How do I stop being afraid of women?
March 2, 2009 12:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I, a lesbian woman, get over my fear of women? Ever since I was little I have had trouble making friends with women and it cripples my dating and friendship options.

I make fast, easy friends with guys (straight and gay, for what it's worth). These are not attention-getting, "tee-hee let's flirt!" friendships either. They are serious, brotherly friendships--I have a pretty stereotypically masculine personality, I identify strongly with the thoughts and troubles of my male friends, and have a much easier time relating to my male friends then the few female friends I have. It goes to the point where I can forget I'm female in a group of guy friends, and feel uncomfortable in a group of female friends when they are complaining about men because I feel like I am part of the group they're complaining about.

In contrast to my friendships with men, forming friendships with a women is a trial. The problem dates back from a young age. I was always extremely tomboyish and as all of the girls around me went through "girly" years I got it in my head I was irrevocably different from other women. I wanted to be their Prince Charming and it put me in a weird in-between zone. It didn't help that the few female friends I had stabbed me in the back over middle-school queen-bee bullshit since I was a socially awkward, nerdy kid, and this further cemented a fear and lack of understanding of girls.

I'm older now, and intellectually realize that women are human beings, and they come in all different types and personalities, and I'm not so different from other women and I should treat them as I would like to be treated. However, that doesn't help my instinctual reaction to flee whenever meeting new women. At this point the mire of sexual attraction and subconscious fear that women are mysterious creatures I could never understand make forming female friendships a veritable nightmare, impossible unless I meet them through male friends and then it takes a long, long time before I feel comfortable talking to them without my male friends there.

This question feels embarrassing and dumb. I consider myself a strong feminist, a strong woman, why do I have such a dumb view of women as an "Other"? Can anyone give advice on how to work through this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You need other lesbian friends, first and foremost. Even butch/masculine/tomboy lesbian friends, even if they're not the ones to whom you're attracted. Meet them in a setting that has to do with being queer women together - join a dyke march planning group, or a photography group, or just post on craigslist for queer friends, or volunteer for a queer youth org, or get involved with anti-prop8/equality rights in your state or country, etc. The point being you have to get comfortable with all sorts of women (I know this is part of your question) in order to eventually feel comfortable with women you'd like to date.

Or start dating online -- no need to jump into bed or even meeting people - but it gives you an online forum for conversing with women - without other women around, without men that you're comparing yourself to, without their friends around. It's a pretty easy place to jump in, even as a shy lesbian / queer woman.

Honestly most queer women I know, especially lesbians, don't sit around complaining about you won't feel 'attacked' in that way. You'll soon see that most dykes aren't the backstabbing girly-girls in grade 4 -- EVEN THE FEMMES!

The only thing that is going to get you over this is exposure...and how much fun is that? It's your homework for the week. Sign up for the nearest/best online lesbian dating in your area. in Canada and parts of the States (super awesome women on there, even if you're not in Canada - they'll be nice to you :-), OK Cupid, Nerve, Lavalife, Pinksofa, whatever. Put one cute photo of yourself or two artsy photos and some interesting/funny things about yourself. Maybe next week write to one or two people. Slow and steady!

And do you know any lesbians? If so - have them take you out to their social events. It'll help give you an introduction without having to figure out the scene for yourself.

Good luck,'ll be so worth it :-)
posted by barnone at 12:56 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with barnone's suggestion to join a group or club with lots of womyn, queer or otherwise. You won't have to make idle chit-chat (which, maybe makes you feel awkward) because there will be a task at hand. If you find some sideline opportunities for conversation during these activities, it's great! If you find you don't have much in common with the womyn you meet, at least you can talk about what you're doing at that moment. I mean to say, it will be low-pressure this way.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:00 PM on March 2, 2009

I hope this doesn't sound hyper-psychoanalytical, but because you are attracted to women, there will always be some element of "otherness." This seems particularly about your relation to straight women, not women in general, and perhaps that's the problem: that in an attempt to identify with a certain group we sacrifice our identity with others, and in doing so, give up the privilege of really being about to connect with that group.

