Why do we find it so hard to ‘play the dating game’?

Straight cis men complain about how hard it is to approach women without feeling like a creep. Women have no idea! Actually, yes, we do. Louise McCudden unpacks the internalised queerphobia and misogyny underneath the dating experiences of queer people, especially those of us who are not cis men.


Oh, the unique horrors of being a man who fancies women and finds it hard to approach them without seeming like a creep. Women don’t understand what it’s like! Women don’t have to worry about this! I try not laugh when heterosexual, cis men complain to me about this, kindly explaining it with such patience, because it will be tough for a woman to relate to this experience. Right? In fact, this problem is so common among those of us who aren’t hetero cis men that it’s kind of a cliche. How do we ever hook up with each other, when no-one ever wants to make the first move? How do I initiate contact without being that creep who ruins her day? How do I let her know I like her without risking my personal safety – or making her worry about hers? How do I let her know I’m super, super into her without putting any pressure on her to be happy about it?

The personal safety question strikes me first and hardest because when straight cis men complain to me about how hard it is to approach someone they’re attracted to, and how they wish women (the right ones, obviously) would hit on them more, personal safety is barely even on their radar. For many of us who aren’t men, we are taught from an extraordinarily young age that our right to feel safe is conditional upon us following the rules to someone else’s game. Don’t talk to strangers. Then, when we get older, don’t be a slut. It’s not just that it’s naughty. It’s dangerous.

Of course, the risk is even greater when coupled with the fear of an anti-queer reaction, as well as a misogynistic one. I certainly feel flashes of that terror myself, even if it’s only for a few seconds, when I out myself or am outed in even the friendliest situations – and as a rule, I’m fairly safe in most spaces. I don’t, for example, have to worry about being met with racist or transmisogynistic responses.

But the fear isn’t only that I could be perceived as predatory or creepy. When I think back on my early memories of formative queer crushes, I associate pretty much all of them on some level with shame, guilt, secrecy, and fear. As much as the ‘labels-don’t-matter’ crowd wants to make us feel that ‘identity’ is separate from queer attraction, for me, my sense of self is inextricably bound up with my early attractions, my early crushes, my early loves. My fear isn’t simply a matter of thinking: ‘my behaviour might be interpreted as creepy.’ Part of me is still scared that maybe I actually am creepy.

As kids, we are offered painfully few representations of who we are. Most queer characters or celebrities that I saw who were relatable for me from a gender perspective (i.e. they weren’t coded as explicitly male, and they were attracted to other people who weren’t coded as explicitly male) were presented as predatory, sick, creepy, and sometimes even evil.

They were also usually presented as ugly. A lot of us learnt very young that ‘attractive’ means ‘heterosexual.’ I had to fight really, really hard to unlearn the voice in my head that always told me: ‘Oh, they’re super attractive? They’re probably straight.’ What does it mean for my own mental health and self-esteem that I was telling myself on a regular basis that ‘attractive, desirable, good’ are basically all antonyms for ‘queer’? It’s not only heterosexual people who tell us “you don’t look like a lesbian!” like it’s the greatest compliment in the world. I’ve heard it heaps of times on the queer scene as a chat-up line.

As kids, we are offered painfully few representations of who we are. Most queer characters or celebrities that I saw… were presented as predatory, sick, creepy, and sometimes even evil.

The internalisation of anti-queer misogyny plays out in our lives like a polar opposite of heterosexual cis men whining about the ‘friendzone’ or explaining to the rest of us how unjust it is that they can’t approach women without being seen as creeps. For most cishet men, the first experience they have of seeing their sexual or romantic selves represented will be one in which they are shown as a hero. Even if they personally feel unattractive or awkward, they were still almost certainly taught at a young age that people like them are entitled to ‘win’, ‘score’ or ‘get’ the object of their desire. They can be totally violating another person’s boundaries and still feel that it’s profoundly unfair for them to be seen as creepy, because they’re following the rules of the game they’ve always been taught. Meanwhile, for most queer people, especially queer people who aren’t men, it’s so easy to assume we are the creep, to assume we are undeserving, to feel grateful for any attention we get from the person we desire. The thought of getting angry over the ‘friendzone’ is amazing to me. If I’m attracted to someone and she wants to be my friend, it makes my day. I’m overjoyed that she likes me and wants to be my friend, even if she doesn’t feel exactly the same thing I do. If anything, I tend to assume she’s being polite by offering friendship; she’d probably much rather tell me to leave her alone, but she’s been taught that she mustn’t, because that would be rude.

The thought of getting angry over the ‘friendzone’ is amazing to me. If I’m attracted to someone and she wants to be my friend, it makes my day.

From sex to politics, we are obsessed with sports and sales metaphors; it’s all about scoring, winning, getting. I’m happy that in the queer community, we are increasingly making our own rules. I relate to some of what these heterosexual cis men complain about but the difference is that I don’t want to get better at playing by these selfish, competitive ‘dating game rules.’ I want us, all of us, to get better at taking risks, at being honest, at being vulnerable. At being comfortable with the word ‘no’ – both saying it and hearing it. At being comfortable with the word ‘yes.’ At asking, with no agenda or goal, but with curiosity and interest. At listening. Perhaps queer women are not, after all, bad at playing the dating game. Perhaps we’re just changing it.

Follow Louise on Twitter: @loumccudden

Photo by Tom Simpson

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