Can Femmes Prefer Femmes, Hating Your GF’s Therapist, Am I Heterosexual, and LDRs

by Lindsay Miller


My surface question is this: How common, really, is the sort of stereotypical “femme/butch” dynamic in female same-sex relationships?

My real question is this: How can I, as a relatively femme cisgender woman, meet other relatively femme cisgender women? This is not the only sub-population that I’m interested in, but it’s probably the most compelling one to me. I tend to be kind of wary of “lipstick lesbian” groups, because the ones that I’m familiar with can be pretty exclusive (“bi/queer folks, trans*/genderqueer folks, and ugly folks need not apply!”). But it often seems that in the larger LGBTQ world, I run into two obstacles: First, my femininity does not signal “queer,” and so unless I explicitly share that with people, other queer women don’t realize that I’m a potential partner. Second, I’m wondering if most of the women who would be interested in me would tend to be a little more butch than femme.

But actually, I think my real question is this: Should I even be worried about finding a partner who fits with what is consistently and pervasively most compelling to me (femme, cis women)? My sexuality is fairly fluid; I can also be interested in non-femme women, men, and some individuals who are genderqueer. My last relationship was with a cis man and lasted two and a half years, and it was wonderful, and I miss it. But if what most reliably pulls at my heartstrings is a femme woman, do you think I should just take that self-knowledge and zero in on that? From your experience, how successful and sustainable are mixed-orientation relationships, or relationships that may be surprising to oneself?

It doesn’t matter that much how common butch-femme relationships are in comparison to other gender pairings. What matters is the kind of relationship you want. If you want femme-on-femme action, that is a totally valid desire and you should go after it even if you’re the only queer in the whole entire universe who wants it.

But, fortunately for your sexual and romantic prospects, you’re not the only one. There are lots of femmes who are interested primarily in femmes (and butches who are interested primarily in butches), as well as people of all genders who don’t care about gender presentation as long as you have that [killer smile / cute butt / ability to discuss Russian poetry] they crave. You don’t have to assume that the girl of your dreams will abandon you forever the moment some chick with a crew cut rolls up on a Harley.

I don’t think you should rely on femme-only groups to meet potential partners, unless you can find some that don’t weird you out with anti-bi, anti-trans bullshit (I’m not really familiar with all-femme scenes so I can’t tell you how likely that is). However, I do think if you focus on primarily queer spaces, you’ll find more women who can see through your Cloak of Femme Invisibility than you would just trying to pick up girls on the street. Explore your local gay bars, lesbian bookstores, and other spaces where your presence alone offers a hint to your orientation. And if you’re willing to make the first move, so much the better — ask that hottie with the flawless eyeliner to dance and she won’t have to wonder whether you like girls.

At the same time, if you find yourself attracted to someone who doesn’t fit your Official Boner Parameters, feel free to pursue them! You don’t have to force yourself to date people you’re not attracted to in the name of gender-presentation egalitarianism, but be open to people surprising you. If you’re drawn to someone who’s butch or genderqueer or a dude or whatever, try it out and see what happens. (Also, trans women can be just as femme as cis women — your insistence on “femme and cis” is kind of rubbing me the wrong way because it seems like you’re implying that trans women are inherently masculine, and that might not be what you meant, but I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t point it out.) There’s no reason to assume that such a relationship is any less likely to succeed than one with a woman who’s your exact physical type. Lots of people fall in love with someone they never would have imagined themselves with and have long, successful, happy relationships.

Go after what you want, but don’t close yourself off to possibilities. Have fun!

My girlfriend and I have been together for over a year. We have both been in somewhat transitional places since we got together, but things have been mostly great. We have an open communication style and share a lot with one another, including the generalities of our experiences in therapy. I really value my therapist and have enough experience to know what’s right for me. Lately, though, I have had the unsavory urge to criticize my girlfriend’s therapist when my girlfriend talks about her. From what I’ve heard, my gf and her therapist have never set goals for their work together, and my gf tells me regularly that she feels guilty about various aspects of her therapy experience, but she keeps going because she thinks she should. I’ve encouraged her to tell her therapist about her feelings, and I’ve also asked my gf what she hopes to get out of the time she’s spending with the therapist, but it doesn’t seem like her therapist has these same concerns. I’m uneasy because I don’t want to intrude in something as personal as therapy, but I also want my gf to feel better about herself, and not spend a lot of money or time doing something that isn’t helpful. My therapy has been a place for me to work through some things that have been problematic in our relationship, and I regret that my gf doesn’t have the same good counsel on her side. And there are just some things that I can’t help my gf work through that I wish she felt comfortable addressing with a helpful third party. Is there anything I can do or say?

I just want to get this out of the way in front: This may be the lesbianest question I have received in three and a half years. Processing about processing about processing — it’s like a Russian nesting doll of “I” statements and I could not possibly love it more. Let’s get margaritas and discuss it for five hours.

