guys enjoy doing (like hunting, fishing, poker, and golf) or as purely spectator sports. Still: no football, basketball, baseball, or hockey. What gives? Perhaps, since this is a dating site, straight males are trying to signal something unique about themselves…and in turn are coming up with the exact same answers. Also, notice “a few beers” makes the list, rather than just “beer.” As far as physical descriptors go, OKCupid must have an inordinate number of “tall, dark, and handsome” gentlemen. Natch.

Straight female – There must be a good reason why “lip gloss” is second on the list, ahead of “wine,” “horseback riding” and Jane Eyre. I mean, lip gloss is great, but wine is so much better. Maybe that explains why I’m a gay man and not a straight woman.

I realize I’m being divisive by accentuating our differences. So let’s take a look at what brings us together. Keep in mind that OKTrends weeded out the non-statistically unique responses. That’s why no phrase appears on all four, or even three, of the lists. But a few responses unite two of the lists:

Gay/Lesbian – No surprise that the highest percentage of the matches are between gay men and gay women (34%). All are artists or works, except for two: “came out” and, adorably, “cuddling.” Somehow, Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower appears on both lists. Personally, I’ve never heard the novel mentioned by anyone I know – gay or straight. Is there a subset of homosexuals who adore MTV-published novels from the ‘90s that I don’t know about? This demands more research.

Gay/Straight female – Both are looking for “Mr. Right.” Lesbians and straight males, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about “Ms. Right.” They, perhaps, just want skanks. Who can blame them?

Gay/Straight male – Just kidding. Both gays and straight males mention “the right guy” and “the right woman,” respectively. So only lesbians are looking for skanks. Again, who can blame them?

Straight male/ Straight female – There are a bunch of country boys looking for country girls, and vice versa. I assume the country they’re looking for is the US, but one never knows nowadays.

Gay/Gay – “The theater” and “the theatre” both appear on the gay list. However they choose to spell it, gays love the stage. Someone alert the New York Times!

*Data courtesy of OKTrends: