You Need Help: Cat Whistling Your Queerness To Other Closeted Queer Ladies

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I’m from one of the most (if not the most!) homophobic countries in the world, which makes finding other lesbian/bi/pan women hard, to say the least. I have an LGBTQ/LGBTQ-friendly social circle that I am out to, but I’m not interested in dating anyone there.

In college, there’s a girl in most of my classes that I get gay vibes from. I catch her staring on an almost daily basis, and we’ve recently started talking and became friendly, but that’s it.

I have a huge crush on her, and the problem is that whenever I get a crush on a woman that I suspect is also into women, I get paralyzed by fear of being outed and I do nothing about it and act aloof. I don’t want to risk being outed because, even in the best case scenario, it would ruin my life, but I like her too much to not do anything (yet again), especially when I’m 85% sure she feels the same way.

How can I hint at her or flirt with her in a way that’s subtle enough to fly over a straight girl’s head, but be picked up on by LBPQ woman?

Thank you!


Ooh, this is so interesting! I feel like at least half the time people need advice, the correct answer is “just talk to them” and “be direct.” But that’s really not the case here, considering the environment you’re in. You’re gonna need something cunning and a little sly. I’m excited for you, friend! What an adventure.

Okay, first: it is an excellent thing that you’re already talking to each other. That can be such a hard thing to start, and you’ve already gone and done it. So good job! I suspect that you won’t have too much difficulty moving from friendly talking into flirty talking, because honestly, they’re not that different. My favorite advice on flirting comes from Allison Moon and K.D. Diamond in Girl Sex 101:

Flirting is just getting to know someone, and being playful at the same time. When you flirt with someone, you’re learning if your style of playfulness is compatible.

Totally not a big deal! You are 100% capable of doing that. Perhaps you’ve already started. The trickier part for you, it sounds like, will be getting her to read your efforts as flirting rather than friending. So let’s explore that.

You asked for advice on how to flirt with this chick “in a way that’s subtle enough to fly over a straight girl’s head, but be picked up on by LBPQ woman.” I don’t know of any existing term for this particular thing, but it really seems like there should be one, right? I move that we should all adopt the term “cat whistling” to describe this activity. Like dog whistling, but gayer. A gentler, respectful alternative to cat calling. Just think about it. You can get back to me.

I’m curious what specific things you’re picking up as gay vibes from this girl. You mention catching her staring, but I’m assuming there are other little signals too. Is she transmitting gay vibes through her clothing choices? Other body language signals? Her hobbies and interests? Make a list, check it twice, and think about whether there’s intentionality behind any of that signaling. Could she be cat whistling you?

When it comes to gaydar, I’ve really only found two things to be consistently true:

  • that it works best via triangulation, taking multiple signals into account to make reasonable inferences. (Note that I did not say “perfect” or “always accurate;” just “reasonable.”)
  • that when you try to explain those signals on their own, they sound really hokey and questionable. Gay signals are super subjective and context-dependent, and it’s very unlikely you’ll find another person who agrees with you in every instance. That doesn’t mean that either of you are wrong.

With those two principles in mind, what I think you should do next is a) flirt, and b) cat whistle like crazy. The more signals you send out, the more likely it is that she will register your gayness if she’s looking for it. You can start with a few very quiet signals — maybe mirror back any signals she appears to be sending your way! — and as you gain comfort talking to her, feel free to pile on increasingly less ambiguous signs.

To aid and amuse you, I made a list of suggestions in approximate descending order of plausible deniability!


Top: Brittani with her buttons buttoned, bicycles, Cowboy. Middle: Ms. Quin, Kristin and Dannielle’s arms, gay sharks. Bottom: KStew, PLL, DTF pumpkin pie, Alex in a gal pal pullover.

40 Ways to Try Cat Whistling Your Queerness

  1. Wear lots of white v-neck t-shirts
  2. Have auspicious discussions about intersectional feminism
  3. Button ups buttoned all the way to the top
  4. Recreational bike riding
  5. Veganism
  6. Cut your fingernails really short and paint them a bright color
  7. Thumb rings
  8. Blazer + jeans
  9. Talk about Rachel Maddow
  10. Go camping
  11. Get a cat and make it an Instagram account
  12. Mention Orphan Black
  13. Carry a safe space pencil case
  14. Sexy dinosaur facts
  15. Tarot card readings
  16. Floral crowns
  17. Script tattoo on your inner arm
  18. Play lots of Tegan and Sara
  19. Mention Orange is the New Black
  20. Jogger pants
  21. Lisa Frank stickers on everything
  22. Lisa Frank dolphin stickers on everything
  23. Casual boot wearing
  24. Talk about Kristen Stewart
  25. Plaid shirt + bright lipstick
  26. Wear a beanie
  27. Dress like you’re going to Justin Bieber’s giant lesbian slumber party
  28. Explain the plot of Pretty Little Liars to her
  29. Cultivate interesting body hair
  30. Collar chains
  31. Glitter lips
  32. Get a helix piercing
  33. Lots of eye contact
  34. Use the term “gal pal”
  35. Wear a gal pal sweatshirt
  36. Casually touch her (like, on the arm)
  37. Present her with baked goods
  38. Present her with wine
  39. Carry around a copy of Tipping the Velvet (but the one with the shoes on the cover, not the naked ladies)
  40. Adorn yourself with any piece of Autostraddle scissoring merch

Again: cat whistles are highly subjective. Depending on where you live and who you hang with, your list may look a little bit different or a lot different. So, you know, use your best judgment. Maybe the commenters will have additional suggestions for you.

Now go get her, tiger!

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Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 211 articles for us.