Big Lesbian Feelings, Fearful Mothers, and Proper Pronouns

by Lindsay Miller


I went through a big deal breakup a month ago and am now attempting casual dating/hooking up. How/when should I tell people I’m not looking for an actual relationship? Any other casual dating advice you might have would be very welcome.

If you’re only interested in casual dating, you simply cannot disclose too early. Like, bring it up before you order drinks on your first date. Include it in your online dating profile. Screen-print it on a hoodie that you wear anywhere you might meet romantic prospects.

Casual dating/hooking up is not a bad thing at all, but since it might be a dealbreaker for the people you want to date, it’s best to get it out in the open as soon as possible. That way, if you’re looking for different things, you can both move on with no hard feelings.

This doesn’t need to be a Big Lesbian Feelings Talk; simply say, “Just so you know, I’m only interested in dating casually right now,” and then continue with your awkward first-date small talk. You have a cat? What a weird coincidence, I totally follow someone on Twitter who has a cat!”

However, I’m going to quibble with your terminology a bit: you said you were looking for an “actual relationship.” In fact, you’re looking for multiple actual relationships. Casual, short-term, and non-monogamous relationships are still relationships, and should be treated as such! There are entirely too many people out there behaving as though “I’m not looking for a serious relationship” is a get-out-of-being-a-considerate-human-being-free card, leaving emotional wreckage in their wake, and I don’t want you to be one of them.

People that you are casually dating and/or casually having sex with deserve to be treated like real people, even if you’re not interested in them as romantic partners. Think of your casual hookups as “a friend I sometimes see naked,” not “a sex person who is literally only for sex.” Ask them how their day was; listen and be supportive when they tell you about it. Spend time together doing things you both enjoy that aren’t sex — hiking, bowling, watching movies, whatever. Develop inside jokes. Introduce them to your other friends. People who don’t do those things — and worse, people who vehemently rebuff any attempt to do those things — send the message that they don’t value their sexual partners as people. That is Not Cool. Anyone who isn’t considerate enough to treat their hookups with respect isn’t considerate enough to be a half-decent lay.

Be honest, be thoughtful, and don’t go on dates with people who don’t offer you the same courtesy. If you genuinely have zero interest in spending any non-sexual time with someone, just move on! Sleeping with someone who bores or disgusts you is terrible for the soul, even if the sex is good. (If you have not yet figured out that I am writing this answer primarily to my 19-year-old self, try to step up your powers of observation.)

If you are dating more than one person, and especially if you’re having sex with more than one person, you definitely need to inform all your partners of that fact. And, of course, always practice safer sex — don’t insert anything anywhere without putting a condom or a glove on it first. I leave it to your judgment to determine which is more appropriate in any given situation.

Finally, bear in mind that romantic feelings can spring up, even in casual relationships. If and when they do, it’s up to you whether to pursue them. You can’t always control how you feel, and that’s okay.

I recently came out to my parents and, at first, my mother was very upset because she said it “didn’t follow the life she planned out for me,” i.e. getting married and having kids.

Now she’s met my girlfriend multiple times and really likes her! BUT! Whenever I come home, she always tells me that she worries about me because “people out there don’t like people like me,” and that “people like to hurt people like you,” as in, gay people. It really upsets me every time she says things like this to me. I feel like she’s projecting her own fears on to me.

I don’t felt threatened, but once the seeds of doubt are planted, they grow fast! How do I address my mother’s fears and also tell her that it’s not okay to say things like that to me?

When I came out to my mom, her response was really similar — she told me she was afraid my life would be much harder than a straight person’s, and she didn’t want that for me. For a lot of straight people, the only way they interact with the LGBTQ community is through pop culture, which disproportionately portrays us as suffering, persecuted, bullied, or adorable sexless sidekicks. Maybe that’s where she got the idea that gay people can’t get married and have kids?

It’s no wonder your mom has picked up some one-dimensional, dehumanizing ideas of what life is like for queer people, but she needs to shake them off because she’s freaking you out.

Have you told your mom that you don’t like it when she spends your visits focusing on her fears? That’s definitely step one. It’s possible that if you firmly but kindly nudge her in the right direction — “Mom, I don’t feel unsafe in my day-to-day life, and I don’t want you encouraging me to feel unsafe” — she’ll change the way she talks to you.

If you think confronting it directly would be too awkward, you can try diverting the conversation:

Your Mom: “People out there don’t like gay people.”

You: “Most people I meet seem to like me just fine. In fact, one of my coworkers invited my girlfriend and I to her monthly game night — did you know I’m a total monster at Scattergories?”

This will be most effective if you pair it with Plan A. Explain your discomfort and offer her a different subject to discuss, all the while reinforcing the concept that gay people have full, happy lives that don’t revolve around constantly being discriminated against.