Yes, there are things you can do or say to let your girlfriend know your concerns — namely, you can let her know your concerns. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing. When she mentions an issue like the ones you’re worried about, you can tell her that in your experience with therapy, feeling guilty or unable to bring up things that are bothering you has not been a sign of a good relationship, and that it’s OK to switch therapists if something isn’t working for her. You can tell her that, from your point of view, her therapist doesn’t seem to be helping, and that you think for the amount of money she’s spending, she deserves to be getting more out of the experience.

However — and I suspect this might be what you’re really asking — there’s definitely nothing you can do or say that will make her switch therapists. Maybe the relationship they have isn’t the one you would choose, but it’s working for her. Or maybe it’s really not, but she’s intimidated by the prospect of starting over with someone who might be even worse. Or a hundred other possibilities. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that your discomfort with her therapist does not trump her right and ability to make her own decisions. If her continued professional relationship with someone you disapprove of bothers you, maybe your therapist can help you get some perspective.

I consider myself a heterosexual woman. But I’m attracted to men (cis + trans) and non-female identifying queer folk, and I actually prefer ‘feminine’ partners. Am I still heterosexual? I feel dirty for questioning if I’m “queer” because I basically have all the rights of a heterosexual cis woman, but I hate the assumption that I only like cis-men because I’m straight.

If you mostly date men, and you never date women, I think it’s fair to call yourself straight. There’s room for queerness in your identity since you’re also attracted to genderqueer people, but I actually kind of want you to keep calling yourself straight, and here’s why: I don’t think transphobic, queerphobic jerks should get to keep that word all to themselves. Straightness can and should be available to all women who are attracted primarily to men, whether the men in question are cis or trans. Saying that you’re less straight for being into trans dudes implies that trans men aren’t “really” men — which is not true, and also gross. If someone assumes that being heterosexual means you’re only attracted to cis guys, correct them (as gently or stridently as seems appropriate). Women who de facto reject trans men from their dating pool aren’t any straighter than you are; they’re just bigger jerks.

Four months ago, I left a relationship for lots of good reasons, one small reason of which was that I was really tired of being in a long-distance relationship. Though visits every couple months were nice, there were few phone calls; I had to make a rule that we would at least text once a day. I have two years left in my grad school program, and I finally realized I didn’t want to do it for two more years, let alone for life (not even if we found ourselves in the same zip code/household).

Two months later, I met someone who seems to be the person of my dreams. We exchange cute texts and long phone calls. This person is everything my ex was not: emotionally open, willing to regularly and descriptively share sexy feelings towards me, passionately dedicated to things I care about, etc. gooey etc. I realize this determination is classic rebound perception, but it also feels really real. The problem: this person lives EVEN FARTHER AWAY with just as little chance of living near my school anytime soon.

So given all that, my question is: How do effective grown-ups conduct long-distance relationships? Is there some sort of literature survey of best practices, or other grad-student-style research I could do?

I think, contrary to the movies, that we have some choice of whom we fall in love with. But I like this one, and I’d like to fall. I just want to know how to do it in a way that’s life-affirming and not a soul-shattering destruction of the few remaining years of my twenties. Or something.

I am not aware of any scholarly work on best practices in long-distance relationships, which obviously means that you need to get to work putting them together. Use the scientific method! You’re in grad school, for God’s sake! (I notice that you did not describe the program in which you are matriculating, so you might be studying medieval chamber music or something, but find a way.)

That said, for the most part, the key to a successful relationship is the same when you live a continent apart as it is when you share a coffee cup every morning. Communicate. Be open and honest about your needs, your wants, your struggles. Be willing to compromise, but know what’s a dealbreaker for you. Talk about important things and trivial things. Make each other laugh. Plan for the future. Do everything you can to make your partner feel special and treasured. Send “thinking of you” texts in the middle of the work day. Email them cute baby animal pictures when you know they’re having a rough week. Make them the first person you call with good news. The occasional naked Skype session doesn’t hurt, either.

I’m not going to lie: long-distance relationships are goddamn hard, even if you’re amazing together. Being far from someone when you’d rather be close, especially with no finish line in sight, can be agonizing. Some days not being able to grab them by the lapels and fuck their brains out will make you want to weep. Some days you’ll feel like you’d sell your soul just to lean your head on their shoulder while marathoning Revenge on Netflix. But if you’re good at reminding yourselves and each other why you fell in love in the first place, it can be worth it.

I’m not promising that this will work out if you go for it. But I’m never going to promise you that about any relationship with another human being, or haircut, or vibrator (“waterproof” is so often a trust-shattering, heart-crushing lie). Every love has its drawbacks; what you’re looking for isn’t The Perfect Relationship, but one where there’s more than enough good to outweigh the bad. This sounds like it has the potential to be exactly that. Go ahead and let yourself fall.

Previously: Coming Out ‘Wholesale,’ Emotional Affairs, and Crushing on Chicks Who Don’t Dig Chicks

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter, and you can peruse the AAQC archive here. Do you have a question for her?