Given that heterosexuality is assumed and “gayness” isn’t an immediately visible trait, it’s hard to spot other gays “out in the wild.”
This makes meeting dating prospects in day-to-day life (such as when we’re sitting on the bus or lounging at the local coffeeshop) more difficult for LGBTQs.
As a result of this, many of us turn to online dating. A large number of queer people meet their partners exclusively through the apps. Back when I was in college (from 2008 to 2012), I was the only person within my mostly straight friend circle using them—while my friends met their significant others primarily in class, at parties, through clubs and common interests, or via friends.
But as members of the LGBTQ community, can we too have spontaneous, organic meet cutes?
To address this, I’ll share a story from my own life that took place a couple years ago.
River grass brushed against my legs as I doggy-paddled through the cool Delta water, which felt refreshing beneath the 90-degree heat of the Central Valley sun. Nearby, kids bounced on a water trampoline. Others thwocked a tether ball around a rusted metal pole while their friends shot down the slightly curved white waterslide a few feet away. Bar-goers jumped off the orange-red roof of the restaurant bar into the marshy water below.
Home to acres of farmland, fruit orchards, and serpentine roads, the Delta was my happy place, with the Lighthouse Bar and Grill (described by Evan Duran from Submerge Magazine as “a veritable toy box of good times for big kids”) as one of its hidden gems.
As the sun began to set, I read from the dock, my toes just barely touching the water where floating algal bloom stretched out like mermaid hair. Reeds tickled the bottoms of my heels while a navy blue baseball cap over my still wet hair shielded my face from the sun.
All of a sudden, I felt the dock sway and the wood behind me creak, alerting me to a presence. Though at first I thought it was a swimmer about to jump off the dock—or maybe an employee approaching to notify me of closing time—when I turned, I saw a girl with short, red hair cut just above her ears walking slowly toward me.
The straps of a purple bathing suit poked out from beneath her salmon-colored tank top. Tattoos adorned both her arms. Queer and rural seemed to blend seamlessly in her outward presentation.
I’d noticed this girl earlier, eating inside with her family—and my gaydar had sounded (within the queer community, nose rings and tattoos are potential signifiers of queer identity, if not definitive markers). This is not to say all women with these markers should be assumed to be LGBTQ, just that it ups the likelihood.
“Beautiful out here, huh?” she remarked after sitting down a couple feet away from me.
“So nice,” I replied, looking out at the marshlands beyond the Delta in the distance, then back at the girl—whose nose ring, I noted, was teal like mine.
“I’m in there having dinner with my family,” she said, gesturing to the table next to the window inside. “You looked like you were having a lot of fun out here earlier—so I wanted to come say hi.”
I looked behind us, to inside the Lighthouse Bar. Diners chased bites of their burgers with gulps of beer beside an expansive view of all the outdoor action. In the corner on a black leather couch next to Pac-Man machines and a set for musicians, a cocker spaniel napped, her floppy ears draped over her paws like cozy blankets shielding her soulful brown eyes.
The girl and I talked for another five or ten minutes. Occasional jet skis or motorboats cut through the water in front of us, leaving foamy ripples in their trail. Tall green grass swayed by a light breeze sprouted up from a nearby cove, reminding me of the shaggy do of a mythical marsh creature. Off in the distance, tiny cars whizzed by on the slits of road that cut through the cornfields.
Afterward, as I cruised down one of those narrow stretches of smooth black road, framed by looming grass stalks to its left and the delta water speckled with little islands and marshes to its right, I reflected on our interaction.
How did she know I was LGBTQ? I wondered. Did I jump in a lesbian way?
Maybe my willingness to get covered in slimy river water then be seen afterward with wet hair and sans makeup were norm-defying, therefore queer actions.
Maybe the whole idea of a woman going to a place by herself was in itself queer.
Or was I absolutely overthinking it and my assumed queerness was not even a factor in her deciding to approach me?
In any case, I was filled with some level of excitement—because what I did know was that as a lesbian who passes as straight in a world that still assumes sexuality based off one’s appearance, it wasn’t often that I got approached by women.
