I prefer chicks, but please, validate me with your penis.
March 25, 2011 8:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm 21, mostly lesbian, and kind of insecure. It's very rare that I can attract a girl, and so I "settle" for (and encourage) male attention to feel better about myself. Tell me how to stop.

I've been out (as bi, and to my social circle as mostly lesbian) since I was 18, so that's not an issue. But I'm still probably dealing with some internalized homophobia. When I pick up on something that indicates that a girl I'm attracted to wouldn't consider me as a girlfriend, especially for male-related reasons, I don't just feel disappointed. I feel gross. Not like I've been perving on her per se, but like her heterosexuality or Kinsey 1-dom or coupledom with a guy makes her out of my league as opposed to merely unavailable. Probably relevant information: I've only ever had one girlfriend, and she essentially left me for a guy.

Right now, I'm friends with benefits with a guy, M. He knows about my orientation, and has explicitly said that he has no romantic interest in me and is 100% OK with me "experimenting" with him. Also, he probably wants his ex back. I still feel like maybe I should end it though. Originally we just made out, but now I've gone down on him a couple of times. The first time, I was extremely drunk and a little bit curious. The second time, I was sober, and wanted to get his approval, feel attractive, and prove to myself that I didn't regret the first time. The thought of him reciprocating (like he's offered) or having PIV sex with him kind of fills me with dread.

Usually M hangs out with me and most of the rest of our friends on weekends. Everyone gets drunk, and he and I direct most of our attention at each other. This weekend, though, he stayed back and I went without him. I got high for the first time in a while, and without M there, I didn't have anyone to comfortably talk to or focus on. Everyone else was paired up. The girl to whom I casually lost my virginity (not my ex) was there, and while I knew she was mostly paying attention to her boyfriend, I was positive that when she was paying attention to me, she was watching me being all awkward and self-conscious, and internally rolling her eyes. (No, I don't have a crush on her. That makes this even sadder.)

So, back to M. I really, really liked him as a friend before we started making out. The first few times we made out, I actually enjoyed it (not as much as making out with a girl, but still). But now I don't enjoy it so much. I don't hang out with him as much as I used to because usually when we do, I can tell he's hoping for a BJ or "real" sex, and in my worst moments this makes me feel objectified, and like he thinks I'm stupid when not-so-subtly brushes off my suggestions of non-sexual activities. When he tells me how sexy or pretty or soft I am, I actually sometimes resent it. Like, "how come you get to enjoy this more than I do?" I know, I'm horrible. Most of the time I don't feel that way; I feel a mixture of guilty and mildly flattered.

I never thought I'd be the kind of girl who'd provide unreciprocated BJs to feel better about herself, but apparently that's what I've become. M's attraction to me, and my ability to satisfy him sexually, makes me feel like I'm not a lesser creature than the girls I can't have. I'm going to end things with M. But how do I make sure I don't do anything like this again? How do I fix my underlying issues with women and with self-esteem?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Disclaimers first: I'm female and straight.

This struck me:

When I pick up on something that indicates that a girl I'm attracted to wouldn't consider me as a girlfriend, especially for male-related reasons, I don't just feel disappointed. I feel gross. Not like I've been perving on her per se, but like her heterosexuality or Kinsey 1-dom or coupledom with a guy makes her out of my league as opposed to merely unavailable.

It sounds to me like you're still reeling from your first girlfriend leaving you for a guy -- but you're also dressing it up in Human Sexuality 101 clothes and language, that's making me think that you're thinking way too hard about all of this as a sort of coping mechanism, maybe?

What I mean is: it's obvious that you're hurting, and my heart goes out to you. But it also sounds like you're trying to put Big Labels On Things to try to justify WHY you're hurting, or Big Labels On Things to try to justify why people do what they do - "I feel like it's her Kinsey-1-dom that's making her not like me" -- rather than just plain saying what you feel.

