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
* 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
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
* 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
Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That
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.
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!
*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.