Reinventing your sexual self post divorce
February 21, 2021 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I am really, really ending my marriage. (I couldn't find that thread from years back where he was tracking my behavior in a notebook, accused me of having BPD, and then made an account here just to defend his actions, so I linked a different one.) Like, really this time, just made our parenting plan and everything. I am excited to explore the wlw side of my personality when the divorce is filed. I need some help exploring this part of my identity so I can effectively navigate that world.

Not sure what I'm asking for exactly. I identify as queer, and have had relations with women but never dated a woman. I want to date women when I am done with my marriage. There are all these terms being used in the spaces I'm exploring and I don't know which ones apply to me. I don't know what expectations come with them (i.e. I know I can't fulfill the expectations of a "butch" but don't know whether I can fulfill the expectations of a "soft butch"). I'm pretty sure I'm not a "boi" or a "lipstick" but how do I know for sure about that?

I'm also embarrassed to be just now entering this world. I'm sure there's plenty of mothers entering the wlw space after a marriage, but I am feeling self conscious. I need to understand cultural protocols that I don't have awareness of.

I know at the end of the day a relationship is between two individuals but I also know there are cultural norms for each segment of the dating world and I want some education on what those are. Where do I find that?
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone's been there. Everyone's come out. Anyone who's an actual adult knows someone who married a guy and got divorced. What you're doing is normal.

I don't want to promise that everyone is chill about terminology, because the world is full of people who choose to be assholes about inexplicable things, and I've met a bunch of them. But there are definite a lot of queer women, whole social circles' worth, millions and millions all over the world, who see terminology like "butch" or "boi" as optional. People I know are also flexible with them. I'm sure there are people who see "butch" as a lifelong identity that you don't deserve to claim unless you've known since you were five. But fuck them. The people I know who are kind and sensible are happy to hear someone say something like "I've been feeling much more butch lately," and aren't going to jump down anyone's throat for treating it as a spectrum you can wander around on.

I think the terms also get clearer once you've gotten to know people who use them. Once you know a bunch of people who call themselves soft butches, maybe you'll find that your brain starts to light up a little at the thought of being called that and compared to them, like it makes you feel seen and valued. If yes, that's a great reason to use the term. If not, eh, give it time and don't force it and don't worry if it never seems right.

(My secret, along these lines, is that there is no set of pronouns that really feels good to me. I use "she" sometimes, I use "they" sometimes, I don't like either of them, neopronouns don't right feel right either; it is what it is. Most queer women I know are fine with that. If someone tried to give me a hard time and tell me that In This Community, your pronouns need to be a fixed part of your identity, I'd think that person was a total dipshit.)

Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like you're trying to anticipate ways that people might be unkind or unfair to you. And I think my biggest advice would be, if you're hanging out with people who are mean to you about labels or cultural protocols, those are mean people and you should stop hanging out with them. It's not a monolithic community — it's a big messy world of subcultures and social circles — and sure, some people will try to demean or mistreat you on the basis that This Community Doesn't Do That, but those people do not in fact speak for all of us, and most of us think they are jerks.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:41 AM on February 21 [33 favorites]

That said, online dating is a bit different. Style and attitude matter more, because they do genuinely play a role in sexual chemistry, and having a shorthand way to express them is useful. Nobody's going to chase you off the app for not having a word like "butch" or "femme" in your profile, but getting in keywords like that probably will get you better results, because people attracted to people like you will be able to recognize you better.

The thing is, I guess I'd suggest trying to find community that's not dating-oriented in addition to trying to date. Dating brings a lot of rejection and this is a point in your life when rejection is going to be hard. And you're not going to get deep support, or help figuring out your role in the community, from someone who's just trying to figure out whether to hook up with you and see where it goes. Make friends, and then talk to those friends about dating, which might include asking them "Should I put 'soft butch' in my profile?" once they've seen what you're like.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:48 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]

I remember your posts and I feel some relief for you.

Can I make a suggestion? It's an easy one for me to make 'cause I'm not divorced, but I have had so many friends go through this and the ones who have built a sustainable, lower-drama life in line with their values and particularly their parenting values have all taken at least 6 months in their new, single space - to give themselves the joy of NOT dating and enjoying themselves. They have redecorated, decided how to eat on their own, discovered their own passions, and make friends.

