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#213 : Am I weirding everyone out by not being gay?

I’m happy to say that this is my most pressing question about sex ‘n’
relationships ‘n’ stuff right now.  The short version is that a lot of
people who don’t know me that well aren’t sure whether I’m lesbian,
straight, or somewhere in between.  I’m sure where I am (straight) but
I also like the protective shield that uncertainty gives me against
unwanted (male) advances. (The unwanted female advances are rare and
flattering.) But now I’m wondering if this is kind of a shitty thing
to do, knowingly allowing people to draw the wrong conclusion instead
of being honest about who I am, just so I can avoid a few passes.  I
also worry that I am missing out on all the guys who don’t want to be
so gauche as to hit on someone who might be a lesbian.

 

Background: I’m a strong, tall, scary feminist with short hair, so I
can see where people are coming from, since the number of short-haired
feminist heterosexual women people see on TV is approximately zero.  I
also am strongly pro-gay rights and talk about and participate in
gay-positive stuff frequently.  When it comes to my personal life,
I’ve had enough relationships with sexy, hot, fun men that I stopped
counting them.  I’m currently single but not interested in a new
relationship any time soon.  When I am interested, I vastly prefer to
make the first move, due to some bad childhood experiences.

Whenever I accidentally say something that strongly implies I’m gay
and I find myself wanting to say “But I’m not gay,” I think the
following:

* What’s so wrong with being gay that I am so worried about people
thinking I’m gay?
* How can I say I’m not gay without implying that being gay is a bad thing?
* But if I say I’m hetero, then more men will hit on me, ew!
* I really admire Gale Harold (Queer as Folk) for refusing to say “I’m
not gay” when he played a gay part.
* Fuck it, I don’t want to date anyone anyway.

But now I’m starting to see that it’s not all about me.  Maybe I don’t
want to be seen as homophobic, but maybe that nice woman over there
doesn’t want to have a pointless crush and embarrass herself asking me
out. (This is an actually-has-happened problem, not an “OMG I am so
sexy the gays will mob me” homophobic problem.) Maybe I don’t want
guys hitting on me, but maybe people are horribly confused and nervous
around me.

I’m generally a very honest and straightforward person, especially
when it comes to sex.  If a guy hits on me and I’m not interested, I
never say “I have a boyfriend” even if I have a boyfriend.  I say “I’m
not interested, but thanks for the compliment.” (Saves on a lot of
follow-up nonsense trying to get me to cheat on my boyfriend, too.)
Keeping my sexuality ambiguous seems to be another version of the “I
have a boyfriend” lie and the only reason I don’t immediately clarify
that is because I am not smart enough to do it without sounding
homophobic.

So, questions:

* Should I feel guilty about letting people think I’m gay?
* If I want people to know I’m not gay, how can I do it without being
homophobic?

Thanks!

Signed,
Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

queer hat

My queer hat.

I am so glad that the Captain invited me to be an official part of the Awkward Army, because I like getting to put on my queer hat more often. As a queer girl in a long-term relationship with a queer-flavored boy, I live on the opposite side of your conundrum: I read as kinda gay, unless I’m with Mr Machine, whose OH SO MANLY presence makes me read as kinda straight, except there’s something off about that… People who, for whatever reason, have gender or sexuality presentations that read ambiguously (bisexual, trans*, androgynous, exceedingly fabulous, what have you) often find themselves in the position of having to decide whether to do a mini coming out party every time they talk about anything personal. It’s tiresome, right? And you don’t want to mislead people, but you also don’t want everyone to be up in your business all the time, so what to do?

Here’s what you do: you do you, girl. You sound deeply committed to smashing the patriarchy and also deeply committed to not fucking over other women. Maybe it would be simpler if you really were gay! But seriously, a huge chunk of not perpetuating homophobia is not perpetuating its friendly cousin, heterosexism. Not getting hit on by random straight guys? Consider that a fucking bonus. If you are missing out on dudes who go “Oh, she’s probably gay, I won’t bother even attempting to get to know her,” well, there are other dudes in the sea, you know? By being a straight girl who maybe looks dykey, you are bucking the heteronormative beauty standard, for which I award you an Anti-Normative Merit Badge and also a Deeply Objectifying HELLO NURSE.

tegan and sara

Get me Aristotle on Skype, stat.

