Here, Queer & Invisible
June 14, 2010 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Invisible Lesbian Filter: how do I get my sisters to see me without looking like a walking Pride parade?

To be brief: I do not fit into any visual Lesbian stereotype (and sorry if this offends, but there ARE stereotypical cues that some dykes adopt, deal with it), and feel like I'm invisible to other Lesbians.

Of course, the only Lesbians *I* notice are the ones that are *obvious* to me, so I know I'm missing a bunch of like-minded women out there, too.

I live in an area that is very accepting, and Gays & Lesbians are assimilated into everything social & cultural -- there are no community centers, bars, etc. where I can go hang and be visible.

I'm here, I'm queer, I'm invisible -- and I'm not the only one! Help us find the secret handshake!
posted by kidelo to Human Relations (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There's no magic system. Go to Type GLBT into the box. Pick a group. Join it. If this returns 0 results and your area is accepting as you say it is make a GLBT meetup group. Gay friends are how you find and make other gays friends.
posted by edbles at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2010

Wow, there are really no gay bars in the Hamptons or wherever you are? Because even San Francisco, West Hollywood and NYC have lesbian-specific bars, plus gay bars with girls' nights, and all of those areas are very gay-friendly.

Unless the lesbian cabal is more secretive and well-organized than I thought, there is no secret handshake we can tell you about. Online dating will give you a leg up, because you can mark "women only" on your profile.

Frankly, I'm a little baffled that there are no GLBT community centers and bars where you live, as institutions and gatherings are the primary way that lesbians meet in-person. Have you been introduced into a lesbian or lesbian-heavy social group? Most gay girls I know hang out with their exes and lesbian friends in a big circle (full of incestuous drama, but very tight-knit).
posted by zoomorphic at 10:00 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are definitely gay/lesbian bars/bookstores/community centers near you. You need to do more research.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:02 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

The secret handshake is flirting.
posted by acidic at 10:10 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

Ah, the pinky ring, occasionally with a black stone, was a nice touch. I think it's a little outdated, though, not that I keep up with lesbian fashion. That's the most subtle clothing item I have to offer.

The idea is to have a number of small signals, each ignorable and probabalistic individually, which add up to a most likely interpretation, rather than the giant rainbow bumper sticker. I only picked up on the pinky ring thing (which is nothing like a hard and fast rule) after a few embarrassing incidents, after which I realized I would do better not flirting with women where the thing we have in common is that we both prefer women.

Hang out in the right places, then observe. Look for commonalities, then look for what breaks the rules you've generated. After a while, you'll be able to deconstruct the stereotype down to the actual more-complicated, less-common signals behind them. Sexually, aside from a few people going for the very blatant stuff because you've always got someone in every crowd who just wants to cut the Gordian knot, most signals are less about clothing and accessories and more about behavior and conversational shorthand. There are no guarantees because people are complicated and are fumbling around in the dark, all over.
posted by adipocere at 10:12 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

The identification thing is a perennial problem - here are a few of the many threads about it in the forum section of

international identifier
recognizing femmes
gay cues

Short answer? There doesn't seem to be an easy universal solution. You can either stay stealth and not get attention, or you can make yourself more obvious and risk rejection or other negative results. And a little might go a long way - you don't have to dress entirely in rainbows, but a simple bracelet or pin or something might be enough of an opening for an interested lady to at least make inquiries. Of course, you could always make that first move yourself - but as a shy girl, I know that's much easier said than done.

Other responders are on the mark about finding LGBT places in your area. They do exist, even if you have to dig a little.
posted by sigmagalator at 10:12 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

One word: softball. We have a burgeoning gays-and-friends sports scene here, and from what I gather, the teams really run the gamut: straight allies, butch, femme, all gender presentations born or created, visible or invisible.

I think, however, that the best thing for you to do is to be more open to the "visible" ones. Because a) being a dyke on a byke does not preclude one from being an awesome friend, and b) lesbians and friends-of-lesbians know other lesbians, some of whom may be in the same boat as you.

