December 13, 2011

Q and A with Your Token Queer Friend

Since it’s finals week and my brain has become entirely useless, I decided to do something fun for this post. I invited my six closest friends to ask me any question they wanted about My Queer Life. I did my best to answer [most] of their questions based on my personal experiences, but of course, I’d love to hear other people’s opinions/responses! Whenever I’m talking about the community as a whole, keep in mind that my responses are based on my personal opinions/view-points and that they may not be true for everyone.

Who has been the hardest to come out to? Did you have any negative reactions?
Well, you [my best friends] were. I’m not sure why it was so hard to talk about my sexuality with you all, the people who probably know me better than anyone. Maybe that was it. Since you know me so well, I was scared that it would change something if I told you that the version of me you knew wasn’t actually who I was. It felt like I had been lying to you or something. Of course, you all knew who I was all along—probably even before I did. And now that we do talk about it, I realize that what changed our relationship was the fact that I hid something so important to me from you.

In terms of negative reactions, I haven’t really had any so far. The closest I’ve come to a negative reaction was one individual who, while trying to be respectful and open, asked several rather uncomfortable questions. Perhaps uncomfortable isn’t the right word…it was more that they were coming from a very skewed perspective.

Do you feel you've been able to express more/different parts of your personality since you've been out (cliche but do you feel more YOU)?
I absolutely feel more ‘me’ now that I’ve started coming out. I feel as though I gained a lot of self-confidence when I came out, which helps me to express myself in all types of situations. The weight of trying to hide something so central to your identity inevitably has consequences that affect how you live your life and how you interact with other people on a daily basis. Feeling confident in myself has allowed other aspects of my personality to become more vibrant.

Who is expected to pay for the first date? What's the protocol?
Generally, I think that whoever makes the invitation should pay. Then again, in my experience same-sex dating is much more egalitarian than heterosexual dating. Rather than there being the expectation that the ‘gentleman’ should always pay, there seems to be an expectation that same-sex couples will take turns paying. Offering to pay for dinner/a movie/whatever else people do on dates is a really nice gesture that certainly isn’t lost when you’re both making the effort.

What's considered sex for lesbians?
This pretty much sums it up.

Are there any terms/phrases/questions that someone has said offhandedly that you considered offensive? And on the flip side, can you think of anything that other people may tiptoe around because they think it's offensive but actually it's not? Do you find it offensive when girls jokingly refer to themselves as lesbians?
I can’t think of anything that people have said offhandedly that I find offensive. People seem to generally mean well, and if they don’t, they tend to make their offensive statement very clear. The only word that I consider offensive is “dyke”—but then again, I’m only offended when someone who is not a queer woman uses it.

It seems like people tiptoe around the word ‘homosexual’, and I’ve even had someone directly ask me if it’s offensive. I personally don’t find it offensive, just awkward. I probably wouldn’t talk about any of my straight friends as heterosexuals—it’s weird, right?

I’m not sure if I would say that I’m offended when girls jokingly refer to themselves as lesbians, but I am annoyed by it. First of all, I think joking about being a lesbian trivializes the way queer women feel and live their life. The fact that I date women isn’t funny—it’s just normal. Secondly, I feel as though the context of these jokes is usually the bigger issue. It’s frustrating when girls pretend to be lesbians to get male attention (#mixedsignals?) or call themselves lesbians because they’re wearing not-so-feminine clothing (#lesbianslikeskirtstoo). We know you want to be one of us, but you can’t. Get over it.

How do you think same sex relationships compare to straight ones? Are there 'roles' as often stereotyped or not so much?
Same-sex relationships are pretty much exactly the same as straight relationships. Same-sex couples go on dates, cuddle, fight, make-up, work on communication, fall in love, get jealous, break-up, and do it all over again. As far as there being ‘roles’ in the relationship, I think that there are always roles that people play: someone is the pursuer, someone prefers to be pursued, someone likes planning dates, someone brings up the difficult topics that need to be discussed, someone typically initiates sex, and so on. I feel that in general, who plays these roles within a relationship depends on the personality of each partner, not their gender.

Do people usually assume you’re straight or gay?
I think that people generally assume I’m gay, but then again, who knows. People surprise me sometimes.

Would you say as many lesbians want to or plan on have children as straight girls?
I’m not entirely sure about this one. My initial reaction is that whether or not women want to have children isn’t really impacted by their sexuality. These days, people have so many options in terms of starting a family that it is perfectly reasonable for same-sex couples to have the same hopes/expectations about having children that opposite-sex couples do. However, my experience with this topic is limited, so I would love to hear other people’s opinions!