Maybe for you part of that is joining queer spaces and communities, but without the goal of dating right away. I think that would go a long way towards settling some of your identity questions.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:53 AM on February 21 [26 favorites]

Response by poster: I probably should have said that I'm not actually trying to date right now. I may try to find a hookup just to enjoy my new freedom but I won't be doing any proper dating until I understand better why I put up with toxic bs as long as I did so I don't do that to myself again. Exploring these things is part of my way of moving on. Looking forward to stuff I couldn't easily do before.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:56 AM on February 21 [15 favorites]

Fwiw most of the lesbian/queer women I know do not use those labels, or if they do it's in a fairly flippant, imaginative and non-traditional way. There is of course Butch/Femme as a specific dynamic, but that is different from just general words for gender presentation like soft butch etc. If you use apps like Lex you'll see soooo many terms flying around and they seem (to me) to be so hyper-personal as to be almost meaningless. Also in my experience the way people describe their gender expression doesn't have much to do with who they want to date unless they are really strictly looking for Butch/Femme or butch/butch or femme/femme... And if you don't already feel like you are any of those "hard" identities they probably don't apply to you.

I spent ages feeling like I wasn't butch enough or femme enough to date anyone because I wasn't some kind of legible unit in an imagined sexual economy, but actually when you stop over thinking and are out in the real world, when you meet someone you're attracted to those kind of labels really don't mean a huge amount.

What I'm saying is, if you don't already feel drawn to any of these kinds of words, you don't have to use them or tie yourself in a knot trying to fit yourself into any of them. There are a huge amount of other ways you can talk about who you are and who and how you want to date.

If you're looking for an insight into the community, having a browse of Lex even if you're not planning on dating could be good. There's a big lesbian/queer/wlw instagram community as well. I haven't been on insta for a few years so can't recommend any accounts, but the Lex insta account is probably a good place to start.

Lesbian identity has always been fluid, groundbreaking, revolutionary, and self-defined. Just be you and enjoy exploring this side of yourself. You will learn and grow as part of the process- doesn't have to be all figured out before you "dive in" :)
posted by Balthamos at 8:00 AM on February 21 [11 favorites]

I am a late-30s queer woman who spends more time on the internet than is wise. It feels to me like a lot of broad online queer/wlw/etc spaces skew towards people who are younger and also kind of fixated on micro-identities and hashing out the boundaries of them. It's possible you've caught a lot of that and it's stressing you out. I realize it all serves some useful purposes for those folks, but it can be a lot. I think it's super useful to be able to describe things and I talk to friends or dates about the words we use, but it's more open-ended, and I steer away from the intense fixation stuff when I observe it.

Sort of echoing the idea of taking some time away from dating, I would suggest trying to find queer spaces that are focused on some common interest: a book club, queer history, a queer knitters group, whatever. That'll give you some exposure to a broader group of people who are less caught up in terms.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:18 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]

I’m a queer woman in my 30s and I really dislike those hyper specific labels for myself, because I just want to be able to EXIST without worrying about whether I’m fulfilling some incredibly specific role dictated by a word salad of labels. You really don’t have to adopt any of them unless they resonate with you!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:24 AM on February 21 [17 favorites]

Autostraddle is another community to look into, and if you can afford to subscribe to the site via an A+ membership, there are more chances to ask questions, etc. Some people really like Sapphics Unlearning Compulsory Heterosexuality on Facebook as well.
posted by wintersweet at 9:39 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

Something I wish someone had told me when I came out:

queer is not a personality trait.
  • You do not need to adopt new behaviors or interests to qualify as queer.
  • Neither your queerness, nor your ability to have relationships with other queer folks, is dependent on whether a random group of other queers in your town "accepts" you. Straight people don't expect to fit into random friend groups of other straights if they have nothing else in common.
  • Thanks to dating apps, you can outwardly signal queerness as much or as little as you want: your profile still says "looking for women." You don't need to pick a pre-templated queer sub-identity: you are your own identity.
  • At one job, there were so many queer folks in my department that we made our own chat channel. When one guy joined, everyone was like, "No way! You? I had no idea!" He wasn't openly signaling, which is fine.

someone who went from being an insecure, identity-seeking, "I'm gay fuck you!" teenager to an adult who is comfortable with themselves, even if the only signaling I do is a rainbow flag pin, and who still sometimes feels like they don't fit in queer womens' spaces, and hated The L Word can we please stop talking about it already
posted by homodachi at 12:51 PM on February 21 [14 favorites]

If you haven't explored it already, please enjoy this hookup primer. (the author seems adorable)

Love Balthamos perspective of labeling. Many 'queer,' bisexual, or otherwise sexuality-spectrum women (and men) do not commit these qualities to spoken language (still a tough call for many). Some people gravitate toward structured social circles, others enjoy more freeform navigation. Many unconventionally oriented women who essentially act nearly totally cis-gender, still outwardly avoid verbally communicating their preferences or appreciate being called or confined to any sort of label. There aren't any true cliques, so there is no requirement to join.