You could also try asking your mom what she’s hoping to accomplish by constantly bringing up her fears. Is she trying to subtly hint that you should stop being gay? Because, you know, that’s not going to work. Or, has finding out that someone she loves is queer opened her eyes to the insidious evils of homophobia? If she’s realizing for the first time just how marginalized LGBTQ people are in this society, I can understand why she’s concerned — and, hopefully, pissed off. However, she should realize that dwelling on it (and forcing you to dwell on it) whenever you’re together isn’t going to fix anything; it is just going to make you start screening your calls. If she wants to make a difference, she should consider volunteering for a local LGBTQ advocacy organization, or donating to Lambda Legal or the SRLP. That will go farther towards improving her gay daughter’s life than any amount of worrying.

I’m a cisgender woman who spends a lot of time in trans-friendly spaces, and as a result, I’m aware of the trans status of a few people in my community. As such I try to make it a point to be vigilant about preferred gender pronouns, especially when someone is misgendered and isn’t there to correct the unwitting party themselves, e.g. someone says, “Oh I know Rex! I love how she got her hair done!” “Oh, Rex goes by he and him, but yeah, his haircut is awesome, Lily did it for him!”

Recently this happened and instead of the usual, “Oh, I didn’t know that” response, I got smacked in the face with “Well, we must not be talking about the same person, because this person isn’t a boy.”

I tried to describe this person physically so it might become obvious that this was, indeed, the same person, but the person I was speaking to had already kind of checked out of that part of the conversation, having determined for themselves that my friend was not the same person that they know, because the person they know is female-bodied.

My question is, what is the best response to have to this? I’m not interested in outing my friends for the sake of educating the ignorant, but the pressure to just be like, “NO U R WRONG STOP” is overwhelming.

I feel equally uncomfortable asking my trans friends themselves about this, because they’re dealing with enough people misgendering them to their face without hearing about the people that do it when they aren’t around, and why would I put that on them? Is this even a thing to worry about, or should I just lament the fact that not everyone is open to “teachable moments” and wait for them to figure it out later?

I think there are two things you should try to do in this situation. In increasing order of priority:

1. You should affirm people’s pronoun preferences as much as possible.
2. You should not make anyone have The Pronoun Talk with you if they don’t feel like it.

If you don’t know whether someone wants to discuss pronouns with you — like, if they’re not blowing up your phone with “Hey, here are some of my thoughts on pronouns, both as they pertain to me and to the world in general; I would love to talk about this in much greater detail whenever it’s convenient for you, ”then assume they’d rather skip it.

Trans, genderqueer, and other gender-non-conforming folks field SO MANY demands to talk about pronouns and misgendering, and I’ve learned from my trans* and genderqueer friends that many of them are hella over it. They want to talk about their date last weekend and how their communities are fighting institutional racism and what they thought of Roxane Gay’s new book but people just. Keep. Asking. About. Pronouns.

It is possible that your trans friends feel differently about this, and if you have reason to believe they do, that’s fine! But in my own life, I’ve adopted a don’t-ask-if-it’s-not-crucial policy. Someone misgendering your friend in their absence does not require your friend’s mental energy, so don’t bring it to their attention unless they’ve indicated that they want to talk about it. If someone specifically comes out to you as trans, I think it’s okay to ask them if they’d like you to correct people who get their name/gender/pronouns wrong. Otherwise, just use your best judgment.

What your best judgment should tell you to do is pretty much what you’re already doing: Correct people who get it wrong, but don’t dwell on it. Making a Big Huge Thing about your friend’s gender will encourage other people to do the same. Instead, lead by example. Call people how they want to be called, and move on with the conversation and your life.

But — and this is a huge, important but — be very, very sure that when you correct someone, you’re not outing your friend. Lots of trans and genderqueer people are only out in certain parts of their lives, and may prefer to be read as their assigned gender in certain situations. For instance, your friend might be a dude socially, but still present as a woman at work. This is especially relevant for people who could lose their jobs for being trans. Or they might not feel like explaining their gender history and Trans Issues 101 forever and ever to everyone. It’s possible that the person you were talking to thinks of your friend as a woman because that’s the way your friend wants it, and if that’s the case, saying “Actually, he’s a guy” is very much Not Cool.

If you know for a fact that your friend presents as the same gender to everyone and prefers that everyone use the same pronouns you do, go ahead and correct folks who get it wrong. But if you’re not sure, err on the side of definitely not outing people ever for any reason. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t out people! Not for a teachable moment, not to save the earth from invading aliens, not ever.

If you’re not sure to whom your friend is out, or how they’d like you to refer to them so that their privacy is protected, I think it’s okay to ask — just make sure to keep the conversation respectful and to the point. For some folks, trans visibility is a priority and telling people is great; for others, sharing that information would be hugely inappropriate.

Don’t get so caught up in the idea of being The Perfect Trans Ally that you overlook your trans friends’ individual wants and needs. And if you’re not sure what those are, you can always just avoid using pronouns until you have a chance to find out for sure.

HEY CUTIES! Before you go: did you know that Ask A Queer Chick is going to be an actual book? It will be published by Plume in early 2016, will feature ALL NEW content, and will be printed on attractive high-quality paper with some kind of sturdy cover. You’ll be able to carry it around with you for easy reference. In the future, you can show it to your grandchildren to illustrate what “books” were! Watch this space for further developments.

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

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