And I find that when I do that kind of thing, it's my brain playing tricks on me to try to talk me out of just plain FEELING what I feel, because it's afraid TO just plain feel what I feel. So that's when I say things like "he probably doesn't like me because I have a weakened sense of social niceties" or whatever. And I intellectualize how I feel, because somehow I think if I can justify why I feel crappy, then it's okay for me to feel crappy. But when I finally just give in and say, "fuck it, it doesn't matter WHY I feel crappy, I just do, and that's that," that's when I finally start getting past it.

And something is telling me that that may help you too. Yes, you may be right that you're afraid your crush's heteronormative ways make you feel unworthy -- but WHY you feel unworthy doesn't matter as much as the fact that you feel unworthy and that just sucks, and you're entitled to be hurt when your crush doesn't like you, no matter what the reason. Let yourself feel hurt without trying to prove to yourself there's a reason WHY you deserve to feel hurt.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive -- "you're telling me to go ahead and feel bad? I already feel bad, smartass, how's that going to help?" -- but if you just give up and say "alright, fine, I just FEEL BAD and that's that, okay?", you'll start getting in touch with a more honest sense of how you feel about a) yourself, and b) other people. And with that will come the strength to see "hey, wait, giving this guy blow jobs really isn't doing much for me... in fact, wait, it feels crappy doing this. To hell with this, then." It'll still hurt when people you're crushing on don't reciprocate, but...that happens to EVERYONE for ANY NUMBER of reasons, not just because of "their Kinsey 1-dom". It could happen because they just have a thing for people with different color hair, or because they just got over a breakup, or becuase they're just dicks....but it still hurts you, and that's all you should care about, is how it makes you feel. Because -- again -- being more in tune with how things just plain make you feel will make it easier to avoid stuff that makes you feel crappy.

I hope to God this is making sense (my apologies if it doesn't; I've been having some valerian tea).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 PM on March 25, 2011 [21 favorites]

Well, what comes across for me in your post is that you are aware loud and clear that this "FWB" with M is not really working for you. It seems like you've got some good insights as to why you're doing it - to get approval, to feel sexually attractive, etc. However, knowing this doesn't stop the behavior, or fix the real issue of your insecurity with women.

That, my friend, I think will need to be discussed with a good therapist. I'm not a lesbian, but I have a great lesbian therapist who focuses on all sorts of issues in her practice - gay/lesbian issues is one of those areas. If this is important to you, you can find someone like her where you live, just do a search under your health insurance and you should be able to come up with someone who has a speciality in that area. Luck!
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:00 PM on March 25, 2011

When I pick up on something that indicates that a girl I'm attracted to wouldn't consider me as a girlfriend, especially for male-related reasons, I don't just feel disappointed. I feel gross

You need to stop homing in on straight women.

This is not about internalized homophobia. When a straight guy is attracted to a lesbian, and she is not available -- because she's gay -- and he feels bad about it, is it internalized heterophobia?
posted by rr at 9:02 PM on March 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

Something that really helped me with my internalized homophobia when I came out was hanging out with a lot of queer people I liked and admired. What about hanging out more with single queers? Plenty of potential crush material & role models.

I'm sure therapy will be suggested, and that would probably help, but I'd start with actively seeking out a lot of interesting, sexy, confident, smart queer women to hang out with.
posted by studioaudience at 9:04 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, hang out with queer people more!

And I do think that this type of thing (especially if it's hard to change and troubling to you) can be about internalized homophobia.

Here is what I would do:

1. Tell M that you appreciate the FWB thing and you appreciate his compliments but because of your preference for women you can't continue. If it were me, I would thank him for being nice and emphasize that this is about my sexuality, not about his efforts or attractiveness. Tell him how much you like him as a friend and that through no fault of his, the NSA sex is messing with you. If he's a gentleman, he will understand even if he's sad about no-more-NSA-stuff.

2. If you have other social options, phase out your current group a bit. Seriously. I did this in college for non-queerness reasons and it was really, really tough but so worth it. I found new folks for routine activities and hanging out, only seeing my old, toxic group occasionally.

