Dating as a queer woman presents a unique set of issues. When I started to disclose on my dating profile that I was queer, then matched with men, I was often met with questions about the meaning of the word “queer,” accusations, and even some astonishment. Men would either ask me to explain what the term meant, incorrectly assume they knew exactly what it meant, or completely misidentify me. It quickly became a frustrating ritual for me, a self-identified queer woman and someone with a graduate-level education in gender and queer studies, to constantly be in a position of educating.

While, in 2019, it seemed to me and my direct group of friends and peers that queerness was a pretty widely accepted and understood term, as I started to dig a little deeper, it became obvious that many people are still uncomfortable with or don’t understand what being queer means. With 55 percent of queer-identifying people, compared to 28 percent of heterosexual-identifying people, claiming they are likely to use a dating app, it’s especially important to take steps to educate yourself. Knowing what the term queer means, and how people choose to use and identity with it is vital.

First thing’s first: What is “queer?”

Being queer, like being gay or straight is not a choice. It is a form of sexual identification and gender, and for some, the term even falls into a larger social and political stance. Although the umbrella term falls under LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer), it’s sometimes even misunderstood within these communities.

At the turn of the 19th century, “queer” was used to describe something “odd” and also came to be understood as a negative term for those who engaged in same-sex relationships. Through the 1920s to ‘60s, negative stereotypes surrounded the word and same-sex relationships, both of which continued to be looked down upon and socially and culturally criticized. But during the ‘60 and ‘70s, on the heels of the civil and women’s rights movements, both of which included LGBTQ folks, many began rallying around it again. During the ’80s, LGBTQ people began reclaiming queer within the realities surrounding the AIDS crisis and many of the misconceptions surrounding it. By the 1990s, queerness started to gain academic notoriety through the work of queer studies scholar Eve Sedgwick. Sedgwick, along with other scholars, encouraged people to think about sexuality on a spectrum and abandon the idea that gender identity exists within binaries, such as being male and female. Rather, it is something more fluid and that allows for more nuance in the way that people choose to identify and express themselves. In the early 2000s, this become part of larger conservations on speaking about non-normative sexual and identity politics in a more inclusive way. Today, many people consider the word “queer” an important way to express to their potential partners their point of view and how they identify.

For Zara, 34, queerness encompasses “all people who fall outside America’s gender and orientation norms. Queerness is community and solidarity.”

Think about sexuality on a spectrum.

Sexuality and gender identity really do exist on a spectrum. As Sedgwick argues in “Epistemology of the Closet,” the concept of binaries is a limited way to understand how these things function and operate in the world, not to mention a very simplistic way to view human sexuality. Remember, sex, gender, and sexuality are not one and the same. It is important to be open to the way people choose to identify, and in the process to be respectful of the labels and terms people use. It’s a big deal, so don’t discount it!

Some common gender identities are:

  1. Cisgender: identifying with the gender you were born as
  2. Gender fluid or gender queer: gender identities that don’t fit into the male or female binaries
  3. Transgender: a personal identity that does not correspond to someone’s birth sex
  4. Gender-fluid: Displaying gender-nonconforming traits and identifying with a combination of genders

And when it comes to sexual identification, there are more categories as well:

  1. Gay: having romantic and sexual feelings toward someone who identifies as the same gender as you
  2. Bisexual: being attracted to both male- and female-identifying people
  3. Queer: a larger term used to express sexual and sometimes gender identity
  4. Pansexual: having emotional attractions to people of various genders
  5. Asexual: including but not limited to people who lack or have a low sexual attraction to others or interest in engaging in sexual activity
  6. Demisexual: needing to feel a strong emotional attachment to someone before forming a sexual attraction

Be prepared to address identity politics.

Identity politics — the ways in which specific ideas and interests surrounding a particular group are formed — are a vital part of the queer experience and the LGBTQ community. This also includes the way that people’s politics are shaped through their own identity and the communities they are part of. It is important that queer women are able to discuss this with their straight male partners and love interests.

“My queerness is a pretty big part of my life, and even if I were in a relationship with a man, I’d still attend queer events, consume shitloads of queer media, and have mostly queer friends,” says Hannah, 22. “I worry that guys I date might act weird about it.”

Pushing it under the rug is indeed one way to “act weird about it.” Not acknowledging someone’s identity this can make them feel invisible and like they don’t matter. Respect where people are coming from, their perspective, and their politics, no matter who they are.

Make your expectations clear — but be flexible.

If you are new to dating a queer-identified woman, the best thing you can do is be honest about where you’re at and ask questions. People within the queer community try to be upfront about where they are coming from, and it’s fair to expect this kind of dialogue to go both ways.

“When I first meet someone, I try to make clear my expectations about who I am, what the queer community means to me, and what I need from my potential partner regardless of their sexual identification,” Emily, 27, says.

Regardless of how someone identifies, they should not feel as if they have to compromise on their expectations for a relationship. Part of this comes from getting to know your partner and establishing a level of comfort with them, but it is also about being able to let them know what you need. Be open to how things go, ask questions along the way, and continue to work to come to a mutual understanding.

Don’t fetishize queerness.

While there are some men who are supportive of the queer community, there are still others out there who choose to slut-shame, misidentify, make assumptions about, and even worse, fetishize queer women.

“More often than not, the interest I get from [heterosexual] men is fetishizing,” says Katie, 29. “I have gotten requests for wild sexual interactions as well as requests to be a ‘unicorn’ — a bi chick who sleeps with or dates couples. I’ve also encountered cishet [hetrosexual] men who have very little in common with me yet hit me up, which leaves me confused as to their interest.”

Queer women often feel as if they are being fetishized for who they are and who they choose to date. This can be incredibly frustrating and is the opposite of how we want to be approached. Attraction is just as important for queer people as it is for anyone else, and reducing someone to a sexual act or stereotyping them based on who you think they are can be very hurtful. Be open-minded. Just because someone doesn’t identity as straight doesn’t mean they are up for your level of sexual experimentation. Be respectful, communicative, and meet people where they are at.

Listen, be communicative, and be an ally.

Being able to listen to your partner is crucial at any stage in a partnership. And at the beginning of a new relationship, it is one of the most important things you can do. Getting to know someone and learning about who they are, how they respond to certain situations and issues, and how they approach things are vital to forming a lasting bond. So when it comes to dealing with someone’s queerness in a relationship, make a conscientious effort to open the lines of communication.

“Our experience of the world is different than yours,” says Liz, 35. “Listen. Be comfortable with your own sexuality. Be confident. Just because we’re queer doesn’t mean you have any more reason to be jealous than if you were dating anyone else.”

Allyship is critical for those us in the LGBTQ community. We need people to be on our team, especially those closest to us. If someone invites you to get to know them, make an effort, show up, and take the time to learn about them before deciding what’s right for you.