For queer women, it’s all caution tape.
August 7, 2018 11:44 AM   Subscribe

The unimaginability of sexual or romantic desire between women that gives intimacy its alibi works in tandem with that other thing: the way in which we all grow up knowing not just that women can be used, but how to use them. We internalize both. We learn—we all learn—that we can lean on women in ways that we can’t lean on men, and, at the same time, that that leaning, the bodily closeness of it, is elevated, more pure, more innocent for its lack of want. We’re all complicit, and we’re all suffering.
But some of us do want, too. -- Sadie Graham: how our cultural obsession with platonic 'girlfriends' sidelines queer women
posted by MartinWisse (85 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
I pine over friends, again and again, and then I feel guilty for pining because of agency and consent and all the things everybody says in AskMe answers and the fact that I knew better from day one. And I wonder if this is just my equivalent to bitching about the friend zone. But it isn't just "oh a girl was friendly", it's "okay this girl has spent six months talking about how we should structure our lives around our being together and being effusively affectionate and littering her messages with heart emoji, surely this means she's at least somewhat interested and it's safe to say something along those lines," only it doesn't. I've even gotten "oh I thought you realized this was just friendly" from women I met through dating sites.

It's left me in this position where like... I don't know how to trust my own friends anymore, not really, and I especially don't know how to trust my own instincts with anybody, because any woman being affectionate is almost guaranteed to not be interested. I've become concerned, over time, that women my age in the same position who might genuinely be interested are going to be doing exactly the same thing I am: screaming internally and saying and doing nothing to let anybody else know.
posted by Sequence at 12:37 PM on August 7 [40 favorites]


There are lots of bits I could copy and paste from this, because it says a lot of really true things. This was the one that resonated the most:

The idea that this is what it means to become platonically close with another woman conveniently explains away potential slips into romance. It moves queerness out of reach even as it brings intimacy into reach. I can’t say how this feels between straight women. As a queer woman, it’s damaging.

There's this whole thing in When Harry Met Sally about how (straight) men and women can't be platonic friends, because the men always want to have sex with the women and they're somehow incapable of not letting that get in the way of the friendship.

I think it's probably much harder to have and to maintain that ability -- to not let it get in the way. And, as the author says, it's a damaging thing. A lifelong, damaging thing.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:51 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I'm wary about hijacking the thread for GAYB0YZ0NE concerns, so I'll keep this concise: it would be interesting to track the whole "bromance" moment over the past few years and see how queer men's accounts of "bromance" (with str8 guys) compare with Graham's nuanced analysis. There are lots of contextual things that are different (the pull of patriarchy being one of them, but also the felt newness of male romantic friendships as a pop cultural thing—despite a substantial pre-20th c. history), and I'd be curious about how these things diverge and intersect…
posted by LMGM at 1:19 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I haven't really thought about how asexual female intimacy would be hard for dating lesbians, but it makes sense, and totally sucks. Although I've managed to side-step/ignore a lot of the expected emotional requirements, sometimes the fact that we're all swimming in misogynistic water surprises me all over again.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 2:08 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


This really speaks to me. This kind of thing is too much of my life.

I often feel like those of us who aren't wasting our lives on horrible men who don't reciprocate emotional labor are still expected to prop up cisheteronormativity, to do that labor for women who are worn out from doing it for men, to not expect reciprocation because it's one of the uncountable ways queer lives are devalued.

I've had to tell so many straight cis women that they can't refer to me as their girlfriends, because that means something different to me. I've had to tell this to straight cis women who are still obviously uncomfortable with me as a queer, gender nonconforming person. The idea that "girlfriend" means something platonic is so ingrained for straight people, and it makes it harder for me to be obvious as a queer person, even though I'm extremely obvious.

I've said, gently, that the word means something different for me, and that I can't call their boyfriends, who are my close friends, my boyfriend. That their boyfriend can't call me his girlfriend. Light dawns reluctantly, but often nothing changes.

When I was (briefly) in roller derby, a lot of the women there have a "derby wife" who is essentially a close platonic friend. This was especially big with the straight women on my league and I always found it deeply uncomfortable but could never bring it up because I was new and because they were so impressed with themselves for not being homophobic. I've heard it in other contexts like work and it's always so uncomfortable for me, a level of support that's not available to me specifically because casual cultural homophobia has taught me not to get too close, not to offer even a hint of impropriety no matter what other people do, because as a visible queer person I'm the one who gets in trouble.

Further, I've spent so much time with women who are partnered with men hitting on me because I'm "safe" to request that attention from that I have trouble telling when someone is genuinely interested.

Over time this has made me bitter, and cautious about pursuing friendships, and disinclined from dating. Constant erasure has taught me to erase myself and everything around me, and unlearning that is all uphill.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:20 PM on August 7 [51 favorites]


Asexual seems largely like the wrong word for it. Not that sex can't be a component of things, but a lot of it is that element of people expecting emotional intimacy of you but expecting it as a sort of secondary or tertiary part of their lives--a compensation for some other unhappiness or just a way to de-stress--when what you're looking for is that kind of intimacy in a primary capacity. Ace people can still have relationships. Poly people still have relationships. It's not strictly the lack of sex or monogamy, but the idea that I don't exactly have someone to grow old with, here. I wanted to be loved and to have a family. Not to be someone's temporary hobby.
posted by Sequence at 2:27 PM on August 7 [19 favorites]


You're right Sequence, I was using "asexual" as short hand for non-partnered intimacy, but sex is not required to be partnered, and there are different types of primary relationships. The imbalance of intimacy expectations sounds incredibly frustrating.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 2:42 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I’ve never felt comfortable with the platonic use of the word girlfriend, but never really thought about why that was. I’m also queer and have struggled with figuring out the lines in female friendship, regardless of whether I was coupled with a man or woman at the time. Never thought about how the two might be related and really appreciated how this piece made the connection.
posted by ElizaMain at 3:27 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


As an asexual, aromantic person, this is really interesting to read. And kind of... hard.

My only options for emotional support and intimacy are from people that I'm never going to date. Many of my friends are queer, and I count myself as queer - but I wouldn't refer to any of them as "girlfriend" or "wife" because that would feel like appropriating an identity that I don't have.

At the same time though, needing emotional intimacy but not being able to reciprocate the kind of romantic or sexual intimacy that most people are looking for has always been an issue for me. I'm always on the outside. It's caused a lot of strain in some of my relationships. In response, I've basically shut down that part of myself. I can be lonely. There's a wall between me and my closest intimates; there are some things that are reserved for "partners" and there are desires or expectations for partners that I'll never meet.

I try to avoid misunderstandings. I don't think I've been held by someone in ... a decade? More? It's been weeks since I've had intentional physical contact. (I hugged a friend who was visiting.)

This is the kind of thing I think about whenever I get too close to someone. "Am I leading them on?" Or, more subtly, "If I spend a lot of time with someone, or I touch someone, or I show emotional vulnerability, am I fostering an emotional intimacy that will lead to unhappiness between us because we need or want different things?" The other person doesn't have to be actively misled; feelings develop regardless of what you know, sometimes.

A mismatch of need and desire is the only experience I have ever had of emotional intimacy between peers. Ever.

I feel like I'm seeing her pain from both sides. I'm no one's partner. I'm not considered a candidate . It's not hard to feel used or... secondary, as sequence put it so aptly. Jokes about being someone's platonic life partner can cut when you know that they're looking for a non-platonic life partner, and when they start getting those intimacy needs filled elsewhere your role in their life will be drastically reduced. They'll disappear. On the other hand, it's not hard to feel as though, by offering emotional intimacy, I'm the one who is the user - because the vast majority of people will see that as an offer of something I don't have. It can be a painful place to be.

This is the most open I have ever been about this on this site and I'm not even sure it's a good idea to post this. I'm not a lesbian. This isn't really my story. But this really resonated with me in a weird and hurtful way.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:30 PM on August 7 [61 favorites]


I've had to tell so many straight cis women that they can't refer to me as their girlfriends, because that means something different to me.

I've always been careful to speak and write "girl friend" as two separate words, but maybe that's not enough.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:53 PM on August 7


This was a great article and open my eyes to struggles I hadn't considered before. As a cis dude, my takeaway for personal action in response to this would be to not burden future romantic partners with undue emotional labor while neglecting the labor I need to give in return. I already do not really use bf/gf/wife/husband as casual titles for hetero relationships, but I will certainly be paying more attention when I hear them used from now on. The frustration and pain of gay women in this regard is not something I can experience but I do empathize with, unrequited feelings are a pain, but unrequited love stoked by intimacy and closeness... That sounds like torture. It seems like a real and damaging "friend zone" that casually downplays the feelings and agency of queer people.

Actually, as I'm writing this I am remembering a good friend I had in college who I knew was attracted to me. Without going into detail, I'm realizing now I may have been guilty of some of this. I enjoyed the adoration he had for me, since then I've realized one thing I like in a partner is them really liking me, possibly to shore up the hatred I have for myself, and he made me feel desired in a way none of my other friends, even many girlfriends, made me feel. Ah, man, I am glad to have read this, I should probably reach out some time? Oof, I am also remembering why we aren't in much contact these days and I am unsure what course of action to take now.
posted by GoblinHoney at 4:02 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


But at some point, it’s like: Can we have anything?

OOF. This feeling is such a big part of queerness for me, in so many ways.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:04 PM on August 7 [8 favorites]


I... god, as an ace women who is into women and still can't tell if there's a functional difference between romantic relationships and friendships if you take the sex out, this fucked me up so hard in college. It still fucks me up. I'm the person watching all the women wistfully longing for Crone Island and going "but I would miss fucking men, I get crushes on men, I'm straight" and quietly wondering what stops anyone from building a relationship with someone else, sex or no, romance or no. All it takes is affection and commitment, the commitment to decide that something better won't come along because this is something better.

Ironically, I do in fact have a "work husband" in the form of a straight male graduate student who is a good friend and mutual career support; "work wife" is apparently the form of his friendship with me that was least threatening for his wife, which I've never quite understood since my disinterest in men is visible approximately from Mars. But c'est la vie.

(I still don't get the difference between friendship and romance, but I get that it's apparently weird if you marry your buddy and more importantly people act like you're faking something. I'm not. I'm here because I want to make a family and intertwine lives and support one another. My feelings for my partner never changed when I abruptly shifted the terms I use to describe our relationship, but the way other people treated me sure as hell did.)

I wish I had a more concrete comment than "yep, this sure is a thing, and yep, I... simultaneously feel the author hugely and also feel totally invisible and also like I'm taking up the entire room and stealing it from the real queer women all at the same time." (If you tell me I am doing that last, I will probably knee-jerk explode at you, because it's easier to face things down for the benefit of other people than it is to protect myself.) I have some scattered impressions and frustrations and that is all.

What makes it queer? The commitment or the sex?
posted by sciatrix at 4:18 PM on August 7 [21 favorites]


I feel like I'm seeing her pain from both sides. I'm no one's partner. I'm not considered a candidate . It's not hard to feel used or... secondary, as sequence put it so aptly. Jokes about being someone's platonic life partner can cut when you know that they're looking for a non-platonic life partner, and when they start getting those intimacy needs filled elsewhere your role in their life will be drastically reduced. They'll disappear.

God, this so hard--and I'm not currently hungry for that, I found my (also ace) people and I managed to get one of them to live with me and we're working on getting us all in one place and that makes me lucky even though it will take years (decades) to see it through. And it doesn't matter, because I can still feel the hunger you're describing. I can feel it so hard. I see it all around me, and I feel it from so many of my friends.

I see you as you are. I hope you find a hearthfire that makes you feel wanted and loved and seen, whatever that looks like to you. There's a road to walk. I see you. I feel you.
posted by sciatrix at 4:24 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


This has been a thing for me since before I even knew what queer was. I just knew that time and time and time again there would be physical and emotional intimacy with girls and then suddenly a line would be crossed, or they'd find another "wifey," or we'd have a falling out where I realized they never felt for me how I did for them, and how I thought they felt for me. Hell, I was forever the one for "bi-curious" women to "try it out on" which has led to many of my straight up sexual relationships with women being cast as, pretty much, "gals being pals." After they got what they wanted or thought they wanted, suddenly they were entirely straight and they hadn't spent months to years slowly ratcheting up how much they wanted to do with me.

I'm queer as in bi (and other things), and I am married to a cis man who I love very, very much - could not at this point even imagine another life for myself - but I am not partnered with a woman because I just don't seem to attract women who are actually romantically interested in women but I attract a slew of women who like to cuddle, kiss, even squeeze my boobs, take me into dressing rooms, and then say things like "OH NO! I'm not gay!" when people ask if we are together. My life has been defined by these relationships with straight(?) women that I finally just gave up. It also didn't help that lesbians who might have been interested seemed to worry I was that type of person - to be platonic girlfriends, or just fooling around, or whatever - and they'd go suddenly cold when they found out that I sleep with men.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 4:43 PM on August 7 [15 favorites]


What makes it queer? The commitment or the sex?

I've also had a fair amount of experience being hit on for sex by bi women who are in committed relationships with cis straight men, and in many ways that's even worse, like - I could be in that role because I can never be "real" enough to be a threat, because sex with someone like me is just for funsies and doesn't "count," and if she does decide to leave him she'll want to cry on my shoulder and then find a new man, because even with that physical intimacy, even if we're incredibly close, even if I actually say how I feel - she doesn't return that.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:48 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


Wow this essay is amazing.
posted by medusa at 5:27 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, this whole conversation, right here, is why I as a bi woman have never slept with a woman, married a man instead, and probably never will sleep with a woman despite the fact that if anything I'm attracted more often to women than I am to men and I feel like I'm missing out on something integral to myself by never having a relationship with a woman. I don't feel queer enough, and I feel like if I acted on anything I would be dismissed, not taken seriously, and probably hurt in some way whatever "real" queer woman that I acted on it with.

And yet, on the other hand, friendships with other women are so hard sometimes too. I get crushes, and they're never returned. I try not to get too close because what if they get the wrong idea? And sometimes they've gotten the right idea or I've come out with it and they just... disappear. The friendship evaporates.

It's lonely being stuck in the middle, feeling not queer enough to be part of that community, but not straight enough to have close friends with women either.
posted by bridgebury at 5:35 PM on August 7 [36 favorites]


unrequited love stoked by intimacy and closeness... That sounds like torture. It seems like a real and damaging "friend zone" that casually downplays the feelings and agency of queer people.

I think this quote really expresses, though it wasn't intended to, why I'm having really strong feelings of anger and frustration at this article. Because - what separates these feelings of being 'friend zoned' from the feelings of cis straight men about being 'friend zoned'? We're all really good, especially here on Metafilter, of saying that no one is owed sex, that being given friendship isn't some lesser thing, that you aren't owed sex because a friendship is emotionally intimate and close, when it comes to men, but - somehow it falls down when it's women?

And also - I experience this essay as a super white* essay, too. Like, who is to say that this Euro-centric fairytale about Who Partners Are Supposed to Be is the One True Way to do anything? Like, this part in particular:
The more salient question is whether straight women realize that this near-queerness is a function of the rigidity and insufficiency of straightness. Do they ever ask themselves, What am I not getting from my boyfriend/partner/husband that I’m, instead, seeking out in this woman?
I don't want, and have never wanted, and never culturally expected my male partners to be as intensely involved in my emotional life as the women in it who I am not sexually involved with - I like having separate lives from the men I've been involved with. I will readily admit that straight men frequently have issues of stunted emotional growth, but even if they didn't, I wouldn't want them to be my everything. And it is frankly impossible for them to be my everything, because you can't have a true equal relationship when the power differential is uneven. If anything, this is not inherent to straightness but inherent to capitalism and more broadly hierarchy. And like - sciatrix's question really resonates.
What makes it queer? The commitment or the sex?
Like, I'm not sexually attracted to women, but I don't think it's possible in this world of power we live in to have the same kind of commitment born of equality with men. So what does that make me?

*And English speaking, like, girlfriend(romantic) and girlfriend(platonic) are confusable in English, but not in other languages, does that make the problem go away?
posted by corb at 6:17 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


I want to thank everyone for sharing in this thread. More than the article itself, your comments really drive home the problem.

And yet... and yet.... without the bad script, there'd be no script. How would we find each other? As a plain spoken person I try to to just say straight up what I want and hope others respond rationally rather than wig out, and expect and provide the same in return, but when rationality has very little to do with those needs for comfort and companionship, let alone physical intimacy, it all seems just so impossible to navigate.