3. Hang out with more queer people, not just people who are flexible/experimenting. I think that's something really tricky now that society is more cool with basically straight people having some occasional queer times (a thing I think is good, though)--it can be harder for really queer-identified folks to have the support system and dating options they need. If you're absolutely out in the sticks, I'd suggest online communities and occasional visits to the metropolis. Hanging out with more queer people makes me feel normal and legible in a way that my straight friends (even my close ones who I love dearly) do not.

It sounds like your social circle is no fun--everyone is paired up pretty much and there are a couple of your exes floating around.

4. Maybe ask yourself why you have so much trouble attracting women? Like, are you femme but in a very straight community who can't read that? Is everyone sort of accepting of your sexuality but doesn't take it seriously, like "oh look here is our adorable mascot queer person! you can sleep with her if you'd like a queer experience!" (I guarantee that it isn't because you're hideous and awful.) Is it just that there aren't many queer folks there?

Now, I went to a liberal christian college full of nice but mainstream straight people...in retrospect, I didn't attract radical queer intellectual women because, um, there weren't any. At the time, I felt like it was about how ugly and weird I was, since of course radical queer intellectual women would have spontaneously generated if I had been more awesome. I too had a series of dismal straight relationships in which I felt bad all the time (even thought the guys were okay if unsuitable). On some level, I didn't take seriously my own queerness, like my sexuality was so trivial or embarrassing that I shouldn't make a fuss about it. Of course I should be satisfied with random straight relationships, because wasn't it just sort of self-important to think that I really needed a relationship that met my social/sexual needs?

Most importantly, I felt so much lassitude about transferring to a city school (which I knew I should do) or connecting with the queer activist movement in the nearby city. I undercut myself by ignoring and minimizing my own legitimate needs--which is, I think, where our situations overlap.

That is internalized homophobia.

When a straight guy is attracted to a lesbian, and she is not available -- because she's gay -- and he feels bad about it, is it internalized heterophobia? If he were one of those guys who always has crushes on women who are unavailable because they are queer--especially if he were troubled about it and couldn't stop--then I would say he had something going on - self-sabotage, fear of success, attraction to unavailable people. It doesn't make sense to say "internalized heterophobia" because being straight is considered normal and appropriate in this society while being queer is usually (even among otherwise supportive straight people) considered odd, in need of declaration/explanation.

Prejudice, as they say on the blogs, is privilege plus power, not just bias or "noticing others are different". In our society, straightness and queerness are not yet positioned as two equally okay and neutral choices. If you're queer, there is huge unspoken social pressure to have straight relationships, minimize your queerness, frame your queerness as "just like" being straight, not seek out other queer people....I do know a number of queer women who have been the only queer women in basically straight settings, sleeping with basically straight girls for whom it was a fun experience but not really relationship material, etc etc. This does a number on you!
posted by Frowner at 9:49 PM on March 25, 2011 [19 favorites]

Straight female disclaimer.

Yeah, you got to stop the thing with M because it's messing with your self esteem and you know it. Stop. End it. You're doing that with him because you're lonely and he's there and willing - doing that is not going to help end the loneliness, you'll just feel lonely and increasingly crap about yourself.

I think a relationship with a lesbian who is at the very least several years older than you is possibly what would help your loneliness and your self-esteem most right now. Go searching outside of your current social group - you need to broaden your horizons a bit.
posted by mleigh at 11:43 PM on March 25, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks so much for all the responses (especially EmpressCallipygos and Frowner). Just to clear a few things up:

-I don't hone in on women who I know are straight. When I find out that a girl is straight, I stop thinking about her that way. But there is part of me that thinks, "of course she only wants guys; she's pretty and feminine. You could never satisfy a woman like that." And I think that probably does have something to do with internalized homophobia. (Funnily enough, I'm actually quite pretty, though not especially feminine.)

-Relatedly, there aren't many available lesbians or bisexual women around for me to crush on, so I don't think it's a case of me just wanting what I can't have. And besides, I realize that even the most enthusiastic muff-diver on the planet might not find me attractive.