Do you think you can tell if others are gay better than most people? How?
I think I have a pretty good ‘gaydar’. Maybe it’s because being queer means that I know what it’s like to go through the process of questioning/coming out, or maybe I’m just particularly perceptive. Who knows? I think it’s pretty easy to pick up on the innate sense of confidence that queer individuals have (yes, even those of us who are super awkward have this confidence).

As far as the gay community and your relationships with other lesbians increasing.. what's your relationship with gay men like?
Great question! While I have met more gay men since I came out and started hanging out at the Center, I definitely wouldn’t say that I’ve built any significant relationships with gay men. I’m not sure if this is a product of the LGBTQ community at Duke being divided in some senses, or if it’s because I tend not to build strong relationships with men in general (gay or straight).

What do you do if a guy tries to hit on you? Do you tell them right away, play hard to get because that's funny, let them keep talking..?
Let me start by saying this doesn’t happen very often…most guys seem to get the idea pretty quickly. For those that don’t, my first reaction is a pity laugh (haha not really…but it is kind of sad). I don’t feel the need to out myself right away—“Hey, how’s it going? My name’s Logan and I’m into girls.” Awkward. Making polite conversation is nice and an easy way to work in little details that will let them know I’m not interested. You have to give them props for making the effort, right?

That said, when a guy tries to hit on me for his sister, I’m all for it! #truestory

The heterosexual Duke relationship culture is generally viewed as hook-up oriented, what's the Duke lesbian relationship culture? How would you say it's different?
In my opinion, the ‘lesbian relationship culture’ is very much relationship-oriented rather than hook-up oriented. The stereotype that queer women tend to get in serious relationships really quickly seems to be true—if anyone has an explanation for why this is I would love to hear it! Realistically, queer women on campus can’t really afford to be hook-up oriented because the community is so small. The chances of finding another queer woman at Shooters—much less having a D-floor make-out with her—are pretty low. That’s not to say that women don’t want to pursue hook-ups instead of relationships, but rather that the community isn’t big enough for that to work—inevitably, you’ll end up hooking-up with a girl your best friend dated two years ago who cheated on her with your other best friend who’s now dating a new girl, who also happened to have a fling with the girl you just hooked up with. You get the point.

Girls often dress "slutty" to attract male attention, what do you do to attract female attention?
Get a queer haircut and wear flannel? Joking. Kind of. I don’t usually make a conscious effort to attract attention. I find confidence most attractive, so I guess that goes both ways? For me, the most important thing is feeling good about the way I’m presenting myself.

What is something you've learned about women that you might not have?
Interacting with other women in a romantic context is very different from a purely platonic one. It’s hard to name anything very specific that I’ve learned, but I think it’s fair to say that I respect women so much more after coming out. Maybe that sounds weird, and it’s certainly not implying that I didn’t respect them before, but it seems like ‘respect’ really is the best word for it. I think I always viewed women in a heterosexual context as being almost dependent on men in relationships—not really taking charge of what they wanted. Seeing queer women as strong, independent, confident, and inspired is really awesome.

What's the biggest advantage to being a lesbian?
Getting to date girls. Girls are great :)


  1. "I absolutely feel more ‘me’ now that I’ve started coming out. I feel as though I gained a lot of self-confidence when I came out, which helps me to express myself in all types of situations. The weight of trying to hide something so central to your identity inevitably has consequences that affect how you live your life and how you interact with other people on a daily basis. Feeling confident in myself has allowed other aspects of my personality to become more vibrant." and "What's the biggest advantage to being a lesbian? Getting to date girls. Girls are great :)" MMM. Yes! :D

    The idea on respecting women is really interesting-let's talk about this in person!

    I also find it offensive when women or men joke about being lesbians, unless there's been some pre-defined reason for them to talk about it (hi Alex!). If I ever joked about an identity that I didn't actually have the experiences for, I think that would seem pretty ignorant.

    I also like that you brought up the word dyke-and that it means sometime different within the community v/outside of it. Especially considering women in our community sometimes identify as a dyke, and only dyke. For example, "Dykes on Bikes" and "Dyke March" (which is a KICK ASS name by the way, and I don't think should ever go by any other name, but again that's my personal preference for radicalism):
    [Side note]: I just had a conversation with Jess about trying to define dyke-we agreed that we couldn't, and also wouldn't want to. We did talk about how the word "queer" wouldn't be okay in certain regional circles (aka VA for her community, it's seen still as negative) so different words are being used & mean different things all over the place for our community, and perhaps dyke MIGHT come close to replacing queer in those circles where it wouldn't be okay (ex., VA)-but that again we couldn't really define it, never could define it-and honestly never would really want to define-it's too individual!

