Help me get out of this closet before the house burns down!
May 31, 2006 5:27 PM   Subscribe

I've never dated a girl before. Where do I start? Oh, and I am one, too...

I've suspected myself of being a lesbian for a long time and am definitely attracted to women, but I wouldn't feel comfortable coming out without any actual experience to validate this. In the meantime, it seems incredibly awkward, and even selfish, to initiate anything with someone who is more experienced and certain of themselves - as though it were her responsibity to wait for me to figure everything out and get off my training wheels (I can imagine I probably wouldn't want to waste my time with someone who was just experimenting, either). I feel this anxiety equally when thinking about the possibility of a casual sexual encounter or a relationship. I've also noticed the term "curiosity" used with a distinctly negative connotation on many gay websites, etc. which makes me feel less than welcome, in addition to being ashamed of my general ignorance and ineptitude concerning, um, everything involved. I also have the (wrong?) impression that most people realize they're gay in the context of an attraction to a specific person, and things follow naturally from there; it seems less clear how to go about it the other way round.

More background info: A couple people have asked whether or simply assumed I was gay previously, but I've only recently started to acknowledge it myself. I'm generally a shy and introverted person, so I already have some difficulty meeting people and entering into new social situations, especially point-blank, and I don't have anyone else who's openly gay in my social circle at the moment (which is actually quite small, because I've moved recently). I've gone to a couple lesbian events (monthly "parties" at local bars) but freaked out and ran away before I could start relaxing and meeting people. There's really no one I'd feel comfortable bringing along to future events like this for moral support, either. I also don't live in an area with any gay coffee shops or more casual meeting places. Oh yeah, and I have pretty long hair.

So, my questions are, roughly, the following:

1) Is "curiosity" generally tolerated as little as I fear, and if so, how should I go about resolving it?

2) How can I get a date without taking advantage of someone (or at least feeling like I am) by inflicting my n00b-ness on them?

3) How does dating work in general for lesbians? What should I be doing to send out the right signals, and what should I be watching for? And what happens next?

This question is meant to be as broad as possible. I feel like this is going to be adolescence all over again - or like that "40-year-old virgin" movie. Not pleasant. I'll be grateful for any information and advice that might make it easier.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

IANAL but I think some things are universal. It seems to me that in human sexuality, there's always someone that's buying what you're selling. Everything else is a numbers game. Not everyone would consider your n00bness a burden.

My advice is: put yourself out there.
posted by nomad at 5:55 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Although it's changing for the current "younger generation," many, many, MANY glbt people "come out" in their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. You're not alone in finding yourself in a sort of delayed or second adolescence, along with all the insecurities, questions, and yes, curiosity that goes along with it.

That's o.k.

If there is a glbt community center in your city, go there. They will have resources to help you. "Coming out" discussion groups, for example, or peer counseling. It would probably help a lot to talk face to face with a reali-life sympathetic and non-threatening lesbian who could make constructive suggestions based on who you are and what is appropriate for you.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:13 PM on May 31, 2006

As one of your friendly neighborhood lesbians (I hate that odd word), let me share a few random thoughts.

1)Relax, there are no rules for the coming out process. I think that maybe you should just concentrate on getting to know some queer folks before you worry about validating anything or declaring yourself and such. Get comfortable with the whole idea first and meet some people. I think that the sex part will then take care of itself.

2)Don't worry about the n00b thing. If someone is really attracted to you, I don't think your newness would be a hinderance. And while therre are plenty of kids these days who seem to decalre their gayness almost as soon as they come out of the womb, there are plenty of folks who come that conclusion when they are significantly older.

3)Long hair? LOL. Lesbians come in all sizes and shapes. There are plenty with long hair and plenty with short hair. And long hair doesn't necessarily mean overly feminine any more than short hair denotes being overly masculine. And I can think of a number of absolutely beautiful women by traditional standards -- who just so happen to be lesbian.