-I share college Frowner's beliefs that 1) queer women would spontaneously generate if I were awesome enough, and that 2) my sexuality is "trivial and embarrassing" and that I should be satisfied with straight relationships. Totally hit the nail on the head there.

Dunno if anyone has anything else to say (it was pretty late when I sent this to the mods and I'm unsure if threads last the night around here), but yeah, those are my clarifications. Thanks again!
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:17 AM on March 26, 2011

I'd suggest that online dating would be a good way of meeting other women that would like to date you.
posted by mmascolino at 6:47 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Where are you located, OP? is there any way for you to hook up with a queer group or queer mentorship group?
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:50 AM on March 26, 2011


Please seek therapy. You need to start first by learning (a long slog) to love yourself. You have projected a whole lot of negative thoughts on to a lot of people, your ex, M, you name it. Realize that there's a reason for that and seek therapy to figure it out.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:22 AM on March 26, 2011

Coming out is hard. And I think we're programmed to think, voila, I'm out, people know, problem solved! Goodbye closet, hello hot sexy people!

Except, um,.... it's still really hard in all of the ways you've identified, and so much more. You have to come out to people all the time - you never really stop coming out: it's a process, not a one-time event. Now this isn't to say that you'll have to go through the same emotional experience every time, not at all, but you will be negotiating various aspects of your sexuality for a long time to come. That's not meant to be depressing, it's just meant as a reminder that it's OK that it's still hard, it's OK that you don't feel all figured out yet, and it's OK that there are bumps and bruises along the way. And that's true for ANY 21 year-old woman, let alone one trying to navigate queer desire, queer identity and shifting friend circles.

I'm way older than you. I've been out for way longer. I'm not in any way ashamed or uncomfortable with my sexuality (i.e. attraction and desires), my identity (I'm so not the femme straight looking type), my communities (i.e. they are not all the fabulous suit-wearing bankers that the HRC would like us to believe dominate our community, they're weirdos and nonconventional and creative and amazing).

But the other day I was at the doctor's office, and she asked if I was sexually active, and I said yes. She asked if we were using contraception. Not "do you practice safe sex and how" but literally, how are you preventing babies from being conceived. At first I was confused but then I realized, I have to come out to this doctor while she's all up in my business!!! And so I just laughed and said, "well, we'll have a number of problems with creating a family, but using contraception before then is not one of them." Then *she* was confused, which made me laugh. This is in a state WITH GAY MARRIAGE and tons of gay people in high positions.

Have you considered working with a queer organization of any kind? Helping to establish GSA in schools, or developing an after-school program, or something at your college, whatever? I think that if you meet more queer folks who are a bit more settled and at home in our skin, you'll see why your sexuality is not only NOT "trivial and embarrassing" but powerful, individual, nonconforming, unique and critically important. You have a tribe of people out there who know exactly what you're going through because we've ALL been there in various degrees, and we all continue to be there in various degrees, because heteronormativity isn't just about sex - it's cultural, social, political, corporeal, and financial. Many of us create our own communities where we're not only "not weird" but where we're the norm. But we all know that our queer communities exist in and around many other kinds of communities, many of which are more normative, and here's the important part --- many of which are even LESS normative than us.

That's the fun part. Unite with other folks who can talk these things over with you in person. There are therapists who deal explicitly with LGBT issues. They are SUPER helpful in person because they'll ask you about all sorts of these questions and guide you into thinking about yourself and your desires in healthier and more fun (!) ways. Many of them are queer themselves. Make sure you don't get into some kind of "straight" therapy where they try to convert you into being totally straight. If you need some references or suggestions for your location, memail me and I'll find what you need. Anonymity totally assured, seriously!