Get out there!
posted by Madamina at 10:15 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Um, there is nothing in the Hamptons.

I'm not completely isolated from community, and all the Gays & Lesbians I know agree: there are NO gay-specific hang-outs. Perhaps there were at one time, but business come and go like the wind out here.

So, what I'm saying to both @roomthreeseventeen and @zoomorphic: if you know of places, name some names -- email me off-board if you like. Because the people I know who are long-time residents tell me there's nothing.

Also, as far as bookstores go, lets just say I'm very tied-in to the book community out here, and with the exception of the out owners of C's bookstore in SH, there's nothing. (And while it's owned by Lesbians, C's isn't a gay bookstore.)

There is an upcoming Pride dinner at a private home at $100 a plate, and I'm not going to that.

So there's that.


My main issue isn't a lack of venues, it's that I can be talking directly to a Lesbian and she'll have NO IDEA I'm gay. Whatever boop-boop gaydar signal I'm supposed to be sending, isn't.

I've done the whole meetup-type thing before; in fact, I was the creator of a huge Lesbian social org in another state that's still going strong. I'm just in another head-space now and don't want to be at the center of that sort of thing again.

Craigslist is a ghost-town here, too: go ahead, check.


I'm wondering what I can do personally that would up my visibility, short of wrapping myself in a rainbow and kissing strangers on the mouth.
posted by kidelo at 10:20 AM on June 14, 2010

My main issue isn't a lack of venues, it's that I can be talking directly to a Lesbian and she'll have NO IDEA I'm gay. Whatever boop-boop gaydar signal I'm supposed to be sending, isn't.

Sorry to be a pest, but it isn't that hard to say, "I'm gay" or "my ex-girlfriend".
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:29 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

To be brief: I do not fit into any visual Lesbian stereotype (and sorry if this offends, but there ARE stereotypical cues that some dykes adopt, deal with it),

You don't have to consider it offensive to suggest that some portion of lesbians are identifiable since plenty of them think it's only because they aren't adopting the peacock signs of straight women that they become noticeable, not because they're dressing up like lesbians (eg, keeping hair short and wearing comfortable shoes is generally more sensible, unless you're trying to attract a man). If you are more femme-y, that's cool and not unusual, but there's no reason to imagine that women who you can pick out are trying to show off. They're just being themselves.

As to your question, what do you like to do for fun? Just make your interest in women known among people you spend time with (mention who you think is hot, or talk about an ex, etc) and word spreads to other like-minded women. If you live in a larger community, there should be bars or certain nights to make it easier, but people often like to introduce their lesbian friends to each other, even with little else shown to be in common (can be awkward, but can actually work out fine too - after all, that's basically all that happens at a bar).
posted by mdn at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I hear you, on this, and from my own experience I cannot recommend online dating enough, even if you're kind of meh on actually dating someone right now and just want to find friends.

The best way to think about this is that every lesbian is a potential gateway to friendship with ten other lesbians. Be open to wacky dates and hanging out with people you don't exactly "click" with for a while and giving them a chance.

I would also recommend just being as open as possible to friendship in general. The more people you know, the more gay people you will know, eventually. Especially if you casually mention to some of your straight friends that you wish you had a few more gay friends. They will start making connections for you, sometimes.
posted by hought20 at 10:32 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, @roomthreeseventeen?

Let's try it.

"That's a great book. I'm gay. My ex-girlfriend is too. W00T!" LOL

I don't want to come off as desperate! I'm not newly out, I've had this issue for years, and I'm not the only one.

You aren't being a pest, I appreciate your willingness to help. Tryuly.
posted by kidelo at 10:33 AM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: erm, TRULY.
posted by kidelo at 10:33 AM on June 14, 2010

Here's a similar thread, in case you missed it
posted by heyforfour at 10:33 AM on June 14, 2010

post preview, yeah, you just talk about women you find attractive, ex-girlfriends, gay bars you've been to in manhattan, pride parades, that annoying 100/plate dinner you aren't going to, or - how hard it is to meet women! Just bring it up in conversation. Or if you want to get flirty, say something more direct - what about asking her out on a date?