Now, the other part of your question, about whether it is unfair to the very nice lesbians who might get interested in you, is also coming from a place of compassion and taps into something more profound: are you co-opting a subculture to which you don’t belong? Since your perceived lesbianality is apparently coming from being Tall, Scary, and Closely Cropped, I am going to say no. If you were wearing pride buttons all over your recycled-billboard messenger bag and talking about all the hot girls you saw at that Tegan and Sara concert, I might caution you about not trying to borrow feminist cred from queer signifiers, and also ask you whether it’s possible to decide which identical twin is sexier or if that is a philosophical conundrum for all time. But seriously, if you ping someone’s gaydar erroneously, that is not the worst thing ever. It’s not unfair to the person; you should respond the same way you would to a guy who doesn’t ring your bell (your already great line, “I’m
not interested, but thanks for the compliment”).

To illustrate: I went to a blessedly feminist women’s college in Dykeville, USA. There was a lot of ambiguity going on, sex- and gender-wise. (What do you mean, you haven’t made out with literally every person in your dorm, just because it’s Friday and someone has Goldschlager?) I also had an on-off-extremely-confusing sometimes-relationship with a boy who was Gay Except For Me from the age of like 16 to 22. (WHAT UP, NANCY BOY) He came to visit (“visit’) me at college once, and we both had the hilarious experience of hot-person-spotting in town and then one of us being disappointed literally every time. “Holy shit, look at that pretty boy — oh, dang, it’s a butch girl.” And so on. It was profound in a really stupid way. But the relevant point is this: it wasn’t the fault of the androgynous hottie if I or Nancy Boy suddenly realized we were having pants-feelings that weren’t going to work out. It was no one’s fault! Because being attractive to some stranger is a value-neutral thing; it’s not something you control. Some straight boys are going to be scared by your short hair, because they are from the 1950s, and some queer girls (and queer boys!) are going to be drawn to it, because they were teenagers in the 1990s like me and they have Blur running through their heads at all times. It’s okay. Roll with it. Be nice if you have to turn someone down, and you don’t have to tell them your orientation to do that.* Don’t feel guilty about not taking one for the team by getting hit on by random straight guys. We’re all way too worried about those guy’s pants-feelings anyway.

And for real, short hair is so much easier anyway. All the money you save on shampoo!

– SM

*True story: in high school I tried to pull the “Oh haha I know I said I was bi but I JUST REALIZED I’m a lesbian” card to get a guy to stop asking me out, and it DID NOT WORK. His response: “I’ve fallen in love with lesbians before.” I bet you have, buddy, I bet you have.

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34 comments
  1. Alternate title for this question: “I am too awesome, is that a problem for people?”

  2. Ensign Perception said:

    Yo LW, I have this exact thing going on, and I think Sweet Machine did a great job of explaining the issues involved.

    Just a thought on the whole “but my dating life???” part of the conundrum: It’s definitely possible for men who are pretty cool to just sail right past you because they assume that you’re gay. Like, obviously people should pull their heads out of their asses and realize that just because a woman likes to smash the gender binary into tiny pieces beneath her sweet-ass combat boots, doesn’t mean she isn’t into men. But they don’t always.

    So, if / when you decide you want to find a man to date, or fuck, or marry or whatever – you may have to come on kinda strong, in my experience. Part of that whole gender binary thing is that women are generally assumed to take the passive, receptive route in flirting and wait to be approached. Back when I was single, I had a lot more success pursuing dudes than being pursued. Buy a drink or two, mention that you’ve noticed him around, punctuate sentences by touching his arm… and I promise, your heterosexuality will no longer be in question.

    Get down with your bad self and enjoy the fact that short hair is the best summer haircut ever!

    • Hallom said:

      And to follow up on this, you said that you prefer to make the first move already, so … win-win? I mean, think of it this way: any guy who isn’t willing to be a friend to an awesome girl just because he thinks she’s gay and therefore he won’t get some, isn’t worth dating, right? So among the men who might be your friends and who might think you’re awesome (regardless of sexuality), they will find out where your interests lie when you do make that move.