Anyway, thanks again.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:34 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Straight women friendships being packaged and sold and conceptualized along lines of queerness, but not including queerness, and in fact punishing queer people socially or otherwise when they try to play along is not at all like the friendzone or demanding sex. Discussing how words that are used to describe romantic, and specifically queer romantic, couplings are being used in this casual gal pals way isn't an english only issue (or a white only issue), the specifics might change, but the problem remains. I do think this essay is steeped in the culture most of us reading it are in, and therefor discusses how friendships and queerness are seen in that context. If she were in a culture where men regularly held hands and kissed as signs of friendship, this article would, naturally have different points of view and details in it. Also, you say it yourself, the differences between men and women's power are huge - which is why it's pretty shitty to say this entire conversation? the essay? is lesbians are demanding sex from their straight women friends as if they're guys crying about being friend-zoned. You might not know this, not being queer, it also repeats some of the earliest homophobic bullying many queer people hear.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 6:58 PM on August 7 [25 favorites]


The things discussed in the article are really not anything like what's implied in the "friend zone" concept.

The idea of "friend zoning" is based on a societally conditioned expectation of romantic/sexual relationship between men and women, to the point that some men feel betrayed or deceived when they misinterpret women's platonic, nonsexual behavior as flirty or affectionate.

What the article is talking about is a societally conditioned expectation that there will not be romantic/sexual relationships between women and women, to the point that some straight women feel betrayed or deceived when their queer female friends interpret their actively flirty and affectionate behavior as implying possible interest.
posted by Lexica at 7:14 PM on August 7 [26 favorites]


Oh god this dynamic. Oof, I feel it.

It also makes me think about the repercussions of these dynamics solely between queer folks. A friend of a friend, who is a queer woman married to another queer woman, once said something along the lines of "there's a loneliness that's fundamental to being queer. I feel it too, all the time, and I'm fucking married." I remember finding that striking and powerful on one level, and deep down being profoundly jealous of her for expressing that idea when she had a loving partner to come home to every night. It was moving. That shit also hurt.

Reading this article, and thinking about some of the perspectives expressed in the replies here, I'm inclined to think that there IS something profoundly lonely in living outside of the script of what life has in store for you, what the boundaries of acceptable love and relating can be. And I think the jealousy and frustration we sometimes feel directed at one another is a structural consequence of this. We fall into a scarcity mentality because it's so scary to know that we don't have access to a large portion of romance options, and so when we see any kind of queer love around us, it must somehow impinge on our own ability to find that kind of love. Queer love feels like a zero-sum game sometimes. This is not what I believe in my heart of hearts, but it is perhaps part of how I feel even when I don't want to feel that, and I think stepping back it's understandable.

So while I did feel hurt by my queer friend, both her feelings and my feelings belong to this same societal/cultural context. I don't know if that makes it easier, but at least it makes me feel like we're all together in this.

(I suppose this is a slightly different framing than looking at the behaviors of straight women. But I'd rather redirect my attention to understanding what's happening in terms of us fellow queers and care for each other through it, even when facets of this experience can lead to us unintentionally hurting one another.)
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:25 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


As a queer trans guy, I think parts of this are shared experiences for a lot of queer people. I absolutely hecking don't want C from fourth grade or J or M from high school to date me now, nor do I think those people owed or owe any intimacy to anyone. I wish I had spent less time feeling intensely guilty about sometimes wanting to kiss them, and less time trying to repress those feelings, but I don't resent them for that.

I really hope everyone reading this finds their people, and gets to have close, fulfilling relationships that enrich all participants' lives, and gets to nest in ways that they find satisfying. I wasn't sure if I'd ever manage that for a really long time, and I'm amazed by how fortunate I've been.
posted by bagel at 7:28 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


The platonic use of "girlfriend" threw me when I first heard my mother use it, as a cis het boychild. I requested clarification, and once I received said clarification I still didn't really understand why it was a linguistic necessity.

As I've read over this article and thread, and thought back to that, I realized that of course the term evolved to serve to mollify shitty jealous men, to head off at the pass any sort of interrogation that might be the response to "friends" on its own. Bleegh.

This is the most open I have ever been about this on this site and I'm not even sure it's a good idea to post this. I'm not a lesbian. This isn't really my story. But this really resonated with me in a weird and hurtful way.

Metafilter is, for me, the single best place I've ever found for learning about experiences not my own. It's so amazing that, in the cess-pool that is the modern internet, there's a place that people feel comfortable sharing parts of themselves in the way that these threads sometimes engender. I appreciate more than I can possibly say.

It seems to me, from my perspective firmly within the norm, that this essay addresses a particular aspect of life that almost anyone with a non-normative identity grapples with to a greater or lesser extent. I appreciate, from the perspective of wanting to learn and wanting people to be heard, comments from anyone this essay resonated with. Thank you.
posted by Caduceus at 7:32 PM on August 7 [15 favorites]


I agree wholeheartedly that it's weird for grown straight women to refer to their female platonic friends (straight, or, especially, otherwise) as "girlfriends" and it would be much better if they didn't. It's also anywhere from inappropriate to simply cruel to flirt where you're not attracted.

The more salient question is whether straight women realize that this near-queerness is a function of the rigidity and insufficiency of straightness. Do they ever ask themselves, What am I not getting from my boyfriend/partner/husband that I’m, instead, seeking out in this woman?

There are other aspects of this essay which are interesting, but it reads in some places like it was written by a very young person--I mean, college-age, literally just finished reading some key texts, is still running on a theory high and hasn't grappled much with the actual texture of people's lives. It's strangely predicated on the assumption that everyone else must be acting on a particular extremely narrow heterosexual-monogamy-centric view of life. It's really not such an esoteric insight as she seems to imagine that a straight woman might be consciously choosing to get something emotionally important from someone not her husband. Even in many very conservative, very heteronormative societies, it is widely accepted that women will form strong emotional bonds with each other, maybe even stronger emotionally (though never, of course, higher in life priority!) than those with their husbands. They know what they're not getting, all right.

But it's not just a matter of society awkwardly using female relationships to compensate for men's inadequacy at intimacy. I'm straight, but have yet to meet a man I was convinced would improve my life long-term by being installed in it. Even if I should, even if he were my absolute ideal, I would never expect him to take over all the varied functions of my female friends. Those friends have important roles of their own that couldn't simply be subsumed under the marital one. Still, I'm not sexually attracted to women. My close friendships are not sad substitutes perpetually asymptotically approaching yet never achieving the true intimacy of sexual relationships. They're...just not (even the ones with women attracted to women), and her confidence to the contrary is what reads as terribly young to me.

the other possibility: that the friend who gets drawn into the execution of another woman’s heterosexual unhappiness and homosocial desire actually wants more, whether in terms of intimacy or simply acknowledgement. and to be pulled into a closeness that can’t exist on its own.

There are straight women who will exploit another's attraction to them; that's unquestionably a thing, and it's a shitty thing to do. But if you know someone is not interested in you sexually, and you insist on hanging around and feeling frustrated because you want more from them than you know they are willing to give, it's you who are continuing to show up for the intimacy. You are not being "drawn" or "pulled" against your will anywhere. I'm guessing that most of us (self included) have actually done this at one point or another, and eventually recognized it as an immature behavior. I don't think it's fair to compare it to "friendzoning" theory simply because there isn't the perpetual specter of male violence and coercive entitlement lurking behind it, and that's a pretty damned big difference. But it's equally futile compared to addressing your desire in an adult way. (Note that she does not seem to be thinking that it's actually unsafe to do so.)
posted by praemunire at 8:36 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


But if you know someone is not interested in you sexually, and you insist on hanging around and feeling frustrated because you want more from them than you know they are willing to give, it's you who are continuing to show up for the intimacy.

Okay, but at what point am I supposed to "know" someone is not interested if they don't say so? Sometimes it's obviously a joke and I find that kind of hurtful in that I don't really have access to the ability to joke that way, but it's not serious. But I've had a whole bunch of experiences that did not start as obvious jokes, and at that point I think it kind of relies on this idea that queer women are supposed to just know that, by default, no amount of flirtation is a sufficient signal for us to think that another woman wants us. That it all has to be read as fraudulent affection unless someone has provided signed documentation otherwise up-front or something similarly ridiculous. Because the women who don't seriously intend to become romantically involved with other women don't really show up with labels, and in any other circumstance, a woman talking about how we should get married or at least move in together, I'm not exactly seeing why this is on me to think, "Oh, yes, she probably isn't really interested."