You could always wear an "out and proud" sort of pin on your backpack or something, if you wanted. But it isn't necessary, just might allow for someone to make an excuse to talk to you who could've walked by...
posted by mdn at 10:35 AM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: @mdn, I'm not judging anyone's look, honest. I'm not particularly femme, either. I'm just me -- and being an older biracial Lesbian, believe you me, am used to not fitting into anyone else's box of stereotypes.

....and yes, I do have to get out more. The jobs I have had since last Fall have prevented me from having much of a social life. My situation is changing, however, and now I'm looking for fun.

Keep the answers coming! I really appreciate what you all have to say.
posted by kidelo at 10:37 AM on June 14, 2010

"That's a great book. I'm gay. My ex-girlfriend is too. W00T!" LOL

Ok, yeah, that would be ridiculous. But "Oh yeah, that's a great book! My ex-girlfriend recommended it to me a couple years back and I read it and it was awesome" isn't.
posted by dorque at 10:43 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're certainly not the only one - read Dan Savage's response to this question (third one down).
posted by komara at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding wearing something unobtrusive like a lapel pin or bracelet. It doesn't have to be in-your-face to get the message across.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2010

Actually you don’t even have to check if they’re gay. Just say "hey I had a great conversation, if you want to talk “x” more give me a call. Hand over number. If they are and are interested they’ll call. If they aren’t they won’t.
posted by edbles at 10:46 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a queer woman with horrible gaydar (the last woman I hit on? Ended up being pregnant. Pretty sure she wasn’t interested), I’ve found the only way to go is to casually come out (usually by mentioning an ex in conversation-don’t try to force it too much). The person may or may not reciprocate.

Unless you’re coming on strong, flirting can come off as just being really friendly.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:50 AM on June 14, 2010

another idea -- if there is a total dearth of gay spaces/events -- plan one! book a night in a local bar -- any night! call it a fun name, aka, Beers & Queers or something. book a performer or two, if you feel like it. poster and facebook the hell outta it. if there's really no gay spaces, they'll prob flock like moths to the porch light.

THEN, not only will you be the sexy obviously queer hotshot local dynamo who's making things happen, you'll also be the one responsible for helping everyone ELSE in your predicament get laid! total local queero! :)
posted by crawfo at 11:00 AM on June 14, 2010

The way I did it when I lived in DC (my hair was way longer then, so I wasn't always Obviously a Lesbian, at least to some) was to make eye contact, hold it a little longer than is usual, and give The Nod.

This wasn't a way I really met people, though. It was a way of being visible in a city where people are often closeted or at least very low-key in their presentation. It was just nice to be out running errands at lunchtime and exchange The Nod with another non-obvious dyke.

In more social situations, there's nearly always a way to bring it up - "Oh, my ex-girlfriend loved that band, and I really liked their last album" or something along those lines.

I also went through a period of somewhat nonironically wearing things like freedom rings. I was in my 20s, so that was my excuse.
posted by rtha at 11:01 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Twice in my life I've identified otherwise-not-at-all-dykey ladies-who-love-ladies by their extremely tasteful Labrys necklaces. I'm mostly finding pewter Celticky versions on Google, but one lady had one that was really gorgeous, gold with garnets. (And then, see, another gal can say "ooh, I love your necklace. Is it a labrys?" and then you can get your flirt on.) I'm not saying it's nec. the best solution, but if you want a subtle-yet-obvious sign, it's a good one.
posted by KathrynT at 11:19 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thank you, KathrynT, for making me look up what a labrys is, and for giving me yet one more way to avoid embarrassing myself by hitting on women who have no interest in me.
posted by komara at 11:35 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Doesn't exactly answer your question, and I know you said you don't fit into any visual stereotypes, so you're probably not a "femme," but this does deal with being an invisible lesbian and besides is a nice thing to read: Hats off to beautiful femmes, by Ivan Coyote.
posted by skwt at 11:46 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Go to a New York Liberty game and look around, smile at interesting women. Lots of lesbians love the WNBA.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:49 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember the original thread on this, and I agree on the subtle pin, jewelry, etc. You could even go the HRC route if you're not into rainbows or labryses - obviously there are straight people who are HRC supporters (like me!), but it at least lets people know that you are LGBT-friendly and opens up the conversation for more.
posted by radioamy at 11:55 AM on June 14, 2010