You're also in a bit of a precarious situation because bi women are... let's say sometimes folks in the queer world can be a bit suspicious, because as dykes we've all had experiences where straight women call themselves bi so they can flirt and lead you on, but wouldn't ever actually get in bed with a woman! Who knows, maybe theyr'e just repressed, maybe they're just stuck, maybe they're just in love with drama. On the other hand, we also know that some large percentage of queer folks initially called themselves bi -- it can feel somewhat easier to navigate during the coming out process because you're not totally rejecting your old self, or totally rejecting what society has been telling you to want, you're just adding something else to the mix. That can feel safer at first, and allows you to dip your toes in these exciting waters without completely having to "commit" to something you haven't even experienced!! All of this is to say that bi folks get a bad rap on many accounts, and you might find that some older queers don't take your bi-ness seriously. Don't worry about it, just keep doing what you want to be doing. In ten years if you're still bi, great! In 2 years, if you feel yourself being pulled more and more towards identifying as queer or as a dyke or as a lesbian or as a boi or as a butch or as a femme or as a gay woman, or shoot, as a hottie, that's great too! Your identity is not completely settled. For many of us, our identity continues to shift in ever new and amazing ways. As you get more and more comfortable with navigating the edges of society's expectations, you will get more comfortable in your own skin, and that tension won't feel fraught with worry -- especially if you have your tribe of peoples to walk with.

PS: Queer women don't spontaneously generate even if you're the most awesome person ever. Twist that around - there is someone awesome out there, wondering the same thing, thinking she too isn't cool enough for people to come find her, and wondering why someone like you hasn't spontaneously generated for her!!! Go forth and find a queer bar and go to a night that is advertised for women. Or, at the very least, do some online dating.

Go forth and be queer, you young amazing thang!!! You've got some hard but amazing years in front of you. It truly DOES get better. Have you watched the dozens of amazing videos in that project?? In the words of Kurt's dad, "don't go around throwing yourself around like you don't matter. Because you DO matter, Kurt, you do." You matter, your desires matter, and your community is out there, needing some new young energy and wondering when it'll show up to help organize events :-)
Oy, sorry this is so long.
posted by barnone at 7:31 AM on March 26, 2011 [15 favorites]

I am a straight guy and, once upon a time, I was dating a girl in your situation. things got a lot better for her when she went to university, signed up as a women's studies major, joined a couple feminist groups and started meeting other queer women. you say that "there aren't many available lesbians or bisexual women around for [you] to crush on," and I would say that that is likely to be the root of the problem. seek other queer women!
posted by spindle at 8:11 AM on March 26, 2011

I wish I could come give you a hug right now, because this is hard stuff and you've done such a good job explaining these really uncomfortable things. As everyone else has said, it's time for you to be done with this FWB situation-- because you don't actually like it, and it's making you feel bad. It seems like your current friends are also making you feel bad, though in ways that are more situational than anything else. It's not their fault or your fault that the situation is bad; it's just the case that it is bad, and you'd likely be happier if you weren't confronted with your own romantic past and your friends' romantic present all the time.

One thing that's worth underscoring is that you aren't the only one who has trouble with this kind of thing. As a femme-y bi woman, it's much easier for me to date men, and that only gets to be more the case the more men I date, not because I prefer them, but because it is self-perpetuating. I've never been able to date a woman without coming out to her first, and I generally have to be the aggressive one in the early stages, whereas with men, they'll ask me out without even wondering if I'm interested. Two lessons to take away there: attracting people is doubly hard when you're queer, and don't assume that straight-seeming girls will never be into you or think you're gross. Don't assume they all will, either; it sounds like you're doing a good job of realizing that you need to stop thinking about them once you realize that they're actually straight, which is great. Don't, though, beat yourself up for being attracted to them. If queer women weren't sometimes attracted to straight-looking women, I'd be a sad girl indeed.

And what barnone says about bi women is definitely true-- there is a stigma, and most people will assume that you're actually gay or straight and just not willing to say so. That fact about your sexuality will also be invisible when you're in a relationship. When I'm dating a man, I look straight. When I'm dating a woman, I look gay. When I'm single (as I am right now), I find myself clarifying all the time-- I think half the people I know in my current town think I'm gay because I was dating a woman when I got here, while the other half have just assumed I'm straight. It's a lot of work constantly correcting these assumptions, and it's easier not to do it.