That group is straight women for you, straight men for another. And because it was heterosexuality that most dominated your life, all our lives, we correlated normal men and women with straightness, and those who were different with something entirely else.

Anyway: force yourself into the company of women, absolutely bite the bullet and do it, just do it, just freaking do it. There are scarier things in the world than going shoe-shopping with your buddies' girlfriends.
posted by trotter at 1:01 PM on March 2, 2009

There are scarier things in the world than going shoe-shopping with your buddies' girlfriends.

What?? Noo..... that is the scariest experience ever for a boyish/tomboyish/shy queer woman. Are you serious?

If you are, dude I love women. I love all women. Friends with women of all kind - queer, straight, trans, whatever. But the idea of shoe-shopping with the lady partners of guy friends makes me want to die inside... "um I'll be over here, looking at the guy's shoes. What? Oh yeah, those... high things...look great on you and super comfy too!" No, just no, that will reinforce her separation from 'those' kind of women and increase the feelings of isolation. Shoe shopping is like the epitome of gender difference, and yes, gender difference applies here.
posted by barnone at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2009 [8 favorites]

I think trotter was speaking of shoe-shopping as a social experience... but as a lady with man-sized feet, I'd also advise against it :) Replace shoe-shopping with playing cards for a gender-neutral experience that everyone will enjoy.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2009

Not that this is prescriptive, but maybe consider that what you're feeling might just be the human condition. It sounds like you suffer from the same discomfort so many straight people feel when trying to be "just" friends with their opposite sex. You can't get over the idea that this person is a sex object, on some level. Whether desirable or not, you can't disconnect that part of your brain from engaging, and you can't be comfortable with the tension.

Which is probably normal. Instead of trying to fight that, just accept/embrace/extend it, if you can, into a sort of "yes this woman is sexually attractive, but I don't want that here so I'll just move on to this other stuff." In other words, just recognize and bounce off the tension instead of getting stressed or worried about it.

At least that works for me. I have had multi-decade deep friendships with many straight women (I am a straight male) without it causing any real problems at all, and I think at least part of it is that I don't try to ignore or worry about the occasional sexual tension. At "worst", that's 20 years of ironic flirting.

And barnone, data point: a very good (and very lesbian) friend of mine happens to have the biggest collection of ridiculously impractical "girly" shoes I have ever seen in my life. Her shoes have their own entire room, and she's shopping for shoes all the time.

So there are definitely many different stars under heaven, and all that.
posted by rokusan at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2009

I was once in the same situation as you. But once I started meeting more dykes, things got easier. I love women, but some straight women have a different vibe that can definitely be intimidating/awkward if you're the tomboy sort. I agree with barmone, that it'd be a good idea for you to meet and make friends with more lesbians. Especially the butch ones. You'll probably find that many of them have had the same experiences as you and that you'll have many more similarities than differences. But give the shoe shopping a miss.
posted by lazy robot at 2:03 PM on March 2, 2009

Is there any type of lesbian community where you live? If so, do you have any skills that you can use to take part in a social event? For exampe, I DJ for fun and was able to meet women in a passive way just by being behind the DJ table at events in the community. Volunteering at a local LGBT center is another way to meet women in a social setting that is non-threatening. What about sports? There may be basketball or other sports teams that you can get involved with. In other words, as suggested by other posters, getting into friendly, social situations will allow you to get used to being around women and eventually allow you to feel more comfortable.
posted by Piscean at 2:10 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

No, I know it was supposed to be a social experience, and obviously I know there are lesbians with great shoe collections of all kinds - femme, sporty, urban, boi-ish, skaterish, professional, whatever.

But your data point is the opposite one that the original poster is talking about... a boyish, masculine, shy, socially awkward, scared-of-women, inexperienced lesbian will not enjoy shoe shopping with straight women she doesn't know. She just won't. Not until she's comfortable with them, or maybe if they're super queer (culturally, not even necessarily sexually).

