The first time I fell in love with a girl, I was 17, closeted and touch-starved. I had known about my sexuality for a long time but had never said it out loud in fear it would call upon omniscient spirits and somehow smite my absent love life.
Instead, I buried myself in books, fantasy, crime fiction and breathed in the air of yearning through romance novels. I had downloaded Tumblr at the age of 13. Promising anonymity, this blog-style app became a journal for my thoughts and desires. It was also a place where I found myself most vulnerable. Tumblr is the dark-web for queer people. A fully-fledged community hides within the crevices of the app, bonding over anything from tattooed lesbians to Hozier. While straight people can find prospective partners quite easily, queer people need to disentangle an entire maze-like matrix, before entering the dating scene.
It is a long-running joke in the 'women-loving-women' (WLW) community that we move too fast in relationships. My friend J* posts a photo of her in front of a U-Haul truck, arms outstretched with a huge smile on her face. The caption reads, “If you know, you know”, followed by the hashtag “justgaytings”.
The women who follow her flock to the comments; some in sheepish fashion with a coy emoji of a monkey covering its eyes, others cheer at the thought. An ex of mine comments, “literally me moving in with my girlfriend after 4 months” with a laughing emoji. J responds, “me after one week.”
The small pool of queer women’s prospective partners can be contained through a Venn Diagram of Lesbian Relationships.
Queer dating is inextricably connected and so very small. Everyone knows someone in some manner. This overlap is what is intimidating. Submitting to the ordeal of being seen and known is hard enough in real life, let alone on a dating app. My fight or flight response activates the second I see an acquaintance in passing and my immediate reaction is to find a place to hide, whether it be behind a bookshelf or behind the stack of fruit at Woollies.
At home, I open Tinder. Fletcher’s, “All Love”, is playing from my phone and the reverberation from the song’s pulsing beats charges a rhythm in the movements I make with my fingers as I swipe. Five to 10 swipes later I come across a familiar face. I’m not sure what to do so I say yes. Moments later the messaging function opens. We have matched. I leave the app in a flurry.
The small pool of queer women’s prospective partners can be contained through a Venn Diagram of Lesbian Relationships, the likelihood your current partner knows, has dated, or knows someone who has dated your ex-partner. My friend A* dated their friend’s ex three months after they had broken up. It is almost a natural course of queer dating to find people who are at least three degrees of separation away from someone whom you know.
With the absence of queer spaces that welcome under-18s, many baby gays coming to terms with their sexuality find it difficult to explore who they are. Unable to fulfil the easy high-school romance route that straight people can, online forums and dating apps became the closest way to form personal connections with other people who did not follow the heteronormative narrative.
The Tumblr community welcomed baby gay me with open arms, bone-dry humour and memes about gay panic! I bonded with my mutuals over being really into Greek mythology, our inability to sit on chairs properly and oversharing stories in a gay-speed-friending-fashion.One of them slid into my DM’s, sparking a conversation from our shared love of Clarke and Lexa from The 100’s relationship before moving to questions about each other’s lives and her many thoughts on all things philosophy. It was an innocent unravelling. Time zones, distance and the fluctuating levels of feeling touch-starved all faded into the background. We were together for a year.
On Tumblr, a mutual of mine reblogs a post about WLW culture:
TBH finding a gf when you’re a wlw is so hard. like the concept of meeting a girl who is single, gay, my type, into me, and doesn’t live like 4000 miles away seems impossible at this point. (Source: gaytortellini)
Among other hackneyed cliches which include wlw waiting for the other person to make a move, there is a layer of truth to the slow burn reality that many queer women end up in. Being unable to read romantic signs while under the assumption that she’s just being nice is both entertaining and mildly tragic.
Among other hackneyed cliches which include wlw waiting for the other person to make a move, there is a layer of truth to the slow burn reality that many queer women end up in.
Someone submits an ‘ask’ on Tumblr anonymously with a quick story of a time when their useless lesbian self didn’t know how to react to being complimented. “I almost passed out and had to sit down”. Another anonymous person chimes in saying that they got so flustered by a cute girl one time that they wound up in a ditch with a dislocated shoulder. The silver lining being that she was “nice enough to go to the ER with me to have it put back”.
In lieu of doing laundry, I do a deep-dive on Instagram, looking at my out queer mutuals. Familiar faces make their way around the feed. Most of these people I’ve met online and I wonder whether that serendipitous moment of bumping into someone before hopping onto the elevator and pressing a button, hoping for it to be the same level for both people to string it up to fate and start their meet-cute, will ever be on the cards for a queer woman. I’d be happy with a conversation struck up at a local bookshop.
Having a community of WLW who are unapologetically queer is heart-warming and there is nothing purer than seeing posts of their 'out' selves grinning at the camera, peace signs or finger guns in tow. Graduating from taking online quizzes to see if I am gay to wistfully yearning for a partner who is the modern-day equivalent of Sappho and Virginia Woolf combined, the love of and for women is undeniable. Internet culture today has given a green light for finding comfort in one’s sexuality and the fluid nature of gender and identity. On my walk home I pass a gay couple sporting matching wristbands that are rainbow-coloured and I smile in their direction, hoping that the flannel wrapped around my waist and my Mardi Gras Fair Day cap is enough for them to telepathically get my message that I am a fellow gay. They grin in return.
A week later I return to the space of Tinder’s DM’s. A bunch of new matches have popped up, though none have decided to strike up a conversation, so the new faces are blank spaces of possibility. Aligned at the top, side by side, we wait for someone to make the first move.
This story has been published in partnership with The Writing Zone, a mentoring program for young writers from Western Sydney, hosted by Western Sydney University’s Writing & Society Research Centre.