4)And remember, there are plenty of stable lesbians and plenty of unstable lesbians -- just like the rest of society. Take some time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

5)Have you got any kind of a gay community center in your area where you could attend some events and get to know folks? They usually have coming out groups too where folks can get together and discuss things. Most of them also have a newsletter with things going on. Have you got any events going on in the area that would tend to appeal to the feminist crowd? There will always be lesbians there too. As stereotypical as it seems, do you play softball? If therre is a university in your area, they probably have gay stuff going on. Also, check out the concert scene for strong women performers. You'll find the lesbians there too.

...I don't have all the answers, but let me reassure you that being gay or lesbian or queer or whatever you want to call it is becoming less and less of a big deal these days. Granted things may vary depending on if you live in middle America or on one of the coasts. But things have come a long way in the past 20 or 30 years.

And don't let anyone tell you that there's anything wrong with you if you decide that you are gay. If they've got a problem with your being gay, then it's their problem -- not yours.

And there are some lovely gay men out there too who would make fabulous friends.

Good luck. I wish you the best.
posted by bim at 6:16 PM on May 31, 2006

My guess -- all this stuff is just like straight dating, minus some assumptions about gender roles. I'd take the pressure off yourself and let yourself ease into things without feeling like you're about to make some major life change.

It would help a lot to meet some other lesbians. Maybe go back to one of those parties (were you too nervous, or were the people just not interesting to you)? Or, boost your chances slightly by volunteering at/doing some queer-friendly, feminist-y, sporty, or sex-positive activity -- the AIDS testing clinic, NOW, a women's center, a softball team, a women's studies class at the community college, the Lilith folk music festival, anything artsy -- sorry for the stereotypes, but some of those stereotypes didn't come from nowhere. :) (Oh, yeah, or a glbt center -- I just assumed if there were no coffee shops, those might not exist either.)

1 & 2) Just be honest about your story and what you're looking for. Then the women who want someone ready to settle down for life, or ones who've been dumped for a guy can avoid you, and women who are open, unjaded, still learning, or who just like you despite themselves, will be happy to get to know you. (You're not "taking advantage" of anyone, geez -- you're just going out for coffee!)

3) If people are asking you if you're lesbian, you're already sending out some signals. But another way to think about this is, when you were dating men, how did you know the guy was straight? How did you know he was interested and didn't have a girlfriend? Flirting, being extra friendly, asking mutual friends.... It'll be funny and awkward but don't worry about the awkwardness. Adolescence had its good points, right? :) Good luck!
posted by salvia at 6:23 PM on May 31, 2006

I'm basing my reply on the assumption that you're looking to have sexual encounters to 'confirm' your lesbian leanings so that you can more confidently move into the social arena.

I don't think bars or parties are a bad way to go, as long as you can conquer your nervousness and strike up a conversation. I'd say it's important for you to recall that you're not doing anything wrong, and that you can be honest with anyone you meet in this context about your thoughts and desires. If you meet people who are scornful of your lack of experience or otherwise dismissive of your aims, then the standard school-yard advice applies: those people aren't going to be your friends anyhow. But eventually you will meet someone at a bar or party who wants to listen to your story so far and then help you write some new chapters. Just treat the initial contact like you would any other social encounter in unfamiliar surroundings - be open to people approaching you, try your best to approach other people, and (at least at first) keep with the flow of what's happening. Don't start a conversation with a re-iteration of your question here, but don't hesitate to be honest and frank when the topic comes up.

Repeat as needed.

There are many, many online forums, chat rooms and support groups for the gay community, so joining an online conversation may be easier for you in your first stages, and the mechanics of the 'net will allow you to be a little more forthright as well.

Otherwise, prostitutes will provide you the sexual experiences you might be curious about, but the emotional aspect of a relationship will either be missing or contrived.

