Last Friday, my first weekend in D.C., I ventured out into the city for drinking, dancing, and the sense of adventure that comes with being in a new place. My friends and I spotted a rooftop bar with an American flag and a rainbow flag waving side by side and we skipped inside, delighted.
On the dance floor, male couples danced and kissed while lots of women, drinks in hand, shimmied in the middle of all these men. One girl, sporting a mini skirt with a plastic tiara atop her head, was grinding aggressively on a man whose face screamed of discomfort. This is assuming these women are straight.
This scene has grown so common that The Washington Post recently wrote an article about the uptick in straight people at gay bars, noting the bar I went to that night.
As gay bars increasingly shift toward being gay-men-and-straight-women bars, another space is shrinking—there’s little room remaining for queer women to be queer without having to question their place. Some straight people feel entitled to queer spaces and don’t see a problem with this at all.
There are very few lesbian bars remaining and gay bars are no longer places where queer women can meet each other. Approaching straight person after straight person can be uncomfortable and is often not worth the trouble. More often than not, the queer women I do see at gay bars arrive with their partners.
With the rise of the internet, LGBTQ+ people no longer had to go to bars to meet potential mates. Many straight people want to be more welcoming, but without an understanding of the complex culture of queerness, in an attempt to be supportive, straight people can often be invasive.
Nearly 70 percent of LGBTQ+ couples meet online today, according to a survey conducted by Match.com in 2013. This isn’t surprising, as flirting in public while gay forces you to make a lot of assumptions and often act more aggressively than you would otherwise.
But online, dating as a queer woman presents its own unique challenges.
You would think online dating simplifies mingling while queer. It’s a safe alternative—you can assume a woman who puts “interested in women” on her profile is likely to be somewhere on the spectrum. But as LGBTQ+ people become more accepted in society, straight people feel more comfortable “touring” the LGBTQ world, either at gay bars or on dating apps.
It’s very easy for a straight girl to check “interested in men and women” and begin Tinder swiping without a second thought. Many girls I know have confessed to this before. Some do it to see their competition. Others, just for fun, because apparently giving queer women false hope is a fun game.
In the gay male dating world, The Daily Beast grindr debacle led to outrage in the LGBTQ community. A straight, married reporter wanted to report on online dating at the Olympics, but after finding little success on Tinder, turned to grindr. In his post —which has since been taken down—he described, in detail, male athletes he talked to from countries where it can be dangerous to be openly gay.
During my gap year, I was just beginning to foray into talking to women online, and I came across the profile of a girl I had met while travelling. Elated, I swiped right hoping she would do the same. She did not, and later told me that she went on tinder because she thought it was funny to talk to girls who were into her. Nothing on her profile indicated that she was straight.
It forced me to view online dating through a new lens.
When you can’t assume every person who comes across your screen is queer, it’s easy to fall back on stereotypes.
Straight people––and in this case, especially straight women––need to understand that being an ally does not give them a free pass to co-opt spaces. If you don’t understand this, then you’re not really an ally of the LGBTQ+ community–– you’re an ally of the gay men you go out dancing with.
There are some alternatives, of course. Apps such as Her, designed for queer women and non-binary people, pretty much guarantee the person you’re talking to is interested in women. Some women will even include some signifier that they are, in fact interested in women.
I don’t have a solution to this. Only the hope that one day I can match with the sorority girl of my dreams without fear.