I'd bet she might not even enjoy cards with them. The whole point is to start meeting other queer women, for whom talking about their relationships to men is not the primary object of conversation or concern (yes I know straight women talk about other things, and rarely only talk about their relationship to guys, but that's often something they have in common, especially in terms of sex and desire!!). There's a whole world out there filled with women who aren't like those the poster worries about...and ultimately I'm sure she can be friends with straight women and even relate to them, but the first thing is to start recognizing herself in a social setting with other women who socialize, think, laugh, tease and enjoy things she might enjoy. I'm sorry, but (culturally) straight women aren't going to be the best supports for a lesbian starting to find her way in the world and figuring out her desires. They just aren't. I'm sure every straight girl will jump in here to say, "omg, I have the gayest friend, I've been a great friend." I'm sure you have, but part of sexual identity (especially for non-normative types) is finding a community that makes sense, and introduces you to other kindred folks, and truly gets what you're talking about here, as in, "very little explanation needed, I understand what you're saying. I was the same way." That is a powerful recognition of the self, and it's through those kinds of validation that one can also start thinking about desires and attractions.

Part of the reason why you're now freaked about meeting women is that the cultural norm of heterosexuality is splintered along gendered lines. Homophobia and sexism go hand in hand - lots of academic and cultural articles on this. I'm sure your friends aren't overtly homophobic or sexist, but the structural powers are much deeper than personal/individual intent. According to that normative logic, you'll never be masculine enough (you're not a 'real' guy) nor will you be feminine enough (for two reasons - gender and sexuality). But don't fear... there's another logic out there -- one where you inherently make sense, are interested in other women who are also outside of those expectations, and are interesting to those other women for precisely the same reasons.

You'll find it if you go looking, and if you're relatively able to be online or in a physical space without massive fear for your physical/psychic health. I guarantee...if you really don't know where to look in your area or online, drop me a line. I'd be happy to point you in some good directions if I'm at all familiar with your area and confidentiality is absolutely guaranteed.

Find the dykes and you'll probably be surprised at how easily you fit in, and how quickly you're able to start relating, flirting, and having a different sense of yourself and possibilities. You can do it!
posted by barnone at 2:23 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, last thing, then I'll shut up. Butch/boyish women being scared of women, and paranoid about how to relate to them - especially at an early stage - is so so so frequent. For all of the reasons you list above, plus family pressure/expectations of another gender identity (that look like everyone else, except you), your lack of desire for guys and the seemingly easy way all the girls around you can figure it out, you want to be normal "like them" but not really just like them since you don't understand why they're like that in the first place... etc.

Just wanted to say that the question of "why am I like this?" might be really related to "what can I do about it?" in this particular situation.
posted by barnone at 2:27 PM on March 2, 2009

There are scarier things in the world than going shoe-shopping with your buddies' girlfriends.

Why bother? The real question here is why anyone should waste time doing things they don't care about with people with whom they have nothing in common. Sometimes when people feel like "the other," it's because they really ARE "other". If you wouldn't tell a masculine guy to go waste time in the girly shoe department, why would it make sense try to foist this experience on a butch?

Life is too short to fret about "fitting in" or figuring out which stereotype people conform to. Either someone appreciates you as an individual human being or they don't--no harm, no foul. If you make it a priority to find people who share your values, you'll be better off in the long run.
posted by aquafortis at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

very little explanation needed, I understand what you're saying. I was the same way.

I agree with barnone's comment above. Regarding any group that has a specific function, members are implicity disclosing information about themselves and their values. E.g. I help run a group for womyn with anxiety... the fact that they're showing up communicates that they experience this problem and they presumably want to interact with similar people and learn more about it.

It's not a perfect comparison and I don't pretend to know a tonne about queer culture, but I imagine that the in-group mentality and feelings of belonging would be applicable to your situation.

I hope we're addressing your question... do follow-up if we're not :)
posted by cranberrymonger at 3:36 PM on March 2, 2009

Upon review, I just iterated the themes from barnone's post and less eloquently, at that.
posted by cranberrymonger at 3:40 PM on March 2, 2009

I was a serious tomboy growing up and every single one of my friends were guys. Then I went to an all-girls summer camp for nearly a decade and was pretty much forced to be friends with girls. (Ironically enough, now all of my friends are women and I feel the same way about guys that you feel about girls...) Please note that even though now I'm friends with mostly women, I haven't really compromised my interests very much. I'm no longer a "tomboy" but there are a lot of aspects to my personality that are not stereotypically "feminine."