And regardless of partners, a keen attention to safe sexual practices will serve you well - don't let any eagerness overwhelm your common sense.
posted by chudmonkey at 6:25 PM on May 31, 2006

And one of these days, get yourself to Provincetown, MA on Cape Cod for a little vacation. You will have entered an alternative universe where gays are in the majority. It will be quite an experience.
posted by bim at 6:37 PM on May 31, 2006

Long-haired lesbian here. One who hasn't had good experiences with the "gay community" over the past 25 years, but has managed to have quite a bit of fun, heartbreak, laughter and all.

I knew I was a lesbian years before I found myself in bed with a friend, but until that happened, I had deniability. It was a lot scarier to give up that deniability than I ever dreamed.

Please be honest. Yes, "tourists" have a bad reputation. On the other hand, there are some women who just love first timers. Avoiding the truth isn't going to help. My policy has been to never knowingly be someone's first unless she's had overnight to make sure she really wants this (yes, this may be a bit excessive, but it's worked for me).

As for dating...just be around people. Join your public library's book club. Do volunteer work. Don't worry about finding lesbians or gay (or bi) people. Just be around people. If someone interests you, try holding eye contact a few beats longer than you normally would. Smile. If they don't look away and smile back, you can ask them out for coffee, and move on to the advanced dating stuff.
posted by QIbHom at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2006

Do things with your gay friends, particularly activities that will bring you into contact with more people you don't know. This is the world's oldest way to get a date, but for some reason everyone keeps forgetting it.

Or you can try a mixer like Date Bait. Or look into coming-out type groups and meetings at your local gay community center. (Even smaller cities and towns have these kinds of groups nowadays.)

And one thing you can remember is that your story is in no way unusual: there are lots of men and (particularly) women who are "questioning."
posted by La Cieca at 7:26 PM on May 31, 2006

1) There's a distinct difference between thinking you're a lesbian and being "curious". I watched my boss's wife come to the realization that she was a lesbian and move tentatively into the queer community. She was honest with people and had little problem finding someone who was okay with her situation (still married, not 100% certain and two small children). She had a girlfriend within weeks of her divorce being granted. Two of my recent girlfriends were relatively knew, but had each had experiences with one other person. The relationships couldn't have been more different. One of them had just come off of a short term dating situation with a man and refused to label herself. Now she's with the love of her life and labelling herself a lesbian. C'est la vie.

My own personal philosophy is that in the first two years of a woman starting to date other women she is going through something of an adolescence. It's all new to her and it's going to confuse the hell out of her. If I were single now I don't think I'd be okay with pursuing anything serious with someone who was newly out. Doesn't mean I wouldn't pursue something "fun" though. Cause I'm like that. Er, at least I was.

2) Honesty. You don't have to divulge "hey, I've never even kissed a girl before" upon meeting someone. Heck, ask someone out and have that conversation over dinner. Accept a date and the same applies. It's part of the natural "So, what's your story" scenario. Yeah, you might have some people shy away after hearing that, but that's how you know they aren't for you. Move along.

3) See, in my book, you're ahead of the game because you ask about dating. Bless you. Lesbians historically don't "date". They have relationships. It's a horrible stereotype, but it's mostly true. It's also where honestly comes in. Make sure that you're clear that you're looking to date not get married. You'll thank me later.

You'll have to break out of your shell a little. When I was coming out and into my own as a dyke I started playing pool to give me something to do at the bar other than looking like the lush that I was. It forced me to interact with people and I made friends. From there it was a cake walk. I got laid, got a part time job at the bar and then got laid a bunch more. That's probably not an option for you, but the general premise is the same, find something to do that forces you to interact with people while you're out. Even if it means standing in the way.

The volunteering is a good suggestion. Works for lots of people in building a circle of like-minded folks. May not result in a date, but it'll result in a larger pool of possibilities.

PS - After years of dating women with mostly short hair I just realized that eight of the last nine women I've dated all have long hair. One even had hair down to her ass. Don't let stereotypes trip you up.

