Google had to tweak its search algorithm this month, because if you typed in the word "lesbian" it simply brought up too much porn. This is because the public perception of queer women has historically fallen into two basic categories: horny hairless scissoring porn stars or old angry women with short hair and Birkenstocks (I am regularly both of these things, but that's besides the point).
However, things are changing. We now have Cara Delevingne carrying a sex bench and cishet people appropriating our tiny haircuts and rolled up sleeves – and with 57 percent of young people in the UK and US now identifying as "not straight", queer people are basically taking over.
But despite queer women now occupying a space in the mainstream beyond weird soap opera sub-plots, the specificities of our culture are still very much alive and thriving. There are rules and role models, style tribes and signifiers, nuances that may not be obvious to the naked eye. And while there are endless ways to present as queer and woman (your life, baby; your rules), we decided to divide it all into 26 neatly organised categories, in alphabetical order, because stereotyping is fun if you do it to yourself.
If your name is Alex or Sam and you own a strap-on, please proceed. This is the space for you.
Astrology is many things: deeply analytical, to the point of Charlie_Kelly_At_Pinboard.jpeg; a truth that no one believes; and seriously magic. So, naturally, astrology became the past-time / religion / lifestyle of queer women everywhere who also happen to be all of the above. The whole point of using it day-to-day is to work out how you relate to others, so watch queer women download any astrology app circa one-full-year before everyone else. Also, straight men are allergic to it, which makes us love it more.
Honourable mentions: "Alex", Angel Haze, Anohni, Anxiety
Poor bisexