WHGOGA (or “flirting with women, for women”)

‘Rah!’ my sister said to me. Her text messages often begin this way. ‘I’m buying me a strap-on for BiCon. Pussy rules the world!’ And yet at all the bi events that I, or my friends who’ve been on the bi scene for much longer than me, have attended, the resounding complaint from every female attendee is the lack of what my sister calls White Hot Girl On Girl Action. I couldn’t help but wonder: why is it so difficult for women to pull women?

This question was posed by my co-female-flirtation-workshop-organiser, Trish, in some research that she conducted recently. She asked a group of bi women if they wanted more girl action in their lives, and whether timidly or stridently, they all answered with a clear affirmative (hell yeah!).

Exploring the reasons for the lack of correspondence between the amount of woman-woman wonderousness these ladies wanted and the amount they actually received, Trish found that many of her respondents blamed it on the following problems:

Not knowing what to do when flirting with women because there are different ‘rules’ to flirting with men
Lack of experience flirting with women
– Fear of spoiling an existing or potential friendship
Getting too far into a friendship and then not being able to go back to flirting
– Fear of rejection
– Negative experiences of flirting with straight, or otherwise unavailable, women
– Difficulty telling whether the woman is sexually interested in women themselves
– Difficulty picking up on the signals because women can be naturally flirtatious and tactile with one another

There was a general sense of women feeling awkward when flirting with women in a way that they didn’t with men. One respondent said ‘if I really like someone I just turn into a blushing, clumsy teenager’ and another said ‘I’d like to try, but I usually stop as soon as I start getting ‘I’m taken’ signals, even if that’s not the signal they are really sending out.’

Another expert on this topic, my lesbian lover Ani, argues that part of the problem is that women in our culture are generally taught not to be overt about flirting and not to take the sexual initiative. Therefore you often end up with two women incredibly wound up in sexual frustration but neither of them having the guts to do anything about it. Some of the women Trish corresponded with agreed that men are much more direct and that it’s harder to tell when women are interested.

The bi women at the workshop that Trish and I ran pointed out that there are fewer visible cues for bisexual women than there are for lesbians. Ani’s gaydar reliably pings when there is a lesbian within fifty paces, but I think it might have struggled in the workshop, which contained a wide variety of different women from girly girls to tomboys and everything in between. Many of the bi women in the group felt that they’d rather get involved with other bisexual women having had negative experiences of prejudice from lesbians in the past. However, several of us were also testament to the fact that not all lesbians are anti-bi.

When asked whether they approach men and women differently, some of Trish’s respondents said that they didn’t distinguish, but several of them said that there were differences: they were shyer around women, they generally relied on people approaching them and women just don’t do this as much as men, or, as one woman said ‘I guess with men I’m a lot less bothered by the thought of possible rejection’.

BCN 64 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 64, published in November 2003

On a more optimistic note, some of Trish’s respondents felt that women were easier to approach than men because communication flows more naturally between women, and plenty of them didn’t experience the pattern of ending up ‘just friends’ with women they would like to have a sexual relationship with.

So what are these women-who-pull-women doing right? What are the rules for flirting with girls and how do you know when a girl is flirting back at you?

First off, our workshop attendees had some suggestions for checking whether a girl is interested in women themselves. You could try mentioning a well-known lesbian icon or item (such as Diva magazine) and look for flickers of recognition. You could comment on how attractive a woman was in a movie you’ve both seen (Angelina Jolie in ‘Tombraider’ was a popular choice). However this isn’t such a sure sign, since many straight women will talk about the attractiveness of other women. Clue: you’re hoping for a sigh that is wistful rather than envious. You could mention ex-partners in a gender neutral (or if you’re brave gendered) way and check out the reaction. Obviously, attending a bi/lesbian event is an easy way of maximising likelihood of interest. Or perhaps you could thrust the most recent edition of BCN under her nose and say ‘this is me’! The group all agreed that it’d all be much easier if there was a reliable signal of female-female-orientation, like a badge we could wear at all times.

The group discussed good and bad flirt techniques. Most of the ideas discussed last edition apply to female-female flirting as much as other kinds, but there are some specific things to bear in mind. I find that something many women respond to well to is me using a typically ‘male’ way of flirting, for example, acting chivalrous, kissing her hand, asking her on a date, or putting on a fake-male voice ‘hey baby, how about it?’ Keeping it light like this can also make it easier for her to turn down if she’s not interested back. Trish’s killer line, found to be successful nine times out of ten is ‘your hair smells nice’. Another tried and tested technique is inviting the object of your affection to sit and look at the stars with you. Generally it can be a good idea to ask her out on something that is traditionally a date thing to do (a movie, a one-to-one picnic).

People in the group liked the idea of telling your flirt-interest that you dreamt about her, being as explicit as you like! Ani says it’s generally a good idea to make it clear that you’re thinking about her outside of the space in which you usually see her, ‘I thought about you the other day when…’ I remember feeling the first glow of mutual interest when Ani commented that a song on her car stereo always made her think of me. Other things that have worked in the past are meals involving sexy food (strawberries, ice-cream) and giving compliments (particularly about something she has achieved since so many women find appearance compliments hard to take).

To my gleeful embarrassment, one of the workshop attendees described the time that she pulled me. It’s a great example of how honesty can be the best policy. We were attending an academic conference together and obviously connected very well. She was worried that it’d just be another time when a relationship went too far down the friendship route to come back to flirtation, so, on the last night of the conference, she told me that she was made up to have made such a good new friend, but that she’d love for something to happen between us if I felt that way too. It would have been easy for me to go for the friendship option if I hadn’t been interested, but in reality we were quickly confirming every prejudice the other conference delegates had about bisexuals!

I can also tell you that the workshop that Trish and I ran was an unmitigated success. For the rest of the weekend women could be heard telling each other how nice their hair smelt, and there was a definite sense that much WHGOGA was going on in those cramped halls-of-residence bedrooms. I know that I got plenty. (Tsk, alright for some! – Ed.)

In the next edition I’ll be exploring the issue of openness in communication about sex. Feel free to email me with any suggestions, questions or particularly positive/negative experiences you’ve had on this topic.