Like, okay, maybe you're not doing this, and if you aren't, that's great, but can we not "not all straight women" this?
posted by Sequence at 9:24 PM on August 7 [21 favorites]


In general, it is super weird how straight women feel free to say that sort of "if I were into girls I'd be so into you" shit without any kind of "no homo" rider. In the closet hearing that kind of stuff feels like watching someone else casually juggle knives. Like, don't you understand the power of these words you're using? Don't you know this kind of attraction can ruin you just as hard as any other? Why would you just, like, wave it around like that? Does it mean so little to you, to find a woman sexy? I left a church over that shit, you know. I literally renounced a god. And you're giggling about it over mimosas!

If I started calling my female friends "girlfriend" (or, ffs, "wifey") the spousely freakout would be swift and intense. I'm a queer woman married to a straight man and any spark of even a little friendship I have with a woman results in an interrogation of sorts, which I consider to be annoying but ultimately not unreasonable; I cannot imagine just being able to drop "my wife" into conversation without it being a really huge fucking deal. I always do a bit of a double take when I hear it. It really is a different world for straight people, smh.
posted by potrzebie at 10:31 PM on August 7 [26 favorites]


my grandma just called everybody 'sister' which i did back when i was a lady, and back when i was a lady id also ask straights when they said girlfriend if it meant they fucked which was rude but i regret nothing

kinda drunk rn tired of straight people blessings upon bile's head as ever
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 10:35 PM on August 7 [16 favorites]


I left a church over that shit, you know. I literally renounced a god. And you're giggling about it over mimosas!

So.Much.This.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:42 PM on August 7 [15 favorites]


Oof. This might take me a while to process. But straight women wanting partner-level emotional labor and intimacy from me, but only on their terms and not truly reciprocated so that they could go back to their boyfriend or husband whenever they wanted and have their “normal,” “real” life, is why I’m no longer friends with straight women. And I’m not sure I put that together until now.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:44 PM on August 7 [16 favorites]


Not that it’s only straight women who do this. It’s not. But I have higher expectations for queer women who are partnered with men, I guess. Or at least I’m more confident that they’ll understand why when I draw a boundary. Though that is...not often true. There is a special shitty feeling when this comes from women who should know better, but still somehow want you to supplement their relationship with their “real” partner — again, always on their terms, never with an acknowledgement that I am also a person with feelings. They especially never seem to consider what it might be like to be a lesbian asked to do this — be someone’s primary emotionally intimate partner while they shop around for a dude they can fuck and settle down with — over, and over, and over again. Because obviously this isn’t real. I’m not really real.

Over and over and over again.

This is why I sort of internally twitch during a lot of conversations about biphobia. Every single woman that I’ve ever dated has turned out to be bi or pan — that’s just how it worked out — but there’s still not a lot of acknowledgement in those conversations about the ways that the expectations of patriarchy distort these dynamics. So I just end up feeling not seen at all.

Which is frankly the default state of being a lesbian. But it hurts more from inside the queer community.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:54 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


My experience with Straight Girl Crushes is usually that there are two competing scripts there, one which is the Script of Female Friendship where you have to be open to emotional intimacy and sweet and not hurt feelings and the other is the emotions you get from the semi-romantic things they'd never say to their male friends. You don't ask them out because you don't want to be predatory and you don't want to cut them off because that also feels predatory, like you're introducing an aspect into the relationship that is inherently perverse by reminding them that you could maybe feel desire for them sometimes.

However: I feel like you can still have deep, intimate friendships with people who you are attracted to, especially in the queer community. I'd like to read more stories about queer women who have abiding friendships with each other, because that has been my experience: bi and queer and trans women who love each other in a multitude of ways, and sometimes flirt, and sometimes do actually get together romantically, but mostly just appreciate each other as they are.

I think sciatrix's question is pretty salient here: "What makes it queer? The commitment or the sex?" As a bi woman who's had ace partners I'm pretty sure the primacy is what matters. Not saying that straight women can't achieve this, but my experience of queer intimacy is one of mutual prioritization. I will drive you to the hospital, I will help you manage your relationships with your family and friends, I will move in with you with the intention to make it forever.

Going back to the article's point about straight female intimacy, so many (not all, but so damn many) straight women's emotional landscapes are centered around male partners that it feels like they're on the prowl for something better than you even as you build an intimate emotional connection. With queer friends it feels like even if we don't date there's always the possibility of some alternate emotional arrangement, the "I love you even if I'm not dating you", "I have romantic feelings but we're not long-term compatible." With straight women the script of How Things Go always has the caveat that they're supposed to put their husbands first. Again, not knocking people who find primary fulfillment in romantic relationships, and many straight women don't, but the script is there and it is strong.
posted by storytam at 12:20 AM on August 8 [17 favorites]


Like the article mentions, the female friendship we’re taught, culturally, is equally formative and subtly malign. I read Anne of Green Gables and the like and learned that I'm supposed to have one best, dearest friend with whom I'd have an intimate, intense and all-encompassing friendship. Like, little boys are interested in slime and trucks and aimless running around while little girls whisper and play secret games and have advanced interior lives – which translates, er, nicely into adulthood. Looking back, I’ve always looked for that Anne-and-Diana friendship with the emotional intimacy I was “promised” and now, as a single woman who rather belatedly came into my queerness, it’s all tangled up for me. I frequently end up in what Sequence describes with the emoji-laden messages and wondering which path I'm heading down, and so far the answer has been hetero relationship-related disappearance and a gaping hole. It’s like the world is both more open and more closed.
posted by hannala at 4:13 AM on August 8 [13 favorites]


This is why I sort of internally twitch during a lot of conversations about biphobia. Every single woman that I’ve ever dated has turned out to be bi or pan — that’s just how it worked out — but there’s still not a lot of acknowledgement in those conversations about the ways that the expectations of patriarchy distort these dynamics. So I just end up feeling not seen at all.

Which is frankly the default state of being a lesbian. But it hurts more from inside the queer community.


Most of the bi/pan women I've dated have dumped me for men because they realized what being with me would cost them in terms of privilege, or their own willingness to deal with their internalized self-hate. If I talk about this, though, and about the ways this is shaped by the expectations of patriarchy and by sexism among women, I get dismissed as a biphobic lesbian - a cisheteropatriarchal stereotype if there ever was one.

To connect this back to the article, when this has happened to me I've had people expect me to "get over" it quickly, be happy for her, be her friend, and follow the script she wants, which is that nothing of consequence passed between us because hey, we're just gals being pals, but stuff with men is what's serious and we should all be supporting each other. And it doesn't surprise me a ton when it comes from straight cis women who are uncomfortable with folks like me, but like schadenfrau said - it's so much worse from other queer people, from the people I expect to see me as more than a freak or an activity.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:36 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


In the grand scheme of things, straight women using the word “girlfriend” is a pretty minor slight. I think....

“Their reactions in that episode complicate things, but it still boils down to the fact that they are straight women using intimacy for their brand in a time where the term ‘girlfriend’ can give a queer person, maybe even a kid, hope as they search for content… is it really cool for straight people to still be using it in that way it’s fucking 2018.”


It can give queer kids hope, and it can give queer people the mistaken idea that you're an ally when you're not. I had a coworker who was telling me about his vacation - how his sister and her girlfriend came, how he really likes his sister's girlfriend, how she's been coming on their family vacations for years. I thought, oh, how nice! I had this dude pegged as maybe a bit of a homophobe, but clearly I'm wrong if he's this accepting of his queer sister and her girlfriend. A couple days later, I mentioned something about my girlfriend, and when it became clear I meant female romantic partner rather than friend who is a woman, turns out my initial impression of this guy was correct.
posted by coppermoss at 5:50 AM on August 8 [19 favorites]


Most of the bi/pan women I've dated have dumped me for men because they realized what being with me would cost them in terms of privilege, or their own willingness to deal with their internalized self-hate. If I talk about this, though, and about the ways this is shaped by the expectations of patriarchy and by sexism among women, I get dismissed as a biphobic lesbian - a cisheteropatriarchal stereotype if there ever was one.

This feels like the thing we’re not even allowed to talk about, honestly, but it happens all the time and it haunts every relationship and it’s fucking terrible.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:54 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I see it as less about "friend zone" and more about privilege. Straight people can do same-sex intimacy or even eroticism as long as everyone involved is straight and that is understood. Add a queer person and straight people, even women, are entitled to get weird, violent, abusive, and appropriative. That's not every friendship, but enough that the stakes for friendly affection are radically different.

