Dear Worrier Princess: Looking in and Looking Out
Dear Worrier Princess is a queer advice column based off The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend, an advice zine by Maddy Court (a.k.a @xenaworrierprincess on Instagram).
Queery #1: I've been seeing a lot of _personal_ ads lately on my Instagram feed. I think it's amazing but I've started to notice that people are specific in what they're looking for, for example ISO: MOC, high femme. To be clear, I am not against anyone having a preference I'm cool with that. The descriptors have just made me re-evaluate where I fit into in this queer space. I'm more or less straight passing but not femme. I guess I'm tomboy(ish) femme(ish) but how tomboyish or femmeish I appear depends on the day, event, weather, moon phase…whether Mercury is in retrograde, etc. I do qualify my style as "never left my emo phase punk trash but less trash." My question is: how do you feel like you belong or even feel like you want to be dated/are datable when your outward presentation doesn't neatly fit into a specific category?
Okay, so you know how I post about long hair butches (LHBs) all the time? When I actually look at everyone I’ve ever dated and slept with, there’s not much cohesion in terms of presentation and appearance. Currently, I’m steamrolled by feelings for a tall femme I met on (where else?) Instagram. I’m ironing my t-shirts and setting flight alerts. I can’t stop listening to Mary Margaret O’Hara. But anyways, back to your question. I love @_personals_. It feels intentional in a sea of superficial and impersonal dating apps. It also appeals to my “I’ve already dated everyone in my city/state/country” sensibility because people submit from all over the world. The text-based format forces users to be creative, so the ads frequently read like little poems. Still, when you don’t find certain terms useful, it’s difficult to see yourself in @_personals_ and queer culture at large.
As you already acknowledged in your queery, specific identifiers like butch and femme are valid and important. They allow people to render themselves visible and accurately describe their desires. But it’s important to note that identifiers and labels mean different things to different people. Definitions vary by geography, generation, and other categories of identity like race and class. I have a dyke friend who’s in her mid-40s. She describes her butch identity as solidified and obvious. Still, butches a generation older than her often call her butchness into question. A while back, someone DMed me to say long haired butches don’t qualify as butches. I’ve definitely been in conversations where I described someone not-present as butch/femme and been vehemently contradicted. It’s a contentious gay world out there, no wonder you’re confused.
I receive tons of advice submissions from people who feel invisible because like you, they don’t identify as butch or femme. I was interested in this phenomenon, so I asked Moira Donegan. Moira is a lesbian, writer, and creator of the Shitty Men in Media List. Her unflinching essays on #MeToo, Christine Blasey Ford, and rape culture have appeared in The New Yorker, The Cut, and The Guardian. I figured dating advice would be a snap for Moira and I wasn’t wrong. Moira offered the following perspective: “when I date more femme-presenting women, they tend to think of me as a butch. When I date butches, it’s the other way around. What I settled on was neither trying to change my style to attract the type I was looking for, nor changing my style to fit the hopes of the person I’m with. Make sure that when you’re dating someone, that the person they hope for you to be is also the person that you hope for you to be—not just in terms of gender presentation stuff, but in also in terms of your politics, your career, your bigger moral and creative life.”
I’m with Moira. I also want to add that dating is difficult by definition. It’s difficult to find love and genuine connection. Don’t feel discouraged because other queers approach it differently.
Queery #2: I came out of the closet almost two years ago and even though I’m usually comfortable in my identity, I sometimes worry that saying or doing stereotypical lesbian stuff, like wearing flannels & Birkenstocks and such, is “too lesbian” and that I should try to break away from stereotypes to show people that gay women are more than that. So I’m torn between trying to appear and act gay to attract other women-oriented women and trying not to act gay to avoid being a stereotype. Should I totally ignore what people might think? How can I embrace an appearance or behaviours that make me worry about being “just a stereotype”?
I’m standing outside your house in cutoffs, an armless flannel, and muddied Tevas. There’s a Subaru parked on your lawn and a rescue pitbull at my feet. The pitbull’s name is Blueberry and she’s wearing a felted vest. I’m yelling into a megaphone. Blueberry is howling. Together we’re saying: IT’S NOT YOUR JOB TO EDUCATE AND REHABILITATE HOMOPHOBES. The truth is that someone could meet you, enjoy your company, and still have harmful beliefs and attitudes towards lesbians. They might chalk you off as “one of the good gays,” which generally means you don’t “act gay” or “make a big deal about it.” Unfortunately, homophobia--as well as the combination of homophobia and misogyny termed lesbophobia--is way more insidious and complex than jacket-based fashion and sensible sandals.
I read this queery a few times and I think your central, underlying concern is this: is it possible to be seen and recognized as a lesbian, but also be your authentic self? Right now, I think you’re viewing lesbian identity as a set of rules. You’re in double jeopardy because you’re worried about how you’re perceived by straight people and other lesbians. This is beyond understandable. It can definitely feel like there’s a correct way to be a lesbian, or that certain lesbians receive attention and praise for the way they do lesbianism (in a related Dear Worrier Princess, I talked about how to flirt when you’re femme and often assumed to be straight). I have so many thoughts about lesbian culture, visibility, and stereotypes, but here’s what I keep coming back to: your lesbian identity shouldn’t feel restrictive, it should help you access your truth and navigate the world accordingly.
Finally, it’s not up to you to represent all lesbians. Sometimes it feels like the world only sees you for your sexuality—for instance, when a straight person asks you to explain an aspect of queer culture, or your boss and co-workers designate you as the Office Gay. There’s so much pressure to be an exemplary lesbian. But ultimately, you can’t change yourself to appease other people. You’ll just make yourself miserable and *Frances McDormand voice* that is no way to live!!
are you in a pickle regarding your love life? do you have a crush you can't figure out how to talk to, an ex you'd like to reconnect with but don't know if it's appropriate or the right time?
dear worrier princess answers your qs about love and strife in relationships in this complex and modern queer world.
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All illustrations for this column are done by Sid Champagne. Sid is a freelance illustrator based in Baltimore by way of the Gulf Coast. You can find them on Twitter @sid_champagne, or Instagram (more cat pics) @sidchampagne