Queer Women Who Have Only Dated Men Are Queer

Queer women who have only dated men are queer.

Queer women who are currently in a monogamous relationship with a man are queer.

Queer women who are not out to everyone or anyone are queer.

Queer women who have no idea if they’ll ever (be able to) date a woman are queer.

How do I know? Because they say so!

I won’t bother linking to the latest article that attempts to argue otherwise, but here’s a great rebuttal. The conclusion:

Here’s how the author and xojane could have used the space of this article to make the queer world safer and more welcoming for multi-gender-attracted women: Queerness is about how you feel and identify, not the stats of whom you’ve dated or fucked. Coming out is difficult, especially when people try to shove you back in the closet. You don’t ever have to come out, and you’re the best judge of under what circumstances that’s a good idea for you. If you do want to come out, you have every right to, even if you’re uncertain of your identity or you’ve come out differently before. You are not responsible for other people’s misreadings of you, and it’s up to you whether to correct their biphobia. You’re not letting the rest of us down by taking care of yourself. There is huge variation among bi and queer people, and you don’t have to meet a quota of attraction frequency or intensity in order to be one of us. You are one of us. You are enough. Welcome.

I sense a lot of fear in some queer women (especially, but not exclusively, those who identify as lesbians) that people will try to co-opt our identities in order to gain inclusion and acceptance in our spaces even though these people supposedly know deep down that they’re not “actually” queer. (That, at least, is my steel-manned version. I’m sure some of these folks also think that people can be wrong when they identify as queer.) On one hand, it makes sense that some would envy our loving, supportive communities–flawed and in-progress as they are–because your average straight person might not even have access to a group of people who affirm them. Yes, heterosexuality is culturally affirmed, but individual straight people still have to deal with slut-shaming, toxic masculinity, and other harmful ideas related to sexuality. And queer communities certainly aren’t immune to them, but they tend to have more of a language for naming and working through these issues. That’s certainly enviable.

On the other hand, if someone is feeling so unsupported and dismissed in non-queer spaces that they feel an urge to seek out queer spaces (considering that queerphobia is very much still a thing), I would wonder if this person might not be straight. Really. Many people who are initially certain that they’re straight but nevertheless feel some sort of…some itchiness, some discomfort, around the whole straight thing, later come out as queer. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to disagree with people who say they’re straight, but it does mean that we have to give people room to figure themselves out.

I wrote recently that the reason many queer spaces also explicitly include allies isn’t necessarily because it’s very important to include straight people, but because that provides a way for closeted queers or those who are questioning to explore queer identities and communities without having to out themselves. The same applies to people who do identify as queer but apparently aren’t queer enough for your satisfaction. Almost every queer person goes through a period of time in which they know themselves to be queer but have not yet had any sexual or romantic experiences with a person of the same gender. That period of time may last days or years or decades, and you are not a better person for having a shorter one.

What’s confusing to me about all this derision that some queer women feel towards some other queer women is that most of us seem to wish there were more queer women around, for friendship or community or sex/dating, and most of us acknowledge that we really are a pretty small minority and that that’s difficult. That shy queer girl who comes to your space and admits that she’s only ever dated men and gets a whole ton of derision and condescension and policing in response isn’t going to come back. She may even believe your bullshit and decide that she must be straight after all. (Remember that identity is fluid and socially constructed, especially for women, and yes, a person who was genuinely queer at one point in time can be bullied into believing that they’re straight.) As theunitofcaring notes:

making bi girls feel unwelcome in LGBT+ spaces makes them KISS GIRLS LESS OFTEN my fellow lesbians I just need to point out that this is is a CATASTROPHIC STRATEGIC FAILURE on our part

If making bi/otherwise-deemed-not-queer-enough women feel unwelcome is so counterproductive, why do some queer women do it? I have a theory, though I’m not sure how accurate it is. I think that our current climate, Supreme Court decisions notwithstanding, makes it really difficult sometimes to conceptualize queerness separately from marginalization and suffering. We fall into the trap of thinking that it’s experiencing tons of homophobia, not falling outside of traditional norms of attraction and identity, that makes us queer. And so, if the way you’ve been living your life has mostly sheltered you from that homophobia, then you’re not “really queer.” But as Lindsay King-Miller writes in response to a letter from a woman who doesn’t feel like she “deserves” the label “bisexual”:

