I was a late bloomer in the romance department. For that, we can blame my introverted nature, or my low self-esteem, or maybe just my lack of prospects. When I was 22, I left my rural homeland and moved to a big city full of strangers. I moved because, deep down, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might not be the only lesbian in the world.
Incredibly, the hordes of queer ladies I had hoped to be welcomed by failed to materialize. Day after day I would walk out my door to go to work, and I would fail to find the perfect woman waiting for me on my doorstep, or at my bus stop, or draped across my desk.
I didn’t get it. I was here, I was queer, and my city was like “so what?”
I spent my twenties in a sort of passive denial. I kept hoping that I would meet my soulmate organically, while living my ordinary life. Years passed, and friends kept insisting that I had to be proactive if I wanted to meet women. But taking good advice wasn’t exactly my “thing” back then. Instead, I opted for falling in love with straight friends, over and over again, repeatedly breaking my own heart. This proved super effective and healthy.
I finally gave in and joined a queer social group at the age of 31, in the hopes of making queer friends and finding women to date. This very straightforward approach proved incredibly successful (hi, Kate!) but the process wasn’t without its hiccups. As I immersed myself in the metaphorical hot tub of the gay lady community, I was given several pieces of advice from fellow lesbians that made me raise a roughly hewn eyebrow (or two):
SUGGESTION 1: STEER CLEAR OF BISEXUAL WOMEN
On the surface, the queer community is all about inclusiveness. Just look at our acronym! My goal was to meet gay ladies, but as I got to know the people in my women’s group, I quickly realized that calling everyone a “lesbian” was inaccurate. We had bisexuals, and trans women, and gender non-conforming folks. There was even a cis straight woman!
We met twice a month. Sometimes the room was bursting at the seams with women, and other nights there were only a handful of us. I noticed that, when the group was small enough, when it was lesbian enough, people were less careful with their words.
This group was meant to be a safe space for women to speak openly. That’s harder than it sounds. You can let people speak their minds without judgment, or you can allow everyone a space to feel safe and respected. But doing both can be tricky. And so I was warned away from dating bisexual women.
I heard all the old, tired stereotypes. Bisexual women aren’t trustworthy. They won’t commit. They’re just experimenting. You’ll only get hurt. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
The lesbians spouting this garbage assured me that they knew what they were talking about because they had experience with bisexual women. As if that allowed them to speak about an entire group of people. If that’s any different from saying “don’t date black chicks,” I fail to see the distinction.
Verdict: I ignored Suggestion 1.
SUGGESTION 2: HIT IT AND QUIT IT
Throughout the course of several meetings, I opened up about the fact that I was still a virgin at age 31. Since literally everyone else in the group had more experience with women than I did, I deferred to their knowledge base. I quickly became their “project,” which made me slightly uneasy. But I knew I would have to stretch out of my comfort zone if I wanted to achieve my goal of lady-loving, so I kept my peace and told myself humility was a good thing.
I had made a new friend during the Pride Parade. She was smart, and sensitive, and a good listener. We hung out a lot, and over time I came to realize that she had feelings for me. How simple things would have been if I’d felt the same way back! But the attraction just wasn’t there.
Some of my group mates believed that my only obstacle to getting some action was the fact that no one was expressing interest. They were delighted to discover that there was someone out there who wanted me. On two separate occasions, I was advised to “hit it and quit it” with this chick.
I had no desire to have sex with someone I wasn’t attracted to, especially someone who had feelings for me. It seemed mean, and I was pretty sure it would make me feel worse instead of better.
Verdict: I ignored Suggestion 2.
SUGGESTION 3: BE MORE MASCULINE
Once I told the group that I was interested in women that were somewhat girly/feminine, I was told that I had to dress and behave a certain way in order to get anyone to date me. This included changing my wardrobe to more masculine clothing, being more assertive, paying for everything, and learning how to drive. (Oh, and also buying a car to drive.)
I didn’t feel butch; at least, not the idea of butch I had grown up with. But maybe I was wrong. I’ve always been quick to assume others know better than me in situations just like this. I was the novice lesbian, after all. What did I know?
So I listened as they told me I was meant to dress dapper, and pick my date up, and pay for dinner. Essentially, I was expected to “be the man.” This sounded very weird to me. Weren’t we a bunch of feminists raging against the patriarchy? Why were we including men in our lesbian activities?
Verdict: I dressed butch for a friend’s wedding, and I looked amazing. My behaviour, however, remained neutral.
SUGGESTION 4: BE MORE FEMININE
While half the group was telling me to embrace the butch aesthetic, the other half was insisting that I would never attract anyone unless I showed more skin. Low-cut blouses and/or tank tops were suggested as a way to draw attention to my woman-curves. Emphasize the goods, they said. Make sure people know they’re up for grabs (so to speak). And would it kill you to put on a little make-up? Can you at least look like you’re making an effort?
Obviously, I wanted date prospects to know that I cared about looking good for them. But I struggled with having the first idea how to do that.
I was accustomed to wearing unisex t-shirts, sweaters and hoodies. I shied away from anything hinting at cleavage, which left my top options (toptions!) pretty limited. The ladies assured me that showing a little bit of cleave would be flattering, and wouldn’t always be terrifying; it was something I would get used to and would help me gain confidence about my body.
I wanted to be seen as attractive. But it was starting to feel like the only way I could achieve that sort of support was through doing exactly as I was told. Would I have to follow someone else’s directions to the tee if I ever wanted to attract a lady? Wouldn’t that require an impossible level of upkeep?
I would have felt much more comfortable having someone interested in me based on the clothes I would wear everyday, or more to the point, based on things that had nothing to do with what I was wearing. I didn’t want to have to try so hard; not at this. I was willing to put infinite effort in when it came to sensitivity, and understanding, and making my woman laugh. But I was never going to be that girl who spent two hours “putting my look together.” Just, no.
Verdict: I bought a few tank tops that I rarely wear outside of the house.
SUGGESTION 5: SURPRISE THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT!
I eventually started dating a woman (hi, Kate!) but this didn’t stop the all-knowing lesbians from offering tips. Now, instead of “how to get a woman” advice, I was getting “how to satisfy a woman” advice. I figured the ladies probably knew their shit in this regard, so I was all ears. At first.
Some of it was common sense. Some of it was logistics. Most of it I already knew. Still, I listened intently as the ladies described their sexual experiences and suggested fun things I might like to try with a partner.
Then one day, in a conspiratorial whisper, one of them suggested I wake my girlfriend up in the morning by inserting a finger into her. Because she can’t say no if she’s not awake, amirite, ladies?
Verdict: *disgusted shudder*
The lesson I took away from all of this was that, in many ways, this group of lesbians was clinging to outdated stereotypes harder than the traditional-minded straight folk they were meant to be a haven from. The importance of filling certain roles, of dismissing certain groups outright, of refusing to be myself, felt completely counter to what I expected from a queer safe space. I also found it decidedly un-feminist to suggest rape as a way of being “playful” in bed.
I had walked into that women’s group expecting to learn a few things, and I did. I learned that opinions can vary widely, even among lesbians. I learned that having romantic experience with women doesn’t make you an expert on them. I learned that even virgins know a few things.
People love to give advice. More often than not, they give it with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it. Your inner voice matters, and you shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. Go with your instincts. You’ll do ok.
Trust me. I’m a lesbian.