In terms of actual life changes, though, it'd be easier for us to give advice if we knew where you lived. Any chance of updating the thread with a location? If you're in college, your school likely has some kind of queer group that may seem intimidating, but is probably worth checking out. If not, there may be groups in your city, or gay bars, or even gay or lesbian coffeeshops where you can hang out and at least be in a safe and friendly space.
posted by dizziest at 8:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I could have written parts of your post at 21. I knew since high school, and was out to my friends, yet continued to date men because honestly, it's easier in a lot of ways. It's easy to just go along with it when men you are friends with want to date you or hook up. It's flattering, especially if you are somewhat insecure, to feel like a human wants you, period. And really, even though I knew I was gay, it still took me way through college to deprogram how strongly our culture tells women "you should be responding to and seeking male attention". Even though I knew it wasn't what I wanted, it's what I'd been told since practically birth that I am supposed to want.

It made me feel like a hypocrite, like I kept calling myself gay but never 'proving it'. It made me feel like, at 21-22, I had already "missed the gay boat" because I kept dating men instead of cultivating a gay identity in college, when everyone else seemed to be establishing some "gay credibility" I lacked. I went to a college with plenty of bi/gay women. I could have been way more proactive about putting myself out there.

I guess what I want to say is, be kind to yourself. You're still young. "Coming out" can be a way bigger process than just telling yourself and your friends. For me, it took moving to an entirely new place and telling myself "OK, I am not even telling anyone here that I'm gay-but-used-to-date-guys, I am just going to start over." And I was single for awhile, and had spells of loneliness, and occasionally wondered if Guy X or Y was interested in me, and would have to remind myself that even if they did, I was not going back to this pattern when I had previously broken off relationships with men pretty much knowing that this wasn't right for me.

And then I started getting closer to a female friend, and finally told her, and she liked me too, and we've been together ever since. But there was a lot of muddling to get there, and a lot of constructing my sexuality on my own (deprogramming the straight norm, and telling myself that I could be a "real lesbian" even after all this guilt/validation with men), before I was totally ready for this identity. It's OK if it takes a couple years to figure it out. It's OK if you feel bad about seeking male attention, because dude, it is hard for women to get out of that mindset. I am 25, and I feel a lot better about my sexuality than I did at 21. Keep muddling through and be good to yourself. It's OK to be lost for awhile.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:41 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dan Savage has offered this advice to teen boys writing in asking why the teen girls (or boys) don't want to sleep with them. He would say, Don't worry about getting your 15 year old self laid. Worry about getting your 18 year old self laid. Go out there and get in shape, read books, learn to masturbate without a death grip, learn about politics, etc, etc.

If you really live in an area without much of a queer community (and make sure you aren't just not seeing them- try meetup.com, CL, alt-newspapers, whatever) then you should focus your energy on getting outta dodge- because as Dan would also say, there is a reason queer people go to big cities. I am going to assume you are in college, but if not, tailor the advice appropriately. Break up with M (you are just not into him). Focus on getting good grades so that you can focus on getting a good job, what, next year when you graduate? Look into big cities- NY, LA, San Fran, Chicago, Austin- or medium sized cities with big queer communities- Atlanta, Boston, Seattle- for future employment. Live frugally now, save your money aggressively. Get scholarships so your student loans are lesser. Take on a job (or another job) if you can balance that with school work. Start laying the groundwork for your resume- internships, blogging about your field, writing articles, work experience, whatever that entails. Get in a place where you can get into a better place.
posted by jenlovesponies at 11:42 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a straight guy, so what do I know, but is it possible you're overthinking this? Don't sleep with someone if it makes you unhappy, regardless whether they're a girl or a guy. Don't worry about how girls who are in couples are judging you -- maybe they are, but so what? You're not going to go out with them anyway. And if you're looking for a lesbian to date, go hang out with lesbians. It's not easy -- dating never is -- but it might be simpler than you've made it.
posted by musofire at 7:17 AM on June 10, 2011

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