      Man, I wish actually dating/asking people out myself was as easy as giving advice on it :)

      • Ensign Perception said:

        Hah, I completely missed that! That’s what I get for posting while groggy with the world’s worst cold.

        Basically LW, you just WERQ that androgynous style like you’ve been doing so correctly.

    • SarahTheEntwife said:

      Like, obviously people should pull their heads out of their asses and realize that just because a woman likes to smash the gender binary into tiny pieces beneath her sweet-ass combat boots, doesn’t mean she isn’t into men. But they don’t always.

      I love this.

  3. dorktastic said:

    I used to have this exact thing going on, although I was a little more confused about my sexuality. I have come to terms with being pretty much straight, and grown my hair out a bit, and I’m no longer read as a lesbian. I used to worry a lot that I was appropriating, especially since I went through a period of identifying pretty strongly as queer, but I can recognize it now as time that I spent exploring and figuring things out.

  4. Hi five to a fellow Strong Tall Scary Feminist. I have long girly hair and am super girly and people still think I’m gay. I think it’s because my sentences? Don’t sound enough like questions? So it’s like I know what i’m talking about?

    So obviously, gay. Unfortunately for my bisexual sex life this is only true of men, actual women who actually like to sleep women don’t have this problem.

    • KL said:

      It’s amazing what a confident tone of voice, a direct gaze, and a firm handshake will make people assume about someone’s orientation/gender identity.

    • Simone Lovelace said:

      I feel you, Shinobi42, but don’t underestimate folks with more “feminine” speech patterns. ^_^

  5. aprilhl said:

    you know, I wonder about this too, and wonder sometimes how much I should explain…even had a panicked moment last week of calling myself ‘bi’ for shorthand, since that implies a very specific 50-50 split in most people’s minds, even though I’m somewhere between bi and straight (1-2 on the kinsey scale). but how much can you convey without being disingenuous or confusing?

    I usually don’t bring it up at all (also known as Keeping Peace with my Family). all of my long-term partners have been males, so I know I have passing-privilege even though I prefer similarly non-straight guys. but I’ve also had some girl flings and identify more with glbt culture than straight culture as a strongly feminist & radical, fat & very-short-haired gal that wavers every few years on how feminine I present myself (though currently fairly femmey).

    I haven’t really run into this problem in a while but it’s Good Things to think about.

    • aprilhl said:

      argh but even this comment and thread make me want to still try to clarify myself. (help help!). “identify more with glbt culture than straight culture” isn’t right, either. kinda like kinsey it’s still somewhere in between the 1-2. hmm.

    • Vicki said:

      Very few of us bisexuals are exactly 50/50 in terms of attraction. I’m attracted to significantly more women than men, and the majority of my partners have been female, but my longest-term partner (27 years so far) is male. I have two other long-term partners, but they’re both long-distance, so significantly less visible: and almost nobody’s default assumption is “bisexual,” so unless people see you with partners of more than one gender, they’ll probably classify you based on the partner(s) they’ve seen.

      • I like “I skew about 70-30 on the Equal Opportunist Scale,” but that doesn’t really clear anything up for anyone who doesn’t already know me.

      • cicatricella said:

        Weird, I feel as though I know a fair number of women who self-identify as bi who tell me that they are generally more attracted to more women, but for whatever reason their long-term relationships all tend to be with men. Not so much with men, but then I know far fewer men who self-identify as bi.

  6. Yeah, that is very good advice. It seems to me that this case is covered by the general principle that you do not owe it to other people to take responsibility for ensuring that their understanding of you is correct, so long as you are not intentionally misleading people in order to manipulate them.

    And BTW, because that is just the kind of person I am, I went to Google maps and found out that there is a town in Louisiana called Dykesville.

    • Yes x1000 on your first paragraph.

      Aw, if there’s a real Dykesville I guess I’m just going to have to call in Northampton after all. :-)

      • Britt said:

        Northampton will always be Dykesville in my world. ;-) With much love from a MoHo.

        • Seven Sisters high five/makeout session!