Sexuality is invisible, especially if you’re a woman displaying no outward signs of queerness. I can list on one hand the number of times I’ve met a woman “organically.” A few were at gay clubs from the ages of 18 to 21. My girlfriend in college, whom I met through common friends at the LGBTQ Center. And while living in Uruguay, the woman I dated had been one of my housemates.
Apart from these and perhaps a couple of others though, I’d only ever gotten approached by men while out in public—be that on the bus, at parties, or while doing my own thing at a cafe.
A video on YouTube called “Girls Picking Up Girls” shines light on this minor challenge that we, invisible femmes, face. In it, a young woman basically goes up to other women in public, tells them they’re beautiful, and asks if she can take them out on a date. My favorite pickup line that she used: “Are you from Australia? Because you meet my koala-ficiations.”
The video had me laughing and smiling while also thinking, “If only this actually happened.” One of the commenters validated that sentiment by commenting, “When you realize this would never happen to you.”
Straight people are rarely faced with this situation. A guy who thinks a girl at the coffee shop is cute can, when he chats her up, safely assume that she is interested in men—even if she’s not interested in him personally. A woman can also safely assume that when a guy approaches her in public, he has some romantic interest in her—whereas if I make that same assumption with women, I’m likely to be met with disappointment.
A common scenario I found myself in—particularly in my college years— was that I’d meet a cute girl, be it in class or through a common activity. We’d seem to be hitting it off. At some point though, sometimes as quickly as an hour in, other times weeks into knowing each other, the words “my boyfriend” would fall from her mouth.
Words followed them, and words came before. The complete sentence could have been “Oh my God, my boyfriend loves that show!” It could have been “I was just telling my boyfriend the other day that I want to know how they filmed the hoverboard scenes in Back to the Future II!'” Or it even could have been, “I was riding horses out in the fields with my boyfriend one day, when all of a sudden, we noticed a huge rainbow in the sky and it was like the universe was trying to send me a sign” (I probably would have liked this one the most, truthfully).
I couldn’t tell you what it was though, because all I heard in those moments was the sound of my heart dropping into my stomach as disappointment filled me from head to toe like lukewarm water.
Common questions that I found myself asking throughout my late teens and twenties:
Was the waitress at iHop who put hearts on my receipt flirting, or just trying to get a tip?
Was that “like” on my Facebook selfie from that girl I just met through a friend (and whom I barely know) flirtatious or platonic?
If a woman is nice to me, is it because she’s interested or because women are socialized to be nice?
How do you meet women to date when you don’t “look gay?”
Nothing happened with the girl at the Delta and me. We didn’t date thereafter, and neither of us felt compelled to ask for the other’s number. It in no way significantly altered the course of my life in a day-to-day sense.
Our brief interaction did give me hope though—that maybe it’s not such a barren wasteland out there for femme lesbians. Maybe as queer women, we can be approached in “heteronormative spaces” at random or unexpected moments. Maybe when we’re completely in our element, pouring energy into what makes us happy, others are attracted to that—regardless of our gender or sexual orientation.
Perhaps the by-now banal advice, “You attract when you’re content on your own and not seeking to impress,” applied in this situation. Un-fazed by whatever reactions the people inside might have been having to it, I prioritized my joy that day. And someone not only noticed, but decided to approach me.
Sometimes we “singles” go to places where we think we’re likeliest to meet people we’ll mesh with. But maybe we also attract when we’re simply doing what makes us feel most alive (regardless of whether the observer shares that interest)—the park to paint, a cafe to write, or a grassy field to work out with a soccer ball— any activity that puts us in our element while alone in public without the shield of friends that can at times intimidate people from approaching us.
Maybe the spontaneous interaction that follows will result in you finding your life partner, or a close friend. Or maybe it will amount to nothing more than a pleasant conversation for 20 minutes of your day with a person whom you’ll never see again.
I’ve since shifted the advice I give to myself and others from “Get yourself out there more,” to “Do what you love, away from your cocoon” (as far as COVID-19 permits). If an intrigued bystander chats you up, that’s just the whipped cream on top of the rainbow ice cream.
Maybe this reminder can help some of us to relax just a little bit. Maybe it can—to use a woo-woo phrase—allow us to trust in the universe.
Maybe it can provide us with the faith that sometimes things work themselves out or unfold however they’re meant to.