    Which goes into this-that the queer/LGBTQ/womyn-identified-womyn experience is so individual! Hopefully your friends recognize this is just one woman's experience-and recognize that there are so many women who would have completely different answers to all of the above, but of course all responses are equally valid, and that diversity within our community is awesome. I empathize with them on wanting to know more, but also would challenge them to ask every queer woman these questions if they're interested on her specific experience, cause it's bound to be different (like how Jess and I couldn't even define dyke, and again didn't want to.) Some queer womyn identify as dyke, or straight even, hook-up 24/7, never pay for a date, don't think twice about the world identifying as lesbian, etc. It's hard sometimes to ask individual experiences, because like you said sometime it ends up feeling awkward, but I think perhaps more often than not, if the person is out, the respectfully word-ed question can solve a lot: "I'm not sure if you'd like to discuss this, and if you wouldn't like to, that's okay, but I was wondering what your opinion was on X/Y/Z and what your personal experience was like, because I'm interested in learning more...", etc. Like you said-it seemed odd that your friends DIDN'T talk about all of this with you at first; I think asking individual experiences is perhaps the most respectful thing you can do; it affirms that the person and what they have to say is important...and I'm not sure respect gets much higher than that.

    REALLY interested to hear what other people have to say about this stuff-and thank you so much Logan for sparking a dialogue on dyke/lesbian/queer womyn-identified-womyn identity, we need this.

  2. I have been expanding my thoughts on re-appropriating terms and names. I remember (honestly, I could be messing up the setting details of this story), Megan when you came back from Spain and we were in the Catholic House and there was a handful of queer women there and I said dyke at some point. You looked at me and said, “I don’t like that word.” And I was like, “Noooo but it’s totally an identity, we can’t just cut the word from being used because it sometimes has a negative connotation” (or something along those lines.)

    And honestly, I think the same holds true for so many words that we’re hush-hush about. Queen, queer, dyke, bitch, fag, slut etc etc etc. Certainly, I wouldn’t use these words around people who are uncomfortable with them. Certainly, I wouldn’t use these words without checking in with people. In most cases, I wouldn’t use these words around straight people or men, especially straight, men, especially especially straight white men (something I picked up from a friend) because of what power means, and because of what my words mean.

    You may not agree with me, but the audience I’m speaking to, or who might hear me, is just as important as me having a voice or re-appropriating words. If I’m using these words speaking to my best friend who is a queer woman, they will be taken differently than if I was throwing around the words bitch and cunt for anyone to hear me.

  3. I'll add my little $.02 on dyke. I use dyke to describe a queer woman with a specific aesthetic (see: that is hard to describe otherwise. I often use this word to describe girls I'm looking for/not looking for (ex. I ran into this hot dyke at the farmers market/Why are all the girls at the club tonite dykes) or to indicate to someone that the girl I'm referring to is more masculine than me, but not a butch. I sometimes think of it as a lesbian equivalent of "guy"- more youthful and less rigid than "butch." Of course, this interpretation of dyke is grounded in my strong identity as a femme and my habit of dating women more masculine presenting than me.

    I recently told a straight friend that I had found myself a dyke. She was caught off guard and asked why I meant by it. I explained that the girl I was referring to was a bit of a tomboy.

  4. I'm always surprised when people list "queer" in lists of words that are problematic or potentially hurtful. For me, "queer" as an insult is something I only see in the movies and thus have trouble really understanding as real (along with locker rooms and lunch room politics; mine was an unusual childhood). My history with the word is entirely with old British and Canadian fiction, in which all my favourite heroines where "queer" in the sense of being dreamy and bookish.

    I identify with "queer" in a way that I don't identify with any other possible word for my sexuality, and it's weird for my to think that someone else might be hurt by my identity.

  5. Yeah....if FB let me write in a gender, mine would say "queer dyke". Because that's just how I experience it. I have the style and swagger of a dyke, and I love that community, but my gender and sexuality are also pretty fluid.

    Re: queer women at Duke being very relationship focused: As someone with extensive experience being queer while NOT at Duke, I think this is mostly dependent on the community, not something that is usual for queer women. While I've seen UHauling happen (and done it myself, occasionally), the frequency with which the queer women I know jump straight into a serious relationship is not actually any greater than with straight folks I know.

    More casual dating or even hookups are the norm in most places with a larger pool, especially when everyone is a bit older and has been out longer.