I know you think you haven’t earned your non-straight orientation because you’ve never faced discrimination, but here’s the thing: you do not have to have suffered to be queer. Wait, can I say that again, much louder? YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE SUFFERED TO BE QUEER. We don’t have hazing rituals. Yes, most of us have experienced discrimination at some point in our lives—and I’m sorry to say that you probably will too, if you date this girl/any girl in a publicly visible way—but that’s not what makes us queer. I worry that focusing on suffering as the arbiter of queer experience leads us to downplay what’s great about our lives and may even scare some people (maybe you!) out of coming out. If you are a lady and you want to date a lady, you’ve already passed the initiation.

That said, I also really hate the idea that closeted queer women can’t possibly have experienced any Real Oppression™. The microaggressions we constantly hear–sometimes from people who’d never say that out loud if they knew–are oppressive. Not being able to come out is oppressive. Invisibility is oppressive.

Some queer women refuse to acknowledge that there are valid reasons why other queer women might not have dated any women, or come out to certain people in their lives. Coming out and living openly as a queer person is difficult, which, paradoxically, makes it tempting to become self-aggrandizing and think of yourself as better than those who haven’t (yet) made the journey. That’s a survival mechanism. But when survival mechanisms turn into weapons against other marginalized people, it stops being okay or acceptable.

So here’s a non-comprehensive list of reasons why a queer woman might not have dated any women, or come out at all, that are not “she’s not actually queer”:

  1. Numbers. According to a 2014 survey, 1.6% of Americans identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% identify as bisexual. Those are…pretty fucking tiny numbers. Even though the percentage of people who have had sex with someone of the same gender is higher, if you’re a queer person, you’re probably not going to seek out straight people with the hopes that they’ll be interested in adding to that percentage.
  2. Lack of community connections. With such dismal probabilities, how do queer people ever meet each other? Often, it’s through communities, whether formal (LGBT centers, Meetup groups) or informal (circles of friends who form around similar interests, lifestyles, and worldviews, including acceptance of queerness). As I’ve just shown, queer women who have not yet had any female partners aren’t always welcome in these communities. So how are they going to find any women to date or hook up with?
  3. Lack of scripts. Everyone knows how heterosexual dating goes. Boy meets girl, blahblahblah. These scripts are not always healthy or ultimately conducive to a good relationship, but at least they exist. Many queer women who are just coming out, especially those who are used to dating men, feel terrified that they don’t know “how to date women.” It may be an irrational fear to some extent–you date them just like you date anyone else–but nonetheless, that’s what happens when you never see people like you represented in the stories we tell about love and sex and relationships. In the face of that fear, many of us end up paralyzed, and those who are interested in men wind up in relationships with them instead.
  4. Gender roles. Related to the previous point, it can be very difficult to break out of the traditional boy-asks-girl-out-on-date thing. Obviously, plenty of women do ask people (including men) out on dates, but if you’re a woman who has always dated men and now want to date women, you might not have any experience with making the first move. Personally speaking, that paralyzed me for a while. Like, years. It’s only recently that I started actually asking women out, and you know what helped me most up until that point? Compassionate queer women giving me advice, not yelling at me that I’m actually straight or writing articles about me on xoJane.
  5. Homophobia. When did we collectively decide that homophobia just isn’t a thing anymore, and if you’re scared to come out or openly date people of the same gender, then you’re the one with the problem? Really, I want to know, because last I checked, homophobia is very much a thing. Don’t forget that there are still many people in the U.S. who would lose their entire families if they came out as queer.  (And while I don’t want to unfairly cast blame on immigrant communities, which already face stereotyping and racism, I do want to say as an immigrant that white Americans tend to be very ignorant of some of the challenges we face when it comes to coming out, and they forget that not all of the steps forward that their dominant culture has made are necessarily replicated in our communities. Here is a piece I want everyone to read regarding this.)
  6. Biphobia. How many pieces like that awful xoJane one do you think it would take to convince a bi/pan woman that other queer women want nothing to do with her? For me, it took only a few, and there are always more pieces like that coming out. (There was also the time that a lesbian told me that the reason many lesbians won’t date bi women is because they’re “more likely to have STIs.”) It’s probably not a coincidence that most of the women I date are bi and have mostly only dated men, because these are the only women I feel like I can trust not to hate me.
  7. Internalized homophobia. Many queer women can’t bring themselves to date other women because on some level they still feel that it’s wrong, that they don’t deserve it, and so on. Internalized homophobia can be very sneaky and can manifest itself years after you’d thought you had a handle on everything. I used to think I don’t experience internalized homophobia because I truly never felt that there was anything wrong or bad about me because I’m queer. Then I found myself actually trying to date and couldn’t escape this awful pessimism about it: I felt like no matter what, it would never work out anyway, and no woman could ever want me, and even trying was completely pointless. Where were these feelings coming from? Eventually I realized that they stemmed from internalized homophobia. They came from the belief that this world just isn’t made for people like me and that our stories will inevitably end in loneliness or tragedy. Try dating successfully with an attitude like that. I didn’t get very far until I’d acknowledged it and started to work through it. Other women may have to work through deeply-ingrained feelings of shame or disgust, too.
  8. Chance. Most people will only be interested in a fairly small percentage of the eligible people they meet, and only some unknown percentage of them might like them back. Combine that with the sobering statistics at the beginning of this list, and you’ll probably wind up with quite a few queer women who haven’t dated any other women simply because the opportunity hasn’t come up.

