The Femme Dating Dilemma

For most of my adult life I’ve been seen as a femme: a feminine-presenting queer cis woman. I share my frustrations with others about our invisibility as queer women in our heteronormative culture. The only times I’ve felt visible within a queer couple is I’ve had a more masculine-presenting female partner. This type of coupling has its own hardships but in most cases, we’ve been seen by outsiders, as a couple. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case when I’m with another femme.

After 15 years of dating as a queer woman, I’ve become hyper-aware of the attention femme couples attract within our misogynistic society. I’m not entirely proud to admit that in my early years of dating I didn’t question the microaggressions and oversexualization I experienced. I accepted the catcalling, objectifying and blatant disrespect as the norm. I had never experienced anything different. I don’t have all answers but I can begin a dialog and commit to exposing this behavior.

How microaggressions toward femme couples work:

While I have quite a few jaw-dropping stories of blatant harassment occurring on my dates in the past, I’ve decided to stay focused on the subtle microaggressions that aren’t discussed often enough. They are far more socially accepted and therefore, arguably more dangerous. They can come in the form of interruption, gawking, and crossing personal boundaries. They add an extra layer of anxiety and discomfort to the already complicated experience of being a queer cis woman.

In a recent conversation with an ex femme lover, she revealed to me that she had been uncomfortable within our relationship. She couldn’t stand the oversexualization we experienced together in public and became turned off at the idea of dating other femmes. After our conversation, I paid extra close attention the next few times I was on a date with a femme and I began to document our interactions with men. As predictable as clockwork, the next two dates I went on provided evidence for the erasure and objectification that I had come to predict.

When I’m out with a guy I’m off limits. When I’m with a woman I’m seen as available.

This got me thinking about the differences I experience when I’m out with a platonic male friend vs. a romantic date with a woman. I’m almost never approached by men when I’m out with a guy. My male friends and I can talk for hours wherever we damn well please without a single interruption. People naturally assume we are a couple so they respectfully leave us alone, even if we never so much as brush elbows. If people see a man and woman out together, they automatically assume that the woman is off limits. Why the same isn’t assumed for all duos of people sitting alone, I wonder. If my female date and I aren’t displaying welcoming body language or inviting glances to outsiders, what makes them think it’s open season to approach us?

Before going out with a femme woman, I run through a set of scenarios in my head in an effort to do some damage control. I think to myself, how can we make it clear that we’re on a date so that nobody bothers us? I wonder if things would ever play out differently we were to decide ahead of time how we’re going to act in order to avoid unwanted male attention. Since we hardly know each other at this point, this is never brought up ahead of time and we’re forced to face this anxiety alone, never knowing if we’re on the same page or not.

If we’re not affectionate enough, men will approach us thinking we’re available for company. It could be in the form of a group of men engaging us in conversation or a single man waiting for one of us to go to the bathroom so he can approach one of us while we’re alone. The most unfortunate part is that these men almost always overstay their welcome once we’ve made it clear that we’re not interested.

I’ve been asked for my phone number in front of my date more times than I can count. Every woman handles this differently but every time it’s uncomfortable and is always an interruption to our private time together.

If we’re too affectionate, we’ll still be interrupted by men except in an even more intrusive, sexualized way. If men still approach us after seeing us kiss, arrive together and leave together, I doubt we’ll ever be seen as off limits to them. Unlike a platonic male/female interaction, even the most affectionate of female interaction still gives the notion that we’re somehow not off limits. Whether we’ve made it obvious that we’re on a date or not, I’m still seen as available, unlike when I’m out with a man.

Either way, it seems, we lose.

Regardless of presentation, gender or orientation, dating is dating. We’re all just trying to navigate the inevitable awkwardness of it all. We’re doing our best to mask our insecurities while trying to be present and respectful of one another.

There may be no avoiding how other people choose to react to two women growing close romantically but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. I can do my best to call men out on their microaggressions and hope that the next time they see two women out in public enjoying each other’s company to just leave them alone and let them enjoy their night. I would hope for the same thing for anyone else trying to enjoy their date in peace.