          • Britt said:

            Woo! I miss the hell out of the nice little bubble I could live in when all my friends were Smithies or MoHos and (at least generally speaking) random hook-ups or coffee dates didn’t mean anyone had to have some existential crisis about ~who I really was~ or whatever. The real world should be so mellow.

      • Nomie said:

        WOOOOOOOO Western Mass represent!

      • AwkwardSmithie said:

        Yay Smithies! Represent. Before I graduated, I was forever thinking,”Gee, what’s that 14 yr old boy doing in my dining hall?” Afterwards, it was always, “What a cute girl! Oh, damn, it’s a 14 yr old boy.”

        • RIGHT??? So embarrassing!

  7. Featherless Biped said:

    Hey, scary butch (mostly) straight woman dance party! I got worried about what to tell people about my sexual orientation after I had a two-year relationship with a woman. I gradually realized: if you do not feel like bringing it up, you don’t have to say anything. You can keep the focus on your relationships: will you go out with me; no thanks, I am not interested in going out with you; hey mom and dad, I’d like you to meet the new person I’m going out with. Sure, if somebody asks you, you can give them an honest answer. (My preference is to deflect the question with “why do you want to know?”) You are not required to answer preemptively.

  8. Yan said:

    Part of me misses the college days of other people’s misperceptions of my sexuality. I only bothered to correct a few people I wished to sleep with. Good times!

    LW, be who you are and pursue who you’re interested in. Sounds like you are on the right track all around.

  9. Katie said:

    Thank you! This question/answer/comment section could not have been more timely. I’ve been agonizing about this myself, as a butch/androgynous straightish lady.

  10. xenu01 said:

    At one point, many people of all genders have found ourselves in the awkward position (some of those people have written in here) of being romantically approached by someone they were not interested in. Sometimes, it is because that person is not of your gender of choice. Sometimes it is because that person is not the right religion, or educational level, or too far away or sometimes you’re not into that person for no really good reason except you just don’t. Sometimes, too, we make romantic forays and are turned down.

    Are you having trouble finding hot dudes to make out with? Doesn’t sound like it- you indicate in your letter that you’ve had many relationships with pretty rad guys and you’re not looking for a relationship right now.

    Gay girls come in all types. Some are young, and some older. Some are crunchy, some love meat. Some like nail polish and some think it is awful. Some love commitment and some don’t. Some listen to Lauryn Hill, some Jay Z, some Tegan and Sara, some Metallica. You don’t need to worry about impersonating lesbians, unless you think there’s only one kind of girl that likes girls.

    I kind of of wonder, and I hope this doesn’t offend too much, if you are actually experiencing some of that weird unplaceable anxiety that can result from not being intangibly “fuckable,” as society deems you to be. You are short-haired and kind of butch Unless you are literally turning a girl down every two minutes and it is starting to affect your work or something, ladies hitting on you is not the problem- it is that society deems women as less than if they are not feminine enough, not white enough, not thin enough, etc. This can impact your salary! It can impact whether or not people vote for you if you run for office! It can impact whether people treat you with respect or as invisible or as dirt. If this is the problem, it’s a tricky one. It will make you feel like a bad feminist. It will make you feel like a bad person. It will make you try and fix other things because you know instinctively that this thing, you cannot fix.

    It will NOT make you shallow, a bad feminist or a bad person. It will make you a perceptive person.

  11. Yeah yeah! Want to echo: treat the ladies who hit on you/ask you out/express interest like you would any other human who did so that you did not have the hots for. That shatters the gender binary a little (“you are a human I do not want to shag!” instead of “you are a lady and I do not shag ladies, ergo though I know nothing about you as a human I do not want to shag you” which is a dehumanizing and sad thought process). It’s respectful to the person you’re rejecting and to the gay community and the heterosexual one for that matter – enforcing the idea that YOU get to reject any one for any reason and do not need to justify/explain.