That’s just a preliminary list. If you use your imagination, you will probably be able to think of plenty of other reasons why someone might not act on every aspect of their internal identity all the time, starting with the fact that they don’t owe it to anyone.

Some people choose to use a label that reflects their outward behavior, which is okay. Some people choose to use a label that reflects their inner experience, which is also okay. There is something disturbingly hazing-like in the logic of these demands that all women who call themselves queer open themselves up to the maximum amount of homophobia: You Must Suffer As We Have Suffered.

If we make suffering or bravery or not giving a fuck what anyone thinks of you the cost of admittance to Being Queer, then we have only ourselves to blame if people decide to stay in the closet and seek community and solidarity and love elsewhere.

~~~

I acknowledge that this article reflects a very binary view of gender; this tends to be inevitable when I’m writing in response to a particular view that’s already being couched in those terms (“Queer women who only date men are not queer”). I don’t know what these people would say about women who have only dated men and nonbinary people, or who have only dated nonbinary people, or nonbinary people who have only dated men, or etc. etc. I’m not sure that people who make such ridiculous claims as “queer women who only date men are not queer” are even aware that gender is not a binary, so.

~~~

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Queer Women Who Have Only Dated Men Are Queer

13 thoughts on “Queer Women Who Have Only Dated Men Are Queer

  1. 2

    I’m glad you didn’t link to the original xoJane article (I was a masochist and read it, and even as a relatively straight person it’s pretty horrifying), but the comments there are fantastic.

  2. 3

    This sounds exactly like the gatekeeping wars over “fake” geek girls. Foreboding, considering it’s earlier in the Overton shift, before widespread public acceptance puts the lie to the ‘forged in flames’ mythos — and the geek bros didn’t let that stop them.

    It also sounds like immigrant communities have a similar dynamic. I guess solidarity blinds people to the essentialist stereotyping that both defines and stagnates their collective identity.

  3. 4

    Thanks for writing this. It’s something that I’ve thought about at length, but explained better than I ever could.

    My own little experience with bi-phobia: My ex-husband used to tell me I was merely “bi-curious” because I’d never been in a relationship with a woman. It took me years to articulate why that bothered me. By that logic, a person who has never had sex is asexual.

    The microaggressions we constantly hear–sometimes from people who’d never say that out loud if they knew–are oppressive.