And no, straight people don't grok the kinds of minority stress we get from living around straight people, and get defensive if we talk about all the little bits of bias they shed. So that's another reason why lgbtq folk might feel uncomfortable with terms of endearment since it's rarely reciprocal.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:03 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


I read Anne of Green Gables and the like

It's funny you mention Anne. This essay and conversation around it and all the memories it drudged up had me feeling out of sorts last night. So i went looking for some nice relaxing TV...I nearly started the new-ish Anne of Green Gables show and laughed at myself before moving on to something a bit less personally fraught.


Most of the bi/pan women I've dated have dumped me for men because they realized what being with me would cost them in terms of privilege, or their own willingness to deal with their internalized self-hate.

This has also been my experience, except I am also a bi woman(ish). I hate how discussing this issue gets wrapped up in the idea of biphobia. When I've experienced it and tried to talk about it I too have been told that I am being biphobic and if I cared for these women I'd be happy about their happiness. I've bought it hook, line, and sinker to the detriment of myself many times. I still have...an ex?....I'd call her that, she probably wouldn't - on my facebook and I get this twinge of...resentment? loss? love mixed with my own self-hatred? when she posts pictures of her very het family. It's like every time I see those pictures I remember laying in her bed, moments after we had sex, and her telling me the boy she was on-again-off-again with got jealous of us to the point that he asked her out again. In the dark I let a couple tears fall as I congratulated her for getting what she wanted.

And I realize it's pretty rich for me to feel that way when I too ended up marrying a man. I realize that puts me in a different camp than lesbians who have the same issue. I guess all I can say is that I've never done that to another woman - I've never used them as a prop or a distraction or something to learn on without considering who they were in all of it. Ugh. It's all just so complicated and bad feeling.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 6:12 AM on August 8 [10 favorites]


Mmm. At the same time, what I hear from my own bi friends is--men might write off your relationships with women as not real enough to be a threat, but at least they believe that you're genuinely interested and not faking.

I am standing here from a liminal space, but what stands out to me--here and generally--is lesbian women not trusting bi/pan women to choose them, and bi/pan women not trusting lesbian women to welcome them and treat them as queer women. Not trusting that lesbian women will ever treat their choices as real.

I want to point out that those mistrust patterns come from trauma and lived experience. Of course they do. But they also reinforce one another.

I am wary and uncomfortable, as someone whose strange position means I don't actually get to trust anyone. I'm neither flesh nor fish nor good red fowl and know it.

I'm... conscious of how a discussion about self-identified straight women has now been expanded to self-identified bisexual women. Because, like... Okay, circling back to my earlier question, what makes it queer? Commitment, to me, encompasses more than just I promise not to leave. It means acknowledging that this relationship is real to me. It means acknowledging this desire is real to me. And I think there's a real difference between straight-identified women and bi-identified women on that front.
posted by sciatrix at 6:15 AM on August 8 [20 favorites]


Something this conversation is making me think about, as a bi woman and previously a bi female kid/teenager both before and after I was out to myself, is that you feel WEIRD because it seems like there are all these boundaries that everyone (the straights) understands but you. Like, at sleepovers do we change clothes in front of each other? What physical interaction is appropriate, how much can I enjoy it, how much can I be seen to enjoy it, and how should I frame that? We can paint nails and braid hair and hug and dance but like, am I allowed to like that? Is it okay if I want to do more of those things, and do I want that because it's fun or because I'm...you know...different? And so I felt like this huge, awkward, lumbering THING where all these other girls my age knew the rules and knew what was going on and I just shambled around trying not to break a rule I didn't understand or embarrass myself, and if straight girls did the flirty stuff I wanted to do it was fun and cool but if I did it maybe it was bad and wrong because I actually wanted to do it so I wasn't allowed. I felt like this terrible gross pervert because I wanted to look at other girls and touch other girls and everyone else did that in such an uncomplicated way (braiding hair!) and I wasn't sure I could engage so simply.

It's extremely frustrating to hear these feelings described as equivalent to the idea of a "friend zone" when the issue there is that men feel entitled to sex from women and I didn't even feel entitled to my own feelings. Women who are attracted to women don't believe they are owed sex but it would be nice if we weren't made to feel horrible for having basic human sexual desires and wanting to express those and set clear and healthy boundaries for ourselves so we don't just have to guess and suffer all the time.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:18 AM on August 8 [49 favorites]


I hate how discussing this issue gets wrapped up in the idea of biphobia.

I mean, it doesn’t just happen, passively. It’s the accusation that gets thrown out when people want to defend their own homophobia or patriarchal privilege and not have to call it that.

Because, like... Okay, circling back to my earlier question, what makes it queer? Commitment, to me, encompasses more than just I promise not to leave. It means acknowledging that this relationship is real to me. It means acknowledging this desire is real to me. And I think there's a real difference between straight-identified women and bi-identified women on that front.

To me it’s the commitment that makes it queer, and commitment can look like a bunch of different things, but an integral part of it is that acknowledgment of realness. Which doesn’t get less complicated — what if they acknowledge it to you, but not to anyone important to them? Etc etc. or what if it’s real up to a point?

And I think it’s inevitable that this discussion has expanded to include bi and pan women, because this is the thing that happens, over and over. Being bi/pan doesn’t mean you necessarily treat your romantic relationships with women as real. Sometimes it means the “not realness” doesn’t kick in until later, when it’s time to start making an actual life together. Which is...so much worse.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:23 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


This is timely for me, because just this week I've discovered that I need to reassert boundaries with one of my friends. She calls herself heteroflexible, and uses it to mean that she'll accept romantic and sexual attention from anyone, but will only really return that attention to men. She's honest about it, and she understands why someone might not want to become intimate under those terms, but it's also really obvious that it disappoints her. The less visibly queer I am, the less it seems to be an issue, but when she sees me flirt with women she starts asking me for sex again. It's exhausting.
posted by Akhu at 6:24 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


(That is not to say that biphobia is not a real thing; it is. But it also gets wielded like a cudgel in this specific, but expansive and hugely damaging area.)
posted by schadenfrau at 6:26 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Yeah - actual biphobia is really, like most shit things, another function of the patriarchy. Bi people being defined by their proximity to men is the way it most commonly shows up, I've found - bi men are really gay, bi women are really straight. That idea gets thrown around by just about everyone and there's no way (at least in my experience) that lesbians (or gay men) are the most responsible for that talking point.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 6:30 AM on August 8 [15 favorites]


Bi people being defined by their proximity to men is the way it most commonly shows up, I've found - bi men are really gay, bi women are really straight.

Also being married to a man does not make me straight! WTF! How come people always assume that me being married to someone straight means I'm straight instead of assuming that him being married to me makes him bi? People are never like "Oh, you're married to a bi woman, so you're queer now, that's how it works, right? I mean you're monogamous so it's basically like being bi for you, I don't know why you're getting defensive."
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:37 AM on August 8 [15 favorites]


That's pretty much what I mean - that you're/I'm really straight because you sleep with or partner with men. And, again in my experience, this is so much more often thrown at me from straight people. Sure, there are some pride parade related nastiness at times or frustration bubbling over or just someone being a jerk on the queer side with that topic, but it's straight people who talk about the phase I got over or don't count me among their queer children or am glad I "turned out straight" or tell me I can't say queer. I think sometimes bi people (myself included) can overly focus on other queer people being biphobic because we value their opinions more, we hope they'd understand - but, the real harm from biphobia by and large comes from straight people, I think.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 6:47 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Half the problem, I think, is that people don't know how they'll feel until they actually get into a situation. Like....

I think of the time when I was dealing with incredibly mixed signals from a friend I had years ago, who would cheerfully tell me that I was right that we had a particularly close friendship and that I mattered and she loved me when I tried to figure out what the fuck it is I do, long term. (I spent a year trying to figure out whether I should define as aromantic or homoromantic, and eventually concluded fuck it.) But she would also treat me in ways that weren't consistent, and when I got confused--oh, it was a mess.

(She was bi, incidentally, and I'm about 95% certain was in love with a mutual straight friend of ours and pining after her at the same time. College, man.)