    People’s assumptions about your sexuality = 100% not your problem, since you are not misleading them on purpose. A lot of people have found out that I couldn’t care less about the gender of my partner from random casual comments (which is awkward and fun to watch as they go “oh um, yeah! You…you like ladies/dudes? Wow, I, well, that’s cool?”) and I feel doing it that way (mentioning it when relevant, or revealing it through casual conversation) is a lot less !!! GAYZ !!! NOT GAYZ !!! BIG DEAL !!! than stating it at every sort-of-relevant moment. Unfortunately, coming out for some identities is still a really big deal, but it should never be a big deal to state a preference about one’s sexuality. It should always be as unremarkable as stating your favorite ice cream flavor! Especially since, after all, most people do not like ALL THE PEOPLE of their flavor – just the awesome ones who turn out to be Their People (and therefore, if I were to say I’m bi/pansexual, that’s about as meaningful as saying “I like colors” – um, well which ones? I don’t know, but I know when I see them!)

    • Word. Mr Machine and I aren’t actually married [insert critique of the patriarchy here], so people sometimes get all confused about me saying “my partner MaleName” because they assume that an unmarried but taken lady who looks like me is a lesbian. I actually really like confusing people that way, but that’s probably because I miss wearing my queer hat when I involuntarily pass for straight.

  12. boots mcgee said:

    Just posting here in solidarity with LW as a kind of butch straight lady! Or I should say “occasionally butch,” maybe or “periodically androgynous,” but whatever. In my case, I am somewhat new to this whole playing-with-gender-performance thing and I worry that what I am doing is somehow co-opting or devaluing queerness, so this was a very timely letter.

    Like, I just think it means one thing for a straight white woman of privilege to choose to wear sneakers and a ball cap and aviators with her fauxhawk sometimes as a kind of gender-bendy fashion experiment and it means a whole other thing when a genderqueer or queer-identified or gay-identified person feels like they want to dress a certain way to signal/express something that has a much deeper personal and political meaning. I hope that by dressing butchly I am not saying or conveying the idea, “Let me play my dress up game and then when it’s convenient, I’ll go back to not actually having to worry about being oppressed or marginalized in any of these ways, tra la la la flowers and rainbows.”

    At the same time, I feel like regardless of anyone’s sexual orientation or identification, we all of us benefit from more people saying fuck-you’s to the strictures of traditional gender conformity, right? Like, that this is a thing straight people can do, too?

  13. BFR said:

    Yo, where are all these “guys who don’t want to be so gauche as to hit on someone who might be a lesbian”? I could sure use more of them in my life — and less of the other kind.

    (Me: femme queer lady. Always getting hit on by men, even after they are informed that I’m not interested in their kind. No, it’s not because I’m Just That Hot, despite the highly original and helpful “advice” of ignorant straight ladies. And no, I’m not fucking flattered. I’m somewhere between mildly annoyed and seriously creeped out.)

    • xenu01 said:

      Ugh! Because you are a woman and therefore must be available to them for whatever they desire regardless of what you want, right? I’m embarrassed on behalf of those straight ladies! Acting like you should be flattered, as if they’d never told some dude they had a boyfriend and had that guy respond, “Oh that’s ok, he doesn’t have to know.”

  14. Zed said:

    LW, this is definitely a post I relate to! I have long hair, but I completely avoid make-up, jewelery, shoes that aren’t combat boots, and I wear clothes that cover me from the neck down. That, combined with the fact that I have a personal rule not to talk about my romantic interests/past (and therefore don’t refer to male partners or comment on the physical attractiveness of available men) and the fact that I am both a feminist and a supporter of all sorts of queer rights, means that many people just assume I’m a lesbian. I don’t mind, and sometimes I actually like it because it gives me a ‘pass’ from the weird, sort of creepy heterosexual dating marketplace created by a lot of mainstream culture. But I also don’t want to be actively misleading anyone, playing into stereotypes, or co-opting anyone’s identity.

  15. xenu01 said:

    Last year, in a class, I met a woman who has long hair. She is slim and curvy and likes to wear make-up. She has been a sex worker. She is also very pretty. Like, amazingly pretty. Oh yeah, and she is very very extremely gay. And yet, straight men and straight women alike tell her she’s not a lesbian because she doesn’t “look” like a lesbian. She also dated a woman who said she didn’t hit on her at first because she was sure that she was straight.

    This woman is not straight. She really hates that people just assume that she is. The problem as I see it is that everyone loves their gender stereotyping.

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