    I’m (mostly) in the closet. When the SCOTUS decision legalizing same-sex marriage came down, my boss said something to the effect of, “it’s legal to be bi now.” I almost started to correct him, but I decided it would be better for my career if I didn’t.

    Living in a rather rural area, I find it difficult both to find a supportive community and to find people to date who are both interested in me and accepting of my identifying as pansexual. Plus it’s a fairly conservative area, so most people here (my boss included) aren’t afraid to be vocal about their homophobia/biphobia.

  4. 6

    So as a straight cis dude in a monogamous long-term relationship with a lesbian, I have a whole lot of thoughts about this. But I’ll just leave it at this for now: you’re really fucking good at this whole “writing” and “thinking” thing.

  5. 8

    I cannot thank you enough for your words. There are affirmations in here that I want to sticky-note all over my house. I’ve been afraid of not being queer enough my entire life, finally in my mid-20s feeling brave enough to step foot into queer spaces only to experience the pain of feeling kinship with a group that might not want you. Dating a straight person and/or bringing them into that sphere can feel very dangerous to the dubious connections I already have in that community. I’ve become estranged from (queer) friends because I feel like a sham.

    To the excellent points already made by you I’d like to add that of the abundant number of straight men available to me as a bi woman who dates men, very few are able to understand that my dating them does not invalidate my queerness. To be in a relationship that actively and daily buries your identity can be very painful, and finding a partner – any partner – who does not contribute to that burying through ignorance or fear is one of the biggest challenges of dating as a bi/pan person.

  6. GG
    9

    I think an issue a lot of us have with queer women who are partnered with cis het men is not how they are feeling on the inside. It’s not whether or not they are queer. I am not gold star. I have dated straight men. I don’t anymore and my life is completely different. Completely different from when I was a teenager identifying as bisexual but only partnering with cis het men and having drunk one night stands with straight girls. Completely different. I like to spend time with people who understand what that is like. I am happy to spend time with people who are new to that. Did it take me some time to ease into queer spaces? Sure. But, that is because those spaces are sacred and needed and not for everyone. There’s a difference between someone who feels comfortable dating a straight person or in a hetero partnership and someone who will only date queers. Both kinds of queers are queer, but there are reasons why the former and the latter don’t always click.

    Over time queer spaces have become more and more centered around making people who are straight or who are in cis het partnerships more comfortable- often at the cost of people who are dealing with queer/trans oppression all of the time. Queer separatist spaces were built by people who had nowhere safe to go. Many of us still need that. And now we have queer-identified women who are married to/partnered to straight cis men insisting that they are being oppressed if they aren’t allowed to bring their boyfriends to queer separatist spaces. We have straight people calling themselves “hetero queer” because they took a gender studies course. We have people policing queer peoples attractions and dating preferences if they aren’t attracted to cis het people. We have people being accused of “biphobia” if they prefer to date people who are not in relationships with straight men. We even have cis bisexual people in hetero partnerships saying that there is “lesbian privilege” and “gay privilege” and “trans privilege.” Those of us not in hetero relationships and who have dealt with discrimination and oppression know how bullshit these things are. And, the demands to add heteronormativity and actual straight men to queer spaces heterosexualizes those spaces.

    I think that queer people in heterosexual relationships, queer people who prefer to date heterosexually, queer women who only date straight men but “I don’t know I could see myself attracted to anyone I’m open to it,” etc should start making their own spaces just like queer people who were getting beaten, arrested, and killed made their own, rather than complaining about “biphobia” when they can’t bring their boyfriend to the queer party. It’s not just about numbers.

    1. 9.1

      Hi! I’m the woman who commented above you. After reading your comment I understand why I (and any boyfriend I might have at the time) might not be welcome especially in queer seperatist spaces. You make your points very clear and I feel a tiny bit of what you’re saying from personal experience. I do not want to take away from the very real concern that queer spaces are being het-washed for the comfort of allies and friends/partners, and I hope you can hear that what I say next comes from a place of pain and a need to be understood.