And I mean, it's easy in hindsight for adult me to say "trust the actions, not the words; she was probably uncomfortable with saying or admitting to herself that she didn't like you or love you that strongly, and you should have gone and spent time with people who made you feel good all the time." At the time, I was figuring all of this out for myself... and, I imagine, so was she. I was learning what it was I actually wanted out of life--fuck knows I had no role models, people were calling me a role model at this stage of my life and it was terrifying--and while I would have gone away and eased off the moment she said anything along the lines of "you're too much, you're asking too much," that's a hard thing to say to someone. Especially when you, too, have been conditioned into this world of female friendships that are all consuming.

So she didn't say anything, and I stayed confused, and it went nowhere good. I have scars from that. I imagine she maybe does, too. I know for a fact that after she came out to me, the first week of our freshman year--she'd been out all through high school, she had had a girlfriend for years, she wasn't questioning--she went right back into the closest to all our straight friends and wound up staying there until we collectively graduated because, she said, she didn't want to be held at arm's length and kept out of the close friendships and relationships and casual affection that our friends circle mostly enjoyed. She didn't want things to be weird. And honestly, I believe her.

(I have never again had a friendship that close with anyone who wasn't ace spec or incredibly, intimately familiar with my community from experience beyond me. I don't ever again intend to, either.)

I think of that a lot when these discussions come up. I think that many of us carry a lot of pain and confusion from trying to negotiate that kind of affection and intimacy and figuring out what it is we want, and while I would hope we'd all get it out in adolesence, that doesn't work for everyone. It's hard, fumbling our collective ways towards an understanding of who we are and what, exactly, we want, and I think the culture of really intimate straight female friendships without that expectation of commitment can really fuck up queer women and their ability to articulate what exactly that they want and communicate that to other women.
posted by sciatrix at 6:48 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


I think there are three parts to the bi woman thing and they are:

1) Women are conditioned to center their emotional lives and feelings of self-worth around men. It's damn hard to get away from this conditioning, no matter what your sexuality is. Some bi women do end up seeing dudes as the "real" option because of the hell of cultural conditioning.

2) Bi people in general are afraid of rejection from the queer community. This isn't paranoia but something that does actually happen, because of our cultural conditioning etcetera etcetera.

3) Sometimes people are shitty. Sometimes girls will be selfish or not ready to be vulnerable with you for real or just straight up cruel. Sometimes they will leave you. It hurts more when they leave you for men.
posted by storytam at 7:03 AM on August 8 [10 favorites]


Women are conditioned to center their emotional lives and feelings of self-worth around men. It's damn hard to get away from this conditioning, no matter what your sexuality is.

Honestly I’d say this is the best part of being a lesbian. Literally not having to care what men think is just...so great. But it’s also why so many lesbians don’t come out as lesbians for a long time, and instead come out as bi first. (Myself included.)

I guess for me part of the difficulty is that I know how to handle straight women who don’t see me or my feelings as real, or who see me as a prop for their real lives. It’s easy. There’s a hard boundary, once you know what to look for.

But with queer women? Some of whom want to date me, and who’s issues with this don’t become evident until I’m already invested? That is way harder, and more hurtful. And every time it happens the wound gets deeper, and it never really heals, because again you aren’t supposed to talk about it and if you do you get so much shit for it.

I am not one of those lesbians that doesn’t date bi/pan women, and I don’t think I ever will be. (Christ, I’d like to find a partner and just stop dating entirely; this shit is exhausting.) But I understand the lesbians who do make that choice, just like I understand queer women who are attracted to men but who decide not to date them anymore.

Some wounds become too deep, and too raw, to allow you to navigate some spaces safely.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:14 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


Just to be clear because I blog about biphobia extensively, that's currently about:

60% Relationship violence and abuse primarily from straight people due to the unicorn/cheater paradox. Bisexual people are hot as long as we're sexy, available, and non-threatening. As soon as our bisexuality involves something other than sexy fun times, we start triggering irrational and potentially violent jealousy.

30% Research related to health risks linked to minority stress: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, diabetes, and heart disease among other risks. I strongly suspect that the next 10 years of LGBTQ epidemiology will identify minority stress as a bigger killer than HIV.

5% Health care and psychiatric bias.

5% Everything else, such as fuck Disney for bi-erasure in their cinema releases.

I'm a survivor of the first category so I see relationships with straight people as Russian roulette. Bi women have half the chambers loaded. Bi men, a bit less than half. But I'm pretty cautious about throwing out "biphobia" WRT to relationships inside LGBTQ communities because I don't see it as nearly on the same level as a straight person's entitlement to act out their insecurities in abusive ways.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:57 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


Very eloquently put, and I think that makes me understand a lot of things more, including bi people who do not have the courage to return or have never had the courage to participate in the queer community. Queer people and women in general get so much crap either from trauma in their own lives or the background horribleness of society that so many topics of discourse are just giant open wounds. I'm sorry that happened to you, it sounds really shitty.

We all keep scarring each other, is the thing. I do think that there are aspects to how femininity is constructed that contribute to that scarring, like the pressure to say things that you don't really mean to keep people happy, or because you want to be the kind of person who can make someone happy. The American female practice of being intimate verbally in ways that is very rarely meant seriously/literally ("let's live together forever!" or "I love you so much and I want to be your friend always") definitely fucks with people's heads a lot. I was raised in a culture where you don't say 'I love you' unless you actually meant you loved someone, not as you love chocolate but true emotion. Learning how to be an American woman meant learning how to say "I love you" back to casual friends and not really mean it, or how to hear it and not assume anything.
posted by storytam at 7:59 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


The American female practice of being intimate verbally in ways that is very rarely meant seriously/literally ("let's live together forever!" or "I love you so much and I want to be your friend always") definitely fucks with people's heads a lot. I was raised in a culture where you don't say 'I love you' unless you actually meant you loved someone, not as you love chocolate but true emotion.

But often it is meant though.

Like, this could absolutely refer to me, I have long term female friendships that are deliberate and intended to be long term and we talk about hopes and dreams and fears and needs and pick each other up from danger and answer when we are crying in the middle of the night and all this stuff, and we say to each other that we are each other's rock and mean it. When I say I love her and I want to be her friend always, I 100% mean it, I want to sit side by side in a rocking chair and giggle with her when we are little old ladies in fifty years. If our husbands die and our children are out of the house I will 100% offer to live with her and mean it. When another friend I had like that friend-broke up with me, I mourned it longer than I had mourned any romantic breakup and am probably still sad about it if I think about it. Like, I think that's the thing that's super frustrating, it assumes that straight women are somehow being tricksy or having 'fraudulent emotion' when they say these things, but these things are real emotions too, you do feel incredibly deep feelings for other women even if you are straight. Wanting to live with another woman forever is just fucking sensible. Why wouldn't you want to be together forever with someone you really deeply love?
posted by corb at 8:21 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


If there's a conflict between your friend and your husband--say perhaps if your husband has to move for work, and your friend can't move--who wins?

Would you choose to stay with a friend, or move with a husband?
posted by sciatrix at 8:37 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


I have a question about the "work wife" thing? Straight men can call women their "work wife" without going to HR. Are lesbians *more threatening* than straight men in that way or was the author's experience atypical?
posted by Easy problem of consciousness at 8:55 AM on August 8


ugh after my former best friend disinvited me to her wedding by pretending she was going to elope overseas, and let me find out from mutual friends that she'd done so because she told her fiance that i was the only woman that she, a hetero lady, could ever fall in love with, and he told her i wasn't allowed to be in the wedding party, i stopped befriending hetero women.

she called me a few years later on the day her divorce went through and i was like "lol no"
posted by poffin boffin at 9:23 AM on August 8 [21 favorites]


My experience is that lesbians are scarier because omg what if they think I am serious, whereas a straight man and a straight woman using that terminology are generally flirting, whether or not they are seriously flirting. They'll act in ways that are aware of the fact that this is potentially serious flirting, whether or not they have any actual interest in or intention of following through on it. And women in particular are not likely to bring that term up as a joke without having considered the possible communication ramifications.

Straight women behaving like this with other women often do not seem to think there is even the potentiality of seriousness or misunderstanding to the joke, and if a Known Queer uses a "work wife" type terminology with a straight person, my experience is that the straight person assumes that we are 100% seriously flirting and interested in them.

