How To Date Women When You’re An Invisible Femme


I like things with lace and sequins and bows and pearls. I am unapologetically guilty of wearing leggings as pants. Many days of the week I make use of a dreaded device commonly known as an eyelash curler.

I look like your average 20-something cisgendered woman…and I like to date women.

People rarely, if ever, assume I’m queer when they look at me. Even for other queer people, my queerness isn’t usually perceptible. It’s hard to detect through the projected aura of my French manicure.

I know I’m not the only queer woman in a frilly dress and five inch heels with pink lipgloss. There are plenty like me. And not of all of them have trouble finding a girl to date. But I’m sharing my story for the queer girls out there who do feel invisible. This is for the girls who want to date girls, but wonder “With boring hair like this, how will I ever get her to notice me?”

In the modern day queer world there isn’t a code. Last year, I read an article about finger flagging, the idea that lesbians paint their ring finger nail a different color to signify their preference for women. That is great in theory, if you are able to examine people’s hands without looking like a weirdo, but even if you accomplish that, the sparkly ring finger is now a popular style for every twelve year old and their moms. There is a lot of advice out there for combating femme invisibility with a triangle ring, or one feather earring, but what if that just isn’t your style? Without any reliable way to visually communicate that you like ladies, what is a femme, particularly a new femme, to do?

Throughout my life I’ve found people across the gender spectrum to be attractive, but my early dating life involved a lot of boys. I had it all figured out. I knew how to snag them and keep them wrapped around my finger.

And then a gorgeous chapstick lesbian with her short hair and her tie walked into the room. There she was! The one I’d been waiting for – the woman I found both mentally and physically exciting. I was totally ready to date my first girl.

Except I wasn’t. Take all of the butterflies and nausea of a normal crush and add on the “It’s so awkwardly obvious that I have no idea what the heck I’m doing!” factor. And because every time I ran into her I just so happened to be wearing a new dress from Forever 21, she wasn’t making any moves.

I tried my usual strategies, but for some reason my lingering hugs didn’t seem to make her weak at the knees and she didn’t even notice when I accidentally/on purpose brushed my ankle against hers. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. My milkshake had systematically brought several men to the yard, but she wasn’t having it.

There were two main factors standing between me and a lifetime of love with this girl. One was the fact that intimacy between girls and their friends is seen as normal. In high school, my best friend and I would hold hands and skip down the hallway together and nobody gave it a second thought. So when I thought I was turning up the charm, this girl thought I was just being friendly. Later on she told me that she had literally shrugged and thought to herself “I guess this is how straight girls make friends.” Sigh.

Soon after meeting her, I entrapped her in a conversation about the qualities I liked in a partner. I painted a romantic picture of my ideal date, thinking she would see herself there and desperately want to make it happen. When she told me that she was looking for someone that she could stay in bed with all day, I told her I was good at that. She couldn’t possibly misconstrue what I was getting at, right? Wrong.

The other major factor working against invisible femmes is that because your outward appearance doesn’t clearly shout, “Hey, look at me! Queer lady over here!” you have to find another way to send that message.

My insinuations got through, but I had confused the heck out of her! She remembers trying to decipher my “mixed messages” with her roommate, insisting that I was straight but unable to ignore my strategy of aggressive flirtation. She started to think that I was just flirting with her because I liked the attention. I didn’t know how to convince her otherwise so, being the stubborn woman that I am, I just kept doing what I was doing. Eventually she caught on to the fact that I actually wanted to date her, but because I never clearly said so, she assumed that I wasn’t brave enough to take the leap, and she wasn’t going to do it for me.

This is not to say that other queer women are utterly clueless when it comes to femmes. And they aren’t baseless in being careful about dating someone who is seemingly straight. Let’s acknowledge that messiness and save it for someone else’s article, because even knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just say something. How hard would it have been to take the reins and tell her that I thought she was really great and that I wanted to take her out some time? Sure, that seems obvious now, but at the time that seemed terrifying.

It also seemed like the only viable option. So, after months of crushing on this girl, I finally asked her to go out with me, wouldn’t take no for an answer, took her to a gay bar, and kissed her on the middle of the dance floor. And that was that. No amount of volunteering to help with her projects, subtly touching her shoulder, or even telling her that I wanted to lie in bed with all day was going to open the door for me.

You see, fellow invisible femmes, the world has been conditioned to see our barrettes and patterned tights as a sign that we totally want boys in our pants. Sure, you could cut off all of your hair or put on a plaid shirt, but as my mama always said, “Stop bugging me and just tell me what you want already!”

In the end, a combination of awkward persistence and blunt honesty worked for me. So rock that mini skirt, flaunt your fake lashes. Just be prepared to actually tell a girl that you want to take her home. 

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