      The distain with which you refer to bisexual people, using your own admittedly narrow experience of bisexuality as a lens (“teenager identifying as bisexual but only partnering with cis het men and having drunk one night stands with straight girls”) is really hurtful. You must know this does not describe the experience of most bisexual people, which makes me wonder : do you actually, in your heart, believe that bisexuality is real? Maybe you do and this is out of place, but the refrain is so familiar that I need to speak to it generally.

      I, and every other bisexual woman I know, am not just having one night stands with straight girls and then running back to my cis het boyfriend (which is heteronormative sexist drivel and would never be a question if it was a cis man having one night stands with other men). I have real, loving relationships with other women. I know what it’s like to walk down the street holding hands with another woman, to be simultaneously shat on and sexualized for my preferences, to experience the emotional, mental and physical violence of homophobia. You’re right, it’s not heaped on me every day (sometimes I walk around without holding anyone’s hand), but my relationships with men are not some kind of refuge that protects me from these realities. They’re there all the time, and they’re aimed straight at me, too.

      I’m afraid the real reason bisexual people (especially women, regardless of their current partnering) aren’t welcome is because people really don’t believe we exist. I’m not masquerading as queer for attention when I’m really straight (yikes, I’d hate to have to explain that to my girlfriend), and I’m not waiting around for the right time to admit I’m actually a lesbian either. Maybe you weren’t talking about me and I’m just feeling projected upon, maybe you DO know women you would accept as bisexual and welcome regardless of who they were dating at the time. And I cannot argue with you and say that our experiences are not completely different (they definitely are). But that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t share a common experience of queerness.

      To be clear, I’m not advocating togetherness at all costs, and I respect the need for queer separatist spaces. But I have to admit it’s fucking lonely out here where no one believes you (not to mention WAY harder to meet women -_-“).

      1. GG

        My comment was not directed at you, but I will respond to your post.
        First off, by most definitions of the term- I am bisexual. I identify as queer, I am attracted to lots of genders. I have dated lots of genders and still do. But, I only date queer people and people in queer relationships.

        Your assumptions that I have a “narrow” experience show that you either didn’t read what I wrote or I didn’t write it well enough. When I mentioned my teenage experience I am describing an experience of straight girls saying “I’d totally date you if I was a lesbian” and drunk make outs for their boyfriends to watch. That is a thing and if you don’t believe that is a thing, well, I am happy to hear you haven’t had to experience that. There are many women who have no problem making out with or even having sex with girls but they will tell you that they only love and date men and identify as straight. I don’t date straight people (and straight people aren’t interested in butches like me in general anyways) and I don’t date women in relationships with straight cis men.

        I don’t do this because I have done it and it doesn’t work for me. Again, it’s not because women in relationships with straight men “aren’t queer” on the inside. It’s that their day to day lives are built around a heterosexual partnership with a heterosexual person and mine is not. You can’t identify your way into, or out of, day to day experiences of marginalization. So, we don’t really go together well, they don’t tend to understand what I deal with, we don’t mesh sexually, etc. I am sure there are exceptions to the rule. Studies show that 80-90% of bisexual people are in heterosexual partnerships. So, the other 10% (which I am technically part of) is likely different.

        What I don’t understand is that there seem to be FAR MORE queer women in relationships with men in LGBTQ identifying communities, yet they claim that no women want to be with them. If I look at a list of “queer femme” identified women these days (much to the chagrin of femme dykes in my life who fought like hell to be seen as disinterested in men), most of them will be in primary partnerships or monogamous partnerships with straight cis men. If the majority of queer women who are interested in straight men and/or in relationships with them outnumber the rest of us, why don’t you all date each other? Why don’t you create events? Meet ups? Why don’t you hit on each other? Why is it so hard to meet women if there are so many queer women just like you out there? Why are dykes or queers who only date queers who date queers at fault for the fact that you can’t find women to date?

        I don’t assume that every queer identified person has to want me or be ok with me in their space. Some spaces and relationships are not for me. I don’t feel entitled to people when they tell me no and I don’t take it as a personal affront on my sexual identity.

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