I can't speak to the queer aspect, but I think the best way to learn how to be friends with women is to surround yourself with them by joining a group that is women- (or lesbian-) only. If there are guys in the group, I can imagine you'd gravitate toward them rather than the women, so really force yourself to step outside your comfort zone. It won't be easy, but if it worked for me as a (super awkward and un-socialized) eight year old, I think you can manage it with the added perspective and practice of an adult.

(On preview, other people have suggested the same thing. I guess I can just add that it definitely worked for me?)
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:36 PM on March 2, 2009

Anon, that was my childhood too. Tomboy, genderbent, queer, feeling like an alien among girls. I've still got the internalized sense of otherness, but I'm much more at peace with it now. I do not expect it to go away, and I don't mind.

It's not so much that women are the Other - for me, it's people who seem to have a bedrock sense of themselves as gendered male or female. I don't get that, I've never experienced it.

As a kid, all of my friends were boys - now as an adult, they're almost all dykes. I usually say that puberty is what pushed me over to the other side. I didn't change that much, but suddenly I had a reason to be interested in girls. I stuck with the nerdy girls, so I didn't have excessive social trauma in high school - at least not within my group of friends.

I wouldn't worry about having 'female friendships' - whatever those may be. You can have deep friendships with women. Finding women who have experienced some of the same things you have is a good place to start. Where in your community do the tomboys, butches, and gender nonconformists hang out? Pardon the cliche, but can you join their softball team? Or any other activity of common interest? As for dating, there are definitely women out there who are looking for somebody a lot like you, masculine identity and all.

I have a lot more thoughts on this subject, but they're scattered and hard to articulate. Email/MeMail me if you'd like.
posted by expialidocious at 5:01 PM on March 2, 2009

I'm a straight woman who can rattle on for hours with my gal-pals but can't think of a single thing to say to a man. Wanna trade? :)

Women in general love to talk, so it's pretty easy to get them going. Following up is good - if you had a previous conversation, ask about that (but not over and over, once or twice is good), try not to be too intense, don't offer harsh judgements, just talk about places you went, your workouts, restaurants you like. Moms love to talk about their kids.... I'm not sure what's different about guys, but generally I don't talk about sports or business trends with my friends, we keep it light and try and throw in a joke or two.

Good luck!
posted by MiffyCLB at 5:02 PM on March 2, 2009

There's great advice here so I will add only that is great for meeting queer folks for friendship. Sometimes the groups skew a little older, but it's still a great no-pressure way to meet other ladies, for dating or for friendship.
posted by anthropoid at 5:39 PM on March 2, 2009

Straight, bookish girl here. I'm the friend of many lesbians and straight women who say that I'm their only female friend. And I think the reason these women are comfortable with me is that we have a lot in common other than our gender. I worked for a while in an environment with a bunch of traditionally "girly" women and I wanted to crawl out of my skin. (And during that time, I befriended more men than I ever had before in my life.)

So look for the activities that interest you. Find people that you already know are interested in something that you love. Because it's easier to not be freaked and see someone as a person if you already know that she's just as into something as you are.

Also, a side note, I've met more lesbians (and non-girly straight women) in the past year when I joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation than I have in my entire career in theatre, which is a pretty queer friendly field. So if you're not too scared by the prospect, that might be a good place to start.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love this thread for bringing the queer and/or butch and/or tomboys out of the metafilter woodwork!

I related to a lot of your question here anon. I was a tomboy kid and now I'm a butch dyke. In general, I 'click' more quickly and easily with men. I can make conversation more easily with them at least.

