Something I’ve struggled with throughout my whole (not so grand) dating history is the fact that I can’t really place myself within the structure of lesbian dating. I’m physically hour glassed shaped, but feel uncomfortable with overtly feminine presentation, at the same time I’m not drawn to more masc presenting styles. I also fluctuate in type, all my past relationships have been with femme women (who I was very much attracted to), but my major crushes, that I didn’t gather the bravery to pursue, were mostly masc of center. I can’t figure out who I want to pursue, who I want to be, and how I want to present myself. I’m a little older and I still struggle with being “butch” enough to swipe on a hot fem girl, or “sweet enough” for a classic “top.” I’ve been told it should feel natural. People always talk about how as part of coming out you “dress/act as who you truly are,” but how do you proceed when every outfit feels like a costume and every date you go on a performance?
I just let out a super long, emotional sigh. I can very deeply relate to the questions you’re asking yourself. Even though you would think that we as a queer community could have collectively come to the conclusion by now that specific dating stereotypes, like the idea that everyone must pair up in a butch-femme dynamic, don’t need to be followed, it often feels as though there is still only one specific formula to follow when it comes to queer dating and presentation, particularly when you don’t see yourself fitting into any box neatly. This becomes even more confusing when you factor in your relationship to your body, your personal style, and how you want to present yourself to future lovers. I’ve been told the “just be yourself” and “dress in what makes you comfortable” thing, but those questions always drive me crazy because I can never quite answer them; I don’t feel comfortable in femme clothes or super masc clothes, especially because I’m also hourglass shaped, which makes me feel high femme when I’m wearing anything femme of center, and a little dysmorphic when I’m trying to appear more butch. And then, there’s the question of who I want to attract; Should I dress more butch because I want a femme girl, or should I dress more femme to attract a soft butch? It’s at this moment when I attempt to pause my racing thoughts by staring in the mirror and recognizing that I’m operating from a place of assumptions about “what a queer couple should look like” that aren’t true, but knowing and feeling are two totally different things.
So what do we do when we can’t figure out how to feel like ourselves and we can’t even figure out who we’re attracted to? I’m on this journey with you, and while I wish I could wave a magic wand and give you super confidence and the perfect partner, we all know that even gay magic has its limits. I will share, however, a little part of my journey that may shed some light on finding identity within queer dating.
Over the past few years I’ve been hellbent on looking and feeling more butch and putting “top” energy into the world. I changed my whole wardrobe, switched who I was swiping on, and started being the aggressor in relationships. Similar to you, I felt like I was performing certain parts of who I was, or wanted to be but I didn’t really know why? Because of this, I always felt like my very real love of “softer” or “straighter” things like Disney princesses, musical theater, and Taylor Swift was too femme for my public dating personality, so I would hide it strategically. At first, I would just enter into dates and sexual encounters by asking the other person questions, but soon I found myself swerving frantically around topics like weddings, family, and emotions, sensing that in order to be the “cool” top, I needed to engage in emotionless sex, hate my family, and hate the institution of marriage. While all of these things are totally fine and great for other people, they are definitely not me. I’ve realized that I’m not actually happy with this aggressive persona I was trying to create because in all honesty, at the end of the day I’m still a head-in-the-clouds dreamer who wants to be proposed to at Disneyworld (I know, I know). This doesn’t mean I can’t be masc and love all of the things I love, but it made me realize that I should be the person who will attract someone I actually want to be with because they like the authentic me. To put it more simply, I don’t want to attract someone who only likes me because they think I have “cool” taste in music or because I told them I want to live off the grid just so I can sound impressive. Ultimately that would end in heartbreak for both of us.
So, I guess I have some questions for you. What do you want from dating apps? What do you want from dating? How do you want to feel about yourself when you look in the mirror: sexy, confident, cute, smart, all of the above? By naming what you want from a specific tool or outfit, it might give you clues as to how to feel more true to yourself. For example, if you’re using dating apps to find a long-term partner, it might be helpful to envision the mental and emotional qualities you want in a long term partner and how you imagine you’ll feel when you’re with that person. From there, you can navigate through people who have those traits. If you’re going out for a night and want to look hot as hell, think about the last time you felt hot, and then think about why. Was it because you were surrounded by your supportive friends? Or maybe because you had on really comfortable shoes that let you dance for longer? “Hot” doesn’t have to mean leather jacket, low cut shirt, or ripped jeans. When you name the feeling you want to have for the occasion you’re dressing for, I encourage you to notice things that feel familiar and good, and go from there.
It’s TOTALLY okay to feel sexy in a cut-off one day and then fly as hell in a dress the next. It’s okay not to cut your hair or wear lipstick. Even though it feels like these are simple reminders, I’m partially writing this to also remind myself that it’s okay! We don’t need to have one particular vibe, type, or style. Furthermore, it’s totally valid to present masc and be with someone masc presenting. It’s valid to present femme and be with someone femme presenting. It’s valid to be androgynous presenting and be with someone androgynous. When it comes to queerness, no rules apply! We don’t gatekeep! Go for the hot butch if you want! Even if you find it difficult to let go of labels and static dating roles, I would encourage you to just take the next step that feels right to you in this moment. You don’t have to have it all figured out now, next week, or next year. When the time comes to hit on someone, swipe on someone, be “yourself” on a date, or dress yourself, think in really small steps: what feels good right now? What should I say in this moment that is true to me? Don’t worry about what will feel good in 20 days — you can think about that then. Trust your intuition in all of the small steps and I guarantee you will lead yourself closer to a you that feels more authentic.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.