Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Everyday Feminism as “An Answer to ‘Why Is She Dating a Masculine Woman Instead of Just Dating a Guy?” and is republished here with their permission.
Maybe you’ve heard it, been asked it, or wondered about it yourself: why do queer women and lesbians date masculine-presenting women instead of just dating a cisgender dude?
Well, let’s break it down and answer the question. But most importantly, let’s examine why this is such a common question – and come up with some more respectful and supportive questions to ask instead. Here are five points to consider when exploring why someone would ask this question and how queer women might consider responding.
1. Masculinity Doesn’t Belong to Any Gender
Masculinity doesn’t “belong” to any single gender or agender community. Anyone can identify as masculine, masculine of center, or be masculine-presenting. That’s a fact.
Think of it this way: masculinity is a universe, and we’re all stars. Some of us are shining brightly with masculinity, while others of us shine just a little bit in this respect, or not at all (but we sparkle elsewhere!).
By asking why someone is dating a masculine woman instead of a cisgender man, you’re implying that masculinity “belongs” to men and that a masculine-presenting woman is just borrowing or imitating masculinity.
You’re implying that a man’s masculinity is more authentic, more natural, and superior to a woman’s masculinity.
This implication is rooted in traditional constructions of masculinity and erases the many ways in which masculinity can be expressed and desired.
Cisgender women can be masculine. Queer men can be masculine. Asexual and agender folks can be masculine. And on and on. Why? Because masculinity isn’t tied to any single identity.
And remember that masculinity is a spectrum we can move across over the course of our lives.
2. Compulsory Heterosexuality Informs the Question
Similar to the way this tired question presumes that masculinity “belongs” to men, it also presumes that heterosexual relationships are superior to (and more desirable than) other types of relationships.
With mainstream culture constructing and upholding the idea that heterosexuality is everyone’s default sexual orientation, it’s no surprise that “Why is she dating a masculine woman instead of just dating a guy?” is a question many of us dating masculine women have been asked.
After all, most folks in the LGBTQIA+ community have a “coming out” story because compulsory heterosexuality is so pervasive.
Some of us have to risk our safety, relationships with family members, jobs, and housing just to publicly peel back the sexual orientation and/or gender that was assigned to us and declare our truth.
Mainstream culture doesn’t reflect the reality of so many of our lives, but everything is compared to its norms. And that’s why the question at hand exists.
One of the ways we can de-normalize heterosexuality is to stop assuming that everyone is straight unless they tell us otherwise. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve talked about my girlfriend and someone has assumed I must just be referring to a friend who’s a “girl.”]
More Radical Reads: How It Impacts Me as a Queer Woman When Friends Call Each Other “Girlfriends”
The more we can de-centralize compulsory heterosexuality, the less we’ll perpetuate the cultural systems that legitimize the above question as a valid premise to inquire about.
3. Not All Men Are Masculine
The above question conflates gender and sexuality because it assumes a woman dating a masculine woman would also be interested in dating a cisgender man – just because they’re both “masculine.”
I say “masculine” because the conflation of gender and sexuality here also assumes that all cisgender men are masculine-presenting. Anyone can be feminine or be feminine-presenting, including cisgender men!
We also must remember that many cisgender men are gay, queer, or asexual.
So the question at hand is making layered assumptions about what it means to be a cisgender man, a masculine woman, and a woman attracted to masculine women.
4. Attraction Is Complex: Some Women Date Cis Men, and Others Don’t
As much as I’ve laid out how we can’t assume that a woman dating a masculine woman would want to date a cisgender man, we also can’t erase the fact that some women are bisexual, pansexual, sexually fluid, and/or attracted to masculinity in all of its many expressions and forms.
However, just because some women’s sexuality does include attraction to multiple gender identities and/or gender non-conforming folks, it doesn’t mean they should be asked why they don’t just date a cisgender guy.
Remember: individuals are experts on what and who they desire in a relationship. It’s our job to trust that. (Unless, of course, you think a friend or loved one may be in an abusive relationship.)
Attraction is so complex that there are certainly not enough labels in the sea to describe the spectra of attraction we can feel.
Attraction and sexuality can also change over time for some folks. For example, you can identify as straight in your 20s and then identify as queer in your 30s. It doesn’t mean you’re wishy-washy or “confused.” It’s perfectly normal.
But here’s the bottom line: While a woman currently dating a masculine-presenting woman may someday date a man –or may have in the past because attraction and sexuality are complex and fluid – it still doesn’t mean the question at hand is appropriate.