I'd suggest reading or revisiting classic lit, and exploring relationships through publishings or various authors (Beauvoir is a classic, Anais Nin - not for practical advice, but atmospheric and philosophic advice), and just socializing heavily in general.

Honestly, I think this becomes so much easier with any labeling suspended. Just pay attention to qualities that attract you, and what you feel. You can list the activity or phenomenon later on. Sounds like it's time for action.

Hope this is an exciting, energetic new chapter for you!
posted by firstdaffodils at 5:45 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

You don't need to use special words to describe yourself unless they resonate with you.

Something that does bother me is young people getting the wrong idea about a word, not bothering to understand where to comes from, and consistently misusing it. If a word morphs, or the trend becomes to use *different* terminology that's fine, but if someone misuses it because they don't care at all about the history or think it doesn't matter, and there aren't people still alive to whom it does matter, that bothers me.

I've noticed weird trends online lately that seem to come about mostly because people are unsure of themselves and think there needs to be a label. Women using the terms "top" and "bottom" even though they aren't involved in the BDSM community and don't even have a clear grasp of what they think they mean sexually. They have just somehow gotten the idea that they need to pick one.

My suggestion would be to not rush to pick labels. Just have fun. Date. You're a person, a female bodied person who wants to maybe date female bodied people. So do that. The rest will come with time and exposure. I guarantee people will decide whether or not they're attracted more based on a picture and what movies you like rather than whether you identify as a lipstick lesbian, a "futch" (to pick a newish piece of terminology that I most grudgingly admit has entered the lexicon and yet find meaningless), or a softball dyke. Just be you. It's all cool.

If you're a reader, read Lilian Faderman, Dorothy Allison, Rita Mae Brown...hell, I wish queer bookstores still really existed in any meaningful space. Check out the decades here:

If you're more visually oriented your local library should have access to some queer films, maybe. If you're lucky enough to live in a major metro area there's always a queer films fest. And just ask people when you see terms used in the wild to get a sense of how modern usage works--just ask them what it means to them. People love to talk about themselves.

Please don't feel like you have to live up to expectations. I still remember the time my girlfriend tried to explain to me how I wasn't a butch like other butches in our community without using the term "soft" which I hate and didn't feel applied. It was pretty funny and ultimately ended up with her unsuccessfully dissolving into fits of laughter with me.

You're asking advice on how to do this perfectly and not trip over any unspoken cultural norms. Sorry, there is no primer, partially because queer culture is no monolith. When anyone asks me what the difference in a dyke and a lesbian are I often crack the old joke that it's about 20k a year. You're going to find people who are different religions, different politics, different country/cultural backgrounds, and different age backgrounds. Don't assume anything is across the board. You're going to trip around and step on landmines. That's ok. Every single one of us has done it. The thing about being queer is that almost none of us were raised that way and we had to feel around awkwardly as adults feeling like we should already have figured this shit out somehow. You're not alone.

You're going to make working assumptions that are partially based on coming from heteronormative culture--and yet because people are so different I cannot give you a dos and don'ts list. Just keep an open mind, be ready to laugh at yourself, and commit to being a child again--curious, interested, exploring. You'll be fine.
posted by liminal_shadows at 6:10 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]

This isn't really advice, but if you haven't already seen it, you might enjoy the HBO show Mrs. Fletcher - it's about a woman post-divorce/kid leaving for college who has a sexual awakening (which is a bit queer as well).
posted by coffeecat at 6:40 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

What an exciting chapter to be starting!

I personally know five people who ended marriages and then started to explore their queer sexuality. And they were all unsure and they all did great - I think it’s more common than you think, and it’s ok and common to be unsure.

And I also think it’s ok not to have a ton of labels. I haven’t dated in a while but a few years ago when I did, labels didn’t mean that much anyway. In many ways gender expression type terms like “butch” can kind of exist on a continuum. Depending who I dated, I was sometimes perceived by my partner as “the more butch one” and other times I was comparatively “high femme” ... and I was the same person in all situations, just with some styling and affect differences depending on my own mood and my own ever-evolving and inconsistent feelings around gender performance.

If you're dating from apps, simply using a few clear recent photos showing different ways you like to present yourself if applicable, will tell the story of your vibe fairly clearly.

Wishing you fun and fulfilment!!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:32 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

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