rtha gave my answer -- gaydar is all about the eye contact.

Learn to wink non-ironically?

I have found that spending the energy to really pay attention to my surroundings yields useful and often amusing information -- call it extreme people watching if you will ;-)
posted by khedron at 11:57 AM on June 14, 2010

I don't look "gay," either. Nor have most of my ex's, with the exception of a few now married to men. Go figure. Anyway, I just toss in stuff like, "my ex, her way of dealing with..." when it is natural to do so. I don't force it, don't avoid it (which was the harder part, actually). I don't worry about who is around when I do that - lots of straight people have gay friends.

Rainbow flags, labryses, all of that, eh, some straight women just like rainbows and axes. I've been told making eye contact is key, but staying in the same room is generally more my speed. Wearing symbols and such just feels very college to me, and I'm long past passing for a student.

Takes time, though.
posted by QIbHom at 12:09 PM on June 14, 2010

I don't force it, don't avoid it (which was the harder part, actually)

I think QlbHom has touched on something here. You too have a much harder time not avoiding mentioning things like this casually, to the point where mentioning them at all seems forced. But from the other side it probably doesn't sound forced at all -- and in fact, if someone is even vaguely into you, the signal you send winds up being MUCH appreciated.
posted by hermitosis at 12:16 PM on June 14, 2010

Goodness, I know how you feel. I'm a queer racial minority, and even at lesbian events no one believes I'm queer. Grr argh.

Is there a queer-related organisation you can volunteer for?
posted by divabat at 1:48 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is exactly why people wear nice, tasteful rainbow necklaces, or buttons on their bags, or rings, or whatever their style is. It's a signal that they are gay, so that they don't have to say.

Generally, the rainbow is purple-to-red. The other way around is for Muppets fans.
posted by jb at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2010

Some people seem to be answering the question as if it were "How do I flirt with a lesbian who doesn't realize I'm a lesbian?" The question is more "How do I make sure a lesbian I meet keeps me on file as another lesbian in town and/or tells me where the unofficial, unlisted lesbian hangouts are (like women's soccer night at a sports bar, some in-jokey-Facebook-group, or whatever)?"

The best thing is possibly to kill 2 birds with one stone and say some variant of "Hey, can I ask you a question? Where do the lesbians in this town hang out?" Remember they too live in a town with no visible lesbian presence and they and their friends have probably also been frustrated by this, and she will empathize on this point. It gets the message across without breaking the flow of conversation any more than any other change in topic (for example, if you noticed they were wearing a hat for your geographically-distant home team and you asked what sports bar would be showing their next game instead of the local team).

And, yes, an accessory (button, necklace, bracelet) of your choice would be good--it will help other invisible lesbians notice you.
posted by K.P. at 2:57 PM on June 14, 2010

Duh. After commenting that I thought people were reading something specific into a more general question, I read into it that you're new in town when you're not so much.

Still, if you and your friends have been grouching about the lack of gay/lesbian-specific hangouts, then all the lesbians you haven't met have almost certainly been doing the same thing. If you can casually steer the conversation onto that, you're keeping the conversation going on common ground instead of stopping it by awkwardly waving a flag--while still getting your signal across.

5 minute edit-window please
posted by K.P. at 3:59 PM on June 14, 2010

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