5. Cishet Toxic Masculinity Is a Problem… but Queer Women Can Also Replicate It
I mentioned that questioning a woman’s relationship with a masculine woman implies that dating a masculine woman is inferior to dating a cisgender man. While that’s problematic, it also perpetuates the notion that all types of masculinity should mirror mainstream masculinity – something many cisgender men exhibit because they’re socially conditioned to.
Mainstream masculinity norms are largely fueled by misogyny, making this type of masculinity toxic in the ways it fuels entitlement to women’s sexuality, bodies, and time.
Rape culture and all of its tentacles are the pinnacles of toxic masculinity.
Yet while this can be difficult to grapple with, toxic masculinity doesn’t just exist in circles of straight cisgender men. Queer men, butch women, and gender non-conforming folks can also model the misogynistic, toxic masculinity that some may like to think queer communities aren’t capable of.
The reality is that masculine women – just like anyone else masculine – can adopt and perform toxic masculinity. Even if masculine women weren’t socialized from birth to embody toxic masculinity like most cisgender men are, with masculine privilege, they can acquire and replicate misogyny without even realizing it.
So just as it’s necessary for men to redefine their masculinity and unlearn toxic masculinity to be true allies to women and feminists, it’s important that queer communities – including masculine-presenting women – make sure we’re not replicating misogynistic dynamics in our relationships and lives.
More Radical Reads: How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community
This can be a difficult thing to navigate and come to terms with because sometimes masculine women feel a lot of pressure to “size up” to mainstream masculinity and cisgender men. Why? Because as I’ve mentioned before, everything is compared to societal defaults (whiteness and heterosexuality), so the more you deviate from these norms, the more oppression you’re likely to face on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, it’s important that everyone – including cisgender men and masculine-presenting women – commit to unlearning toxic masculinity.
6. Policing People’s Sexuality Is Gross
Last but not least, let’s stop policing others’ sexuality in general. Cool? Cool.
Sex-shaming is sexuality policing. Staring at a queer couple holding hands is sexuality policing. And asking a woman why she’s dating a masculine-presenting woman – instead of just dating a man – is also sexuality policing.
It should go without saying that policing others’ sexuality is oppressive, but sometimes we need a reminder because it’s so ingrained in media, conversations all around us, and in the ways we’re taught to feel about our own sexuality.
So here’s your friendly reminder: Stop policing others’ sexuality and give yourself that same respect as you explore your own sexuality (or asexuality) over time.
Our tendency to police others’ sexuality stems from the stigma surrounding sex and the ways heteronormativity teaches us to be unaccepting of people who don’t identify as heterosexual.
If you’re working to develop a positive sexuality lens, be patient with yourself, because it takes time to unlearn internalized shame and judgment. Continue to challenge yourself to be a conscientious ally to people of other sexual orientations.
Questions To Ask Instead
Now that you’ve received some critical frames for analyzing and responding to why women who date masculine-presenting women don’t just date a cisgender man instead, here are some more productive and respectful questions to ask.
- What are some changes you’d like to see your community make to become more affirming and inclusive of LGBTQIA+ couples?
- How has your understanding of masculinity shifted after dating masculine-presenting women?
- What’s one of your favorite things about dating [name of partner]?
To make this world more just and equitable for women dating masculine women and all LGBTQIA+ folks, each of us must commit to consciously unlearning the many components of kyriarchy that make the question I’ve addressed possible in the first place.
We must unlearn gender norms, de-centralize heterosexuality and whiteness, and practice positive sexuality – one step at a time.
We’re in this together, and we can get there.
[Feature image: Two thin white women with rainbow flags painted on their cheeks are kissing. The photo is cropped to show the couple from their collar bones up. The woman on the left has short blonde hair and the person on the right has long brown hair. The blond person has her hand extended straight out, her palm facing the camera and revealing a rainbow flag painted on it. The women are both wearing black tops. Blurred green foliage against a blue sky is visible in the background.]
Sara Alcid is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism as well as a feminist political organizer, writer, and speaker based in Washington, DC. Her activism and writing focus on rape culture, reproductive justice, economic justice, and queer rights. With an academic background in gender and sexuality studies, she bridges feminist theory and intersectional social justice organizing with the hope of making feminism accessible and empowering for all. Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraAlcid. Read her articles here and book her for speaking engagements here.