If you would like to ask more pointed questions or discuss anything above in further detail you can email me at the address in my profile. Good luck and good dating!
posted by FlamingBore at 10:33 PM on May 31, 2006

Geez - I could have posted exactly the same question! So thanks. I'm pretty stumped by it all, as well. I have a natural aversion to "joining" or being part of a separate community, so I tried online ads.

Boy, have I been disappointed. There is so much animosity towards questioners, noobs and bisexuals. And there are so many ads for casual "encounters." I just don't find women like me out there (early 40s, femme, questioning, looking for relationship.) What gives?

Good luck, sister!
posted by shifafa at 10:34 PM on May 31, 2006

We've all freaked out and run away from gay bars, just keep trying until you feel comfortable -- which, oddly, might be the moment you meet someone there that you really like. I can only offer the usual stuff : Be open (but not too open, as FlamingBore points out), be relaxed, be prepared for some not-so-positive reactions. Just don't forget that the vast majority of the women you'll meet have been through similar (if not the same) situations, whatever their age at the time.
posted by mtonks at 1:40 AM on June 1, 2006

1) and (2) Curiosity is fine, both in the mainstream gay communities and the queer communities. Assuming they're not one of the few people that is "I knew I was gay from when I was eleven years old", everyone basically goes through this phase at some point. There is a small amount of stigma attached to "tourists" or people who are unsure of their sexuality, but I wouldn't worry about it.

You don't need to mention your Kinsey score, your preferences, your level of commitment to the lesbo lifestyle, or anything else to friends, lovers, potential lovers or anybody else. It's just another of those compatability issues that might need to be addressed at some point. Therefore, you can treat it like the other, similar questions that come up sometimes: "do you want kids?" "do you want a monogamous relationship?" etc.


I'm curious as to why you feel that you need to be committed to the lesbian lifestyle before you have even a casual encounter with another woman. In one night stands, pretty much everything is unknown except the fact of the mutual attraction. It's a commitment level of zero. If you feel uncomfortable at any time, you can say you want to stop and that should be that. You don't have to be sure of anything, other than what you are doing right at that very moment is something you want to do.

3) Dating works the same for lesbians as for other people. There is a stereotype of lesbians being more inclined to long, monogamous relationships, but I've yet to see evidence of this.

I've never really been part of the mainstream lesbian scene, so I can't give you specific advice on that. But as with any kind of dating, your best chance of success is to have one of your friendship groups be populated with people who are of your preferred gender and for whom you are their preferred gender.

I've never quite understood the concept of going out specifcally to meet potential lovers (going to a coffee shop and playing eye contact games, standing next to the gay shelf in a bookshop). For me, the people I've got with have usually been friends, friends of friends, or people in my social circle.

Long hair. I have hair down to my shoulders and have never had a problem with finding female lovers. However, in the mainstream lesbian scene, I believe their is a slanting towards androgynous women.

As a final point, I would urge you to try out both the local mainstream lesbian scene *and*, if there is one, the queer scene. Depending on how alternative your music, clothing and political tastes are, you might find (as I do) the latter to be far more rewarding.

You're welcome to email me. Good luck!
posted by pollystark at 3:50 AM on June 1, 2006

Interesting post just coz of unconventional use of "IANAL".

LOL. This really tickled me too! Hats off to nomad for a new use of the acronym!
posted by bim at 4:43 AM on June 1, 2006

The only other advice I'd give you is to find things in common with women you meet OTHER than the fact that they're gay, and you think you might be. You will be tempted to overshare, because you will think, "I've never been able to talk to a man this way! This is amazing! All this intimacy!"

The main reason I don't date people who've recently come out is that I had those same conversations, epiphanies, paradigm shits...shifts twenty years ago when I was 17, and now they bore me to tears. When someone is newly out they have a LOT of questions and new experiences in the world, and those of us who've been around a while usually don't want to be one-woman sounding boards or processors of the entire lesbian experience.

