Are Lesbians Afraid to Look at Each Other?

By: Jenny Stewart

By Jenny Stewart, PlanetOut Editorial Director

I have a question for all the lesbians out there.  Why is it that we never make eye contact with each other in public?   Whether out grocery shopping, jogging, at the gym, at Starbucks or most of all – inside a lesbian bar or club – we always avert our eyes.

Ok – what's going on?  Do lesbians have a fear of eye contact?  Now with gay men, we know that it’s all about the smoldering stare.  One look and boom – no hello is necessary.  Clearly, when it comes to the mating habits of gay men and lesbians, we couldn’t be any more different.  But seriously, would it kill us to at least look at each other?  Maybe even smile?

Recently, my friend and I went to a lesbian bar in San Francisco and did a little experiment.   We sat at a prominent table with a bird’s-eye view of the crowd and we not only locked eyes with every single woman there, we also smiled.   But as predicted, the response we got was averted eyes and even some frightened looks.   There was even this one woman there all by herself who you’d have thought would appreciate a friendly smile. And as always the case when you’re alone in a bar, she was running out of places to look.  Finally, she looked.  We smiled… but she quickly turned away. She decided to instead focus her attention to a sign on that wall that read, “Closed Sundays.”  

Lesbian eye contact2 We weren’t too offended because, truth be told, we weren’t the only ones being ignored – everyone in that bar was having a great time not looking at each other.  Actually, there were these two women who kept checking each other out, but they only did it when they knew the other wasn’t looking.  At one point they accidentally looked at each other at the same time, but immediately realized their mistake and looked elsewhere.  By the time the “Closed Sunday” woman was staring out the window, we were laughing out loud, although it was actually depressing.

Now I don’t know what it’s like for women in other cities, but this apparent fear of lesbian eye contact is so prevalent here in San Francisco that my friends and I have made a game out of it.   When we’re anywhere in public and we spot lesbians, we go out of our way to look them in the eye and smile.  If they return our attention, then I owe my friend $10.  So far, I haven’t lost a cent.

Joking aside, I do wonder why it’s like this.  Why are we avoiding contact?  Do we think that if we look, the woman will think we’re “cruising”?  If so, who cares?  It’s better than nothing.  Or does it get down to shyness?  Or perhaps this isn’t regulated just to lesbians, but to women in general?

It’s odd that women are widely considered better communicators than men, yet we consistently fall short in this area. Is it that we as women are conditioned to simply stand demurely in the corner, waiting for the man to approach?   But it’s 2009 and we’re not searching for a knight in shining armor, at least not a male one.  So then why are we still subscribing to antiquated mating behaviors?  Or is it something else?

I'd love for others to weigh in on this -- why is it so difficult for lesbians to make contact?

[Editor's note: Due to the responses to this story, we did an update.  Click here to read more and commit to "Operation Lesbian Eye Contact"]


Images courtesy Getty

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