I do have many close female friends though. They're actually mostly not dykes, but they are all non-traditional in some sense. Mainstream straight women still scare the crap out of me and cause me to feel like I'm in Jr. High. Locker rooms are also semi-terrifying. So based on my experience I'd suggest trying to foster relationships with women who share your interests, perspectives, style, etc instead of just trying to learn to get along better with women in general. (Interestingly, I tend to have a pretty hard time connecting with other butches. But I'll save the analysis of that one for the therapists office.)

The other side of this is the dating part. You've identified that part of your discomfort grows out of attraction. I can related to this too. I have one friend for example who every time I see her I am like, dropping my coffee, trying to walk through closed doors, talking nonsensically, etc - and this is someone I don't particularly have a crush on or something, but I just feel totally dumb and nervous around her cuz, like, she's a GIRL. My feeling is that if you can bear to get yourself into a dating environment, there are women who will find this awkward/nervous attraction just adorable! I think you could exploit this angle seriously. I once spent a first date in total nervous agony just repeating to the gal how anxious and nervous I was. And we ended up dating for three years.

One thing I'm saying here is that I have a lot of the awkward feeling you describe. But despite the ways that I still deal with awkward feelings, I am also very close to a lot of women. What I'm trying to say is, you're normal, and there's hope.

You should totally MeMail me so we can talk about it. I'll be your internet-based female friend.
posted by serazin at 1:04 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Department store lingerie sections are so SEXY that I buy my underwear on the Web! Two suggestions for finding dykes like you: book groups and college women's basketball games.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:26 AM on March 3, 2009

How about if you relieve yourself of the pressure of having close (or even not-so-close) female friends? Is there something specific you feel you're missing out on? It sounds as if you have a great group of friends, I don't think it matters if they are all guys.

If it's anxiety over striking up friendships with women you might want to pursue a relationship with, then at least you have your male friends to commiserate and give you pointers. I'm sure most of them felt the same way when they began putting their foot in the dating pool.
posted by agentwills at 11:16 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I consider myself a strong feminist, a strong woman, why do I have such a dumb view of women as an "Other"?

Because you're not femme, and everyone talks about women as if we're all femme. Me neither.

This may be way off, since you don't even describe yourself as butch, but I've been reading SugarButch with a lot of interest in the last year or so. She might be interesting to you in the way that she revels in being butch and approaches girly-girls as a butch, not a fellow girly-girl. A lot of her stuff is very *ahem* sexy, and maybe your sexuality is not like hers, but maybe her approach would be a bit more accessible to you than the standard girl expectations.

Hopefully one of the things that you can take from all the answers here is that you are definitely not the only one who feels this way. That suggestion up-thread about shoe-shopping scares the bejesus out of me. More of us are like that than is immediately obvious. You can hang out with us! We're over in the corner with no make-up, comfy shoes and blue jeans, reading nerdy books. And MeFi, apparently! ;)

I couldn't help but identify with your question, especially the aspects of being low on the social ladder as a kid and being terrified of new women when first meeting them. Are you introverted too? I usually need to observe new girls for a while before I decide they're safe for me to open up with. I think that's a mixture of introversion and feeling that I'm not femme enough for the "normal" girls. I think learning how to create situations where I feel comfortable with people as an introvert has been really key for me in developing female friendships.
posted by heatherann at 5:15 PM on March 3, 2009

I love this thread for bringing the queer and/or butch and/or tomboys out of the metafilter woodwork!

Here, here.

Anon, you're already better than you think at connecting with womyn! Best of luck, truly.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:43 PM on March 3, 2009

It's really cool to see that a lot of other people feel this way. I feel like less of an asshole about my tendency to sometimes completely check out of a conversation and then have to pull myself back in once I realize the new female friend I am making is straight. If straight up online dating isn't your thing and you want to make more friends generally speaking might help you I've been using it to generally just to find new friends (both with breeders and fellow homo-wners) in a new place. It seems to work better if you are in a city rather than a rural area. One of the nice things about meetup is you can pick and choose a group that's specific to something you are currently nerding out about and everyone there is already willing to engage in a discussion of that topic. So instead of watching people's eyes glaze over when you bring up nerd topic x their eyes light up.
posted by edbles at 4:59 PM on March 8, 2009

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