Find someone OTHER than the person you're trying to date to talk to about all that, like a therapist or another, more neutral, lesbian friend. Then just get to know your date as a person, not as The Lesbian Who Will Teach You Important Mysteries.

Good luck! And stay away from internet sites, just hang out with your lesbian friends, do some volunteer work, relax and get to know people as people first and something will spark up.
posted by pomegranate at 5:14 AM on June 1, 2006

On hostility toward the "curious": many lesbians--like me--have been used by basically heterosexual women who wanted to experiment. One night with a dyke and they run straight back to men.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:13 AM on June 1, 2006

On hostility toward the "curious": many lesbians--like me--have been used by basically heterosexual women who wanted to experiment. One night with a dyke and they run straight back to men.

But why should this produce hostility? How is it significantly different from any other one-night stand? Does it matter whether she runs back to a man or another woman or her family/pets/bar? I don't think this is a complete derail, because I think the answer might help the poster as well, since she's concerned about the "curious" issue. What's so terrible about being curious?
posted by languagehat at 6:42 AM on June 1, 2006

Yeah, I don't get it either, Carol Anne. Why did that make you feel used? I'm sorry it did, but I would like to know why. Did she lie to you? Tell you she was gay? In that case, well, yeah. I'd be pissed, too.

But in checking out the online dating scene, I've met a great deal of attitude towards women who have recently -- or EVER -- been with a man. As if we might give Lesbians male cooties or something. I don't understand why this is threatening.

Look. Those of us who are questioning, just coming out, etc, just want to find a nice woman to date. I'm getting weary of the 'tude.
posted by shifafa at 7:00 AM on June 1, 2006

But why should this produce hostility?

I think it's because bisexual people are seen as being in some way dishonest - certainly there seems to be a prevalent attitude among gay men that bisexual men just haven't finished coming out yet, and are lying about their attraction to women, or are tourists 'playing' at being gay. (Which seems pretty bizarre given the treatment gay people have to put up with from straight society - you'd think they'd be a bit more tolerant.) Dunno whether it's as common an attitude amongst lesbians, but in my experience lesbians are more 'separatist' than gay men.

It's an attitude common enough that, as a bisexual gender unfussy person, I present myself as gay when required (I'm talking about one night stands, here, not relationships) because I've lost out on having sex before when the fact that I sleep with women has been mentioned. And no one wants to lose out on having sex!

So, to the anonymous questioner: if you're after a few shags to 'validate' that you're a lesbian, just allow the folk you pick up to assume you're a dyke. Dishonest, maybe, but if a one night stand looks like it might turn into something more permanent, that is the time to mention your newbie status, not before you get down to it.

Oh yeah, and I have pretty long hair.

What a great line...
posted by Pock Suppet at 7:18 AM on June 1, 2006

But why should this produce hostility? How is it significantly different from any other one-night stand?

One night stands do usually produce hostility if one person was expecting it to be only the first night of many more. Gay or straight, it's a good idea to make sure you're on the same page as your partner before you sleep with them. Tell the person what you have in mind — whether it's something casual or whether you'll want to see them again afterwards, and find out what he or she has in mind. Yes, this might mean that your sexual activities get cancelled because the two of you want very different things. But is it really worth it to get off if the result is that you've hurt someone and he or she is angry and bitter towards you for who knows how long? Or if you're the one who gets hurt?
posted by orange swan at 8:13 AM on June 1, 2006

I'm a gay guy, but I know what you're going through. It's helpful to remember that there's a whole range of sexuality, not just gay, bi, and straight. This is why people use the term 'label free' to describe their sexuality: they don't have to fit nicely into a category. (Although I'm mostly gay, there've been a couple girls I've liked, too. Ironically, most of them were lesbians.)

I also have the (wrong?) impression that most people realize they're gay in the context of an attraction to a specific person

I guess that's sort of how I realized, but the guy I was interested in turned out to be straight.

