Letting Go Of The Lesbian Smile

I had just paid for two full pints and was headed back to where my friends were sitting. As I turned around, I found myself directly in front of a couple, two short-haired women with tattoos and gauged ears. I gave them my biggest tipsy grin.

The women responded with a barely perceptible look of disgusted surprise and instantly turned away, pretending they hadn’t seen me. I was left holding my beers in complete confusion. These two had to be the meanest lesbians I ever met!

Shuffling back to my table, I realized what had happened. While I had seen them and thought we were members of a common tribe, they had looked back and seen some drunk dude with really horrible gaydar, presumably hoping to chat them up.

This was about a year into my transition, right around the time I started being read as male with complete consistency. It was time to say goodbye to the lesbian smile and the lesbian nod, like I’d said goodbye already to lesbian identity.

I still sometimes give a queer nod or smile–when I see a butch with a badass pompadour, when I see a gay or lesbian couple in love. I’ve learned to pick the time, place and manner so that I don’t bother people. They respond pretty well, though they often look a little confused, like they’re trying to figure out if I’m just a really cool straight dude, or maybe thinking, That guy’s gay? Really? I doubt that they ever suspect the truth.

These days I’ve also learned to give women a very different kind of smile, what Alma rather glibly calls the “I’m not gonna rape you” smile. This is the distinctive closed-mouth, eyes-averted, head-down grin a man gives a woman in strange situations, such as being the only two people walking on a street at night, that’s meant to say, I am totally not a threat to you. The body language is exactly like a submissive dog, leaning way, hunching down to look a little smaller.

This gesture is second nature to me now. I do it without thinking, moving to give female passersby a little extra space. I hurry past them on my way, because I hate getting stuck ten feet behind a woman who walks the exact same speed as me, who keeps turning the tiniest bit, trying to look at me without showing it, obviously extremely uncomfortable. I can’t say anything in these moments–anything I could possibly say would only make it worse. All I can do is make a wide parabola around her, smiling with my head down, hoping she can tell that I just really want to get home.


  1. hiddeninyoursoul

    I have been thinking about what you call the lesbian smile lately. I used to give a smile or a nod to someone who I perceived as a lesbian, but I have stopped doing it, as well, as I have progressed to being identified as male all the time now. I still have the urge to do it all the time, but then I always wonder what the other person would think of some weird dude smiling and nodding at them. It feels lonely. I’m in a same gender relationship though, but I haven’t found my place in the gay guy community yet.

    On a side note, one of my friends invited me to go out on Saturday to a place that is frequented mostly by lesbians. It will be interesting to see how I am perceived. Last time I went to a place that was primarily gay and lesbian was early in my transition, and I was getting identified as female all the time still.

    I’m glad you posted this, as it’s been something I’ve been thinking about lately.

  2. Pingback: Sunday links, 3/16/14 | Tutus And Tiny Hats
  3. genderneutral

    Great post. I am new in my transition and am just discovering the new ways women in general see men. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience how my previous lesbian sisters see me. Since my voice is still transitioning, I mostly get confused looks, of “you look like a guy but don’t sound like one – what are you?”. So far it has been kinda fun. I am pondering a lot how this transition is going to affect my work as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with women with trauma. Time will tell. Thanks again for the post and the blog. Good to read others process in transition.

    • rimonim

      I went through a similar phase when people were constantly trying to figure out my gender. Awkward, haha. Glad you’re having fun with it!

      I am very curious to hear your observations about how transition affects you as a therapist. I am currently working on a MA in mental health counseling. I have thought a lot about how being a man will affect being a counselor–but it’s mostly speculation at this stage.

      • genderneutral

        Rimonim – you have the benefit of entering the profession as a man. This I believe will help as you haven’t had an identity known in the therapy world that is radically changing. You get to establish yourself as you are and people that need your services will find you. I do know a number of cis-male therapists who have thriving practices.

        I however am 48 and established as a therapist so the whole coming out thing has been interesting. I have only come out to a couple of clients so far – those with significant trauma who really struggle with men. I admit, I did this as much for me as for them. For me to see how it would go as I am quite nervous about the response and for them to give them an opportunity to adjust throughout my transition. So far, each has been able to use what my process is triggering in them (primarily abandonment issues) as an opportunity for growth and deeper healing. This has been quite powerful to watch and assist in. One client who I have not come out to asked me this week if I was transitioning. She was open to the whole thing and not at all thrown off. I honestly am not sure what queues she was picking up on as I have not really changed how I dress (i have always dressed in men’s clothes) and my voice is a little lower but most people don’t notice unless they r paying attention. One and a half months on T doesn’t give much external changes. So who know, but it was heartening for sure.

        I do tend to draw to me clients who are open-minded and many who are part of the glbt community so this is an advantage to a degree. I do body-centered psychotherapy and energy work, so people are looking for something and someone non-traditional in that sense. I will keep you posted as I continue coming out, as I really don’t know how people will respond in the end. I can just be as genuine and present as I am and meet them where they are and hope for the best. I am like you (as you stated in one of your posts), I see people as people not males or females. And I do genuinely treat everyone with the same amount of acceptance and openness. I sometimes naively expect the same and am disappointed. Time will tell.

        I will be curious to see what happens with the referrals I get from now on, as a good 75% of my clientele asked specifically to see a female therapist and likely wouldn’t have called initially were I a man. I do contemplate how I can use the whole transgender, two-spirit reality to my advantage as a therapist. Still working that out though. I did recently attend a trans-man committee meeting at the Gender Identity Center in Denver and was reminded that many trans-men have experienced trauma. So we will see how I might be able to enter into that niche a bit more. I do believe that the traffic will be changing as I am changing and I just need to stay proactive in making sure it doesn’t stop entirely. I know that I cannot change the type of work I do as I really love it so I just need to market myself in a way that is still appealing to trauma survivors from all backgrounds.

        Probably gave you way more info than you wanted but I am actively involved in all f this right now so it is all right there. Hope it helps.

        and thanks for following my blog!

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