Also it's just fuckin' weird. Everything about it is weird. And it's the kind of weird that my presence in the room tends to highlight and make people uncomfortable and just, ugh. I should note that the application of the term to me is especially weird because like. I am not a threat to my friend's marriage, I promise. I am not interested in him. He's like a brother, which is what basically all my close relationships with dudes become. But it makes his wife happy to partition my friendship that way, so whatever works for her.

Straight people.
posted by sciatrix at 9:29 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


I have a question about the "work wife" thing? Straight men can call women their "work wife" without going to HR. Are lesbians *more threatening* than straight men in that way or was the author's experience atypical?

You are aware that in most states in the US, it's legal to fire people for being queer, yes? That all but two states still have the "gay panic" defense on the books? You're aware also of how hard it is to get sexual harassment by men against women taken seriously, ever? Straight cis men can get away with anything, because they have those privileges. Those of us who don't are punished for it frequently and excessively.

Also for straight people the only thing worse than us being attracted to them is us not being attracted to them.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:08 AM on August 8 [13 favorites]


Also for straight people the only thing worse than us being attracted to them is us not being attracted to them.

SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE FOLX IN THE BACK!

but yeah, when I worked, me being queer was always a bigger deal than anything the straight people were doing with their "work wife" stuff.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:10 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


No one is saying straight women don't have feelings, goodness gracious. We're talking about how much repeatedly hearing "I love you" (but not in that way, eww), "I'd live with you" (when our husbands are dead), "you're my wife" (but you're not) etc really fucks you up as a queer woman. It's awkward, it's hurtful, and it's so very hard to point out without getting endless straight woman tears.
posted by Cheerwell Maker at 10:19 AM on August 8 [27 favorites]


Why wouldn't you want to be together forever with someone you really deeply love?

For many of us, that's called marriage however one chooses to construct that kind of relationship. Building a fantasy that is carefully firewalled from reality behind "50 years from now" and "if ... then ..." can be cruel for someone who wants to work toward that now. I've unfortunately been on both sides there, and while the feelings are real, so is the pain when one person is willing to commit to the work now and the other person isn't. Those relationships didn't really survive that.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:23 AM on August 8 [13 favorites]


"If it were not for ___ we would be together." I've heard that. I've said that. And gods-damn silence would have been better in just about every case. In just about all cases, someone was pushing boundaries on another relationship.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:35 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Throughout my life, a number of the best friends I've had have been straight men, and the suffocating insistence by the whole goddamn world that one of us is "really" in love with the other is insulting and infuriating and fucking NONSENSICAL to me as a bisexual woman. Because meanwhile, my best-friendships with straight women are by default NOT sexualized, unless I inject my queerness into it and make it weird. Random lulzy catcalling for hot lesbo action by strangers isn't really gay to anyone. Ungggh, my relationships might be romantic or not regardless of gender, that's the whole fucking point of being bisexual.
posted by desuetude at 10:59 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Straight men can call women their "work wife" without going to HR.

We can't really judge what's okay by what straight men get away with. If a straight man called me his work wife I wouldn't like it. It would be weird and uncomfortable.

One of the reasons that they can get away with it is homophobia, for sure. But I also suspect that in general queer women are more conscientious and care more about whether or not they're making people uncomfortable. Women have been trained since birth to pay attention to others' comfort in a way straight men haven't, and when you add a marginalized sexuality that increases risk on top of that - hell yes there is a lot of self-interrogation going on about one's actions.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:10 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


anyway
posted by poffin boffin at 11:25 AM on August 8 [14 favorites]


I have a person in my life who is the "when and if" type. She's straight (of course). We've been best friends since the 9th grade. I love her with my whole entire heart and I believe she loves me the same. She calls me her soulmate (which makes her husband very upset - but whatever - I, of course, thinks he sucks). And it has still been hard and heartbreaking and different expectations of commitment to our friendship and different levels of how men become the focus. I applaud her though - in our early 20s after I wore a thing that made her feel a thing she sat us down and we had a long talk about "do we see if this thing is romantic or do we stay as we are?" - we stayed where we were. She's not queer and momentary flutters were not going to change that. We joke and call her a pillow princess or a waist up lesbian. But even those things can sting sometimes. She has fooled around with women but I'm honestly thankful that she never did with me, that she understood the different buy-ins from each of us and found more casual partners to see how she felt. And as much as I love her, as much as she loves me, as much as she's been as respectful and kind as she knew how as soon as she knew how - sometimes when falling asleep I remember when I took her to prom because her (older) boyfriend wouldn't and she spent all night assuring people she had said boyfriend and that her and I were "just friends" as always. As true as it was and is, it still stung? It still made me feel like I wasn't who she chose, not even in that night?
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:28 AM on August 8 [14 favorites]


God. Even here where I know she'll never ever see it, I feel guilty for even saying any of that. I know how hurt she'd be if she knew I felt this way or have ever felt this way. I feel like I am betraying her for saying basically anonymously about pain I have felt. We shoulder all this weight for the women who love us. It's not about demanding sex. It's not about straight women being unable to love each other deeply. It's this permanent mismatch between priorities and values and what words mean. If you're lucky, your person is like my person who at least can recognize it, which does dull the pain a bit. Most of us haven't been that lucky through most of these friend/relation/situationships.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:43 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


Er, yeah. I once mentioned the friend in the context of the blog I was writing at the time, very, very obliquely, and having decided at this point that for my own self-health I needed to walk away from the friendship entirely. (I think that was the sum total of my reference to her--just, that this was a thing, that relationships were scaring me, that I had a friendship that was really confusing me and I needed to walk away as I'd figured out what exactly it was that I wanted.

I pulled this off for about three months, saw her and wasn't 100% delighted in that moment, and then she dug up my blog, found the post, recognized herself accurately, made me talk about it, and at the end of it we still weren't friends and I was still walking away from my entire social circle and everything was exactly the same except we'd had to have a two-day Processing Dialogue about it first. At least she'd actually noticed that I'd totally vanished from her orbit, I suppose.

God, it--it really, really sucked. I don't recommend it.

I still have photos taken with her and the other friend on my Facebook. Occasionally, I go back and I look at them, and I am often struck by the way our body language reflects my memory of those days--the two of them arm in arm, and me always with a space between us, looking at them: on the outside, looking in.
posted by sciatrix at 12:09 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Wow. I think I was the pathological platonic friend to a bi friend in university (you may guess that we don't speak any more), and while over the intervening years I've gone over in my head how f-ed up it was, how horrible I was and so on, I never really recognised how much it was all part of this f-ed up societal narrative. Reading a lot of the comments above there is so much that is familiar from that experience. I'm sorry for the hurt I caused, but that doesn't make it any better - especially as in the decade-plus since that happened there doesn't seem to have been any sort of shifts that would stop a younger version of me causing that hurt all over again.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:59 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Man. I keep checking this thread over and over again. Part of that is being sick, but most of it is the momentary relief of just being seen.

Well. Relief followed by hunger for more, actually. So...double edged sword.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:34 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


I'm so grateful for all you queer ladies talking about this. I have always felt weird about flirty girlfriend stuff when i saw it, but had never thought about it in this light.
posted by emjaybee at 4:53 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I have a lot of feelings about this, which has a lot to do with realizing my own shitty behavior toward queer women while not admitting I was one (or only admitting I was in a half-assed way). Even now, in my late 30s as I've become more comfortable with my bisexuality, I still know I'm a cis white woman in a heterosexual relationship so of course I can feel OK being bi! I'm totally safe out in society! So mostly, while I understand being out is important, I'm not sure how important it is I'm out (not that I'm hiding it, either).

But I know I did treat a lot of the friends I was in love with badly because I was insisting on identifying as "straight." And yeah, some of that was being a young teenager or a young 20something without a lot of models, but some of that was just be being terrible. I knew I could totally have the best of both worlds without having to actually deal with it!

I know there were girls and women I loved, absolutely, romantically and sexually (although I barely crossed that line with them because I was too uncomfortable with myself to identify as actually being into women for such a long time) and I treated them poorly because I was too scared to address those feelings in myself. As I've gotten older, I've stopped flirting with women because I know it's not cool. It's fun for me, but it wasn't taking into consideration the other people involved. That was awful of me and I hate that I did it.

(In high school and college, I was kind of the token "straight" girl in most of my social groups so ... things were weird and my perspective is different. But that's another matter.)