I don't have anyone else who's openly gay in my social circle at the moment

I've come to have a number of gay friends, but not too many of us are openly gay. We'd just get to talking and it'd come up one day. Maybe it's coincidence, maybe the friends 'stuck' because we had something in common, or maybe there are really that many homosexuals in the world. I don't think you need to go out and try to meet lesbians; just go out and try to meet people, and you'll end up finding some lesbians.

Oh yeah, and I have pretty long hair.

Haha. The more people I meet, the more I become convinced that gays come in all shapes and sizes. There's plenty of us who are 'straight-acting,' so don't feel any pressure to cut your hair to get accepted.

2) How can I get a date without taking advantage of someone (or at least feeling like I am) by inflicting my n00b-ness on them?

I don't think you are taking advantage of them if there's a mutual attraction. I don't see any reason to hide the fact that it's your first time, just don't emphasize it.

Hope this long-winded answer helps somehow. Good luck with dating, and don't be afraid to reach out for help--I know how stressful this whole thing is.
posted by fogster at 8:15 AM on June 1, 2006

Shifafa, if you are getting the 'tude, go find other women. There are a lot of us who got sick of the attitude and pressure to conform, and went elsewhere. There is not one monolithic gay community, or one monolithic lesbian community.
posted by QIbHom at 8:47 AM on June 1, 2006

I was in a very similar situation before, except I'm a gay male. I didn't come out completely to myself until my 24th birthday, and until then had had no experience to speak of with another guy. I knew I was attracted to men and had had many painful crushes on guys while growing up.

I had never done bars or clubs until then and I had assumed that I was not cool enough good looking enough or well-dressed enough to do the gay bar scene.

Well I got onto a chat room for gays from my city (Phoenix) and asked about local bars, I chose to try a place called Charlie's. (Hey, anybody from here go there?) I completely understand the awkward social situation thing. I'm like a walking commercial for one of those social phobia pills... It didn't take long before guys (some very cute ones too) were approaching lonely, quiet me.

anyway after only a few weeks of going there on weekends I have a few bar friends that I can hang with and talk to and a few interesting prospects for boyfriend material.

I look and act very straight on a day to day basis, even though I try to dress a bit more for the clubs. But the day that I went there after work to meet up with a friend I was in my everyday scruffy, comfortable and not really styled hair mode. It didn't seem to have any effect on the quality or quality of people flirting or talking with me.

I had no gay friends, and not a very big cross section of friends in general (being pretty much a geek and rather socially inept) so I had allot of stereotypes in my head that made me so scared and fearful to make any kind of move towards happiness. Getting out in the "real" world (as real as bars are) helped me see that gays are people too, just like me, and the experiences of talking to lots of strangers is really helping me get over all my social phobias. At first when a cute boy would talk to me I would just freeze up, now I can actually hold a conversation. Soon I'll be approaching strangers! lol ... I've only been doing this for about a month.

Good luck! (wow this was a rambling post)
posted by kzin602 at 9:26 AM on June 1, 2006

QIbHom, I would love to "go find other women." Where are you all hiding?!! I don't have a lot of choices for meeting women in my town. Lesbians here are very out, vocal, conforming, often judgmental. I run into that whether I'm at the the one gay bar, a party with gay friends, or a Suzanne Westenhoefer show.

If there is a way to easily find women like me, I'm open to suggestions. I know you're out there, I just don't know how to meet you.

Anonymous, I'm sorry for the derail. I'll bow out now. Thanks again for your post.
posted by shifafa at 12:41 PM on June 1, 2006

Maybe it's just me, but attacking lesbians who tell you what they think -- when their opinions were explicity solicited -- is no way to win friends and infleunce people (in the words of Dale Carnegie).

They'll just leave you to sort it out on your own.

You can't dictate how people feel about the "gay curious" person looking for a little experience for whatever purpose. It is what it is. As someone else said, if you don't like one group of folks and their attitude, then you'll just have to find some other group to associate with. Though perhaps you may have to work on your own attitude a little too.

Something to think about.
posted by bim at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2006

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