This essay gave me a lot to think about and a lot to reckon with. I can only hope younger queer women have an easier time than I did and it maybe didn't take 25 years to start feeling comfortable with themselves.
posted by darksong at 5:35 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Same, schadenfrau.

darksong and Vortisaur, thanks for posting, I can imagine people I used to know thinking these things and feel a little more inclined to generosity toward them, wherever they are, which is nice.
posted by clavicle at 8:38 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


A long time ago, when most of my friends were sleeping with each other in various combinations, we started using boyfriend/girlfriend to describe romantic partners and friendboy/friendgirl to describe platonic friends of whichever sex (my understanding of gender has hugely improved since then, so please be kind.)

Just the other day on Facebook, I mentioned a backpacking trip I took with three female, platonic friends (though one is a married lesbian). I described them as my girlfriends, though clearly they are my friendgirls.
posted by workerant at 8:53 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


So mostly, while I understand being out is important, I'm not sure how important it is I'm out (not that I'm hiding it, either).

With apologies for the brief derail - it matters so much, especially because of your relative privilege. It matters to other queer people around you, who may be feeling isolated. It matters to straight people around you, that you challenge ideas about heteronormativity. It matters on the larger scale, because so many people that all queer people are highly-visible gender-nonconforming types (like me) that they can dismiss as freaks, and it matters to show that this is not the case, that we really are everywhere, and that we're diverse, that we're already among them and that we include people they've already accepted as "normal."

It matters to show that bisexuality is real and not a temporary state of not having a partner.

Finally, if you're married to a man and have that passing privilege but don't talk about being bi, you are functionally hiding it, because no one will ever ask you if you're bi when you're presenting as straight and giving them no reason to think otherwise.

If you're safe to be out, it matters so much to use that privilege and help create a world where it's safe for all of us to be out, and where it truly doesn't matter. Because for those of us who don't have passing privilege, we don't get to pretend that things are okay and maybe it doesn't matter.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:06 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


Bile, you know I've spoken to you about this, but:

I am a person in this conversation who has an invisible identity and history while simultaneously experiencing life as a visibly queer person. I experience both aspects. I disagree with you so emphatically and furiously on this point that I am almost flabbergasted it's come up again.

I pass as a lesbian because it's easier than coming out over and over again with an invisible identity. Your assumption, as someone in a visible identity, that it is necessarily better to be invisible--which is what passing means--and that this state is privilege makes me furious. It's nothing of the sort. When you deal with minority stress, having support and connection is hugely important to processing that stress. Moreover, coming out and having your identity and experience repeatedly erased is in and of itself a form of trauma. I don't disagree with you about the benefit of coming out accruing to everyone in queer community, but I am so angry at your assumption that bisexual women don't bear any of the costs associated with that coming out.

I choose to pass as you, effectively. Think about why in hell I might make that choice, will you? There's more to being queer than being sufficiently gay.
posted by sciatrix at 9:44 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


This is one of those posts that explains all my weird feelings about friendships my entire life and I'm going to be processing it for a long time. Thanks. It just.. really explains why I've struggled with friendships and have always felt like I'm an alien on this planet. Being queer in a small town sucks and all of you with a community hug your people for me who get this article. I've opted out of friendships because just so wounded by them.
posted by kanata at 9:44 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


The whole reason that "I'm choosing to move in with my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/partner" has very different meanings depending on the perceived gender(s) of who is involved comes down to heterosexism. LGBTQ people are more than entitled to resent the double standards that make the language we use to describe affection and relationships awkward and fraught.

I find "I love you but not in a (homosexual) way" to be problematic regardless of speaker because it contrasts straight "platonic" love as good and homosexual eros as something to be disavowed. You can just say, "I love you as a friend," or "I love you as a sibling," or some other "I love you as ..." construction.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:13 AM on August 9 [7 favorites]


Sciatrix, I'm visible because I've spent every day of the last 28+ years busting my ass and taking all kinds of shit to make myself visible.

If you bothered reading what I said, you'd see that it says if you're safe to be out at the start. I've said that consistently, and you've consistently chosen to misread it and also to ignore that I'm bi - high kinsey, but still bi.

Go find another straw man to take down.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:36 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I just feel like there's a difference between "I don't want to be out bc I feel like I'm appropriating things that aren't mine" and "I don't want to be out bc it's complicated and fraught and maybe will add to my own struggles." I felt like bile and syntax was responding to the former and the critique is with someone who feels the later? It just feels like 2 different conversations.

Stay stealth if that's what you need or want. But if you stay closeted or quiet because you think you're not XYZ enough, people who are undoubtedly XYZ enough would love to see you declare it for reasons that are yours and reasons that are the community's.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:42 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


[Y'all, if you have personal beef or something the place to sort that out if it's going to be sorted out is over private channels, not as a public back-and-forth in a random MeFi thread. If there's something MeFi-specific that needs talking out, reach us at the contact form, otherwise please find a way to either drop it or manage it privately.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:04 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


the way in which we all grow up knowing not just that women can be used, but how to use them. We internalize both

I keep coming back to the last intense friendship I had with a straight woman. “Friendship” might even be a misnomer, because it ended somewhat dramatically, and we don’t speak anymore. But of course it was a friendship, right? An intensely emotionally intimate relationship with a person you talk to every day and see several times a week is still within the bounds of female “friendship”?

I had thought it had ended for a combination of reasons — I was the person she talked to about the two major things in her life at the time, her career and her relationship with a man she would later marry. (But like, the only person she could cry with. And she did, repeatedly, even if she had to get drunk to do it.) and around the same time, those two situations resolved themselves. I’ve wondered since if she wanted me to talk her out of her relationship; that was never something I was going to do, but there were enough hints.

But I’ve always thought she slow faded me because she didn’t need me anymore at exactly the time when I got sick.

But that was also when I got a girlfriend. That relationship was stereotypical as fuck; intense and then burned out in like 3 months, even though I should have known better. But I remember Friend’s reaction. She was not happy that I was no longer available whenever she needed me. That she was no longer the primary priority of my attention.

And that, I think, is when she checked out. She didn’t have to break up with me, and in fact couldn’t without acknowledging that the relationship was important. So she mean girled the shit out of me and slow faded instead.

And what’s weirdest about this is that, in my recollection, I thought I was safe from all this bullshit because I wasn’t attracted to her.

But it didn’t fucking matter. Later I remember that I really resembled the one famous lesbian she ever had a crush on, who she would have wanted to date. I remembered a few other things too, how she’d often end up touching me, casually, even though that is something I am super careful about with straight women.

And I’ll never know. I’ll never know why this person, who was the first person to love me after I got incredibly burned by a terrible break up, decided to end our relationship via, essentially, gas lighting. I’ll never know what really happened, because all of it had to happen in the shadow of heterosexuality, and I think more importantly, patriarchy. I’ll never know, and I’ll never be able to explain why and how getting gas lighted about the end of an important relationship was so damaging (except, maybe, to other queers), and the man she did marry — who I liked, and who she treated kind of badly, and who will never know that she literally described him as “fine” even though he’s a pretty great guy — will never know either. And instead she’s going to go on to have the life she thinks she has to have, even though she hates it.

And I saw her cry about all of it. Of course she’d never forgive me for that.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:28 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


And OH MAN, but I’m also just realizing how much bewildered shame and hurt I carried around about the end of that friendship, because even in my own head I wasn’t allowed to consider whether her feelings for me might have been romantic. Whether the way she broke things off had more to do with how we treat people we want but aren’t allowed to have rather than anything I did.

How even in my own telling, I deferred to the fucking patriarchal heteronormative awfulness, rather than question what she wanted from me.

GodDAMMIT.

/This has been Processing with Schadenfrau.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:36 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]


This whole thread makes me despair of my current romantic interest. I haven't been sure whether we're "romantic", friends, or .. what.

I'm still not sure.

I'm afraid to ask, because I'm afraid of the answer.
posted by dwbrant at 8:56 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]


It is absolutely wild to me that there are a few straight women making comments about how this is fine because they want their emotional needs fulfilled by their women friends instead of their male partners. Like absolutely WILD that this seems like the place for that.

It has been so so painful to me that I’m not allowed to have close female friends. Over the years so many women have leaned on me emotionally and absolutely completely disappeared when I expected the same from them. I just don’t have non-queer friends anymore.

And yes, that essential loneliness is so real. Even with my girlfriend there’s a level of intimacy that I deny myself because of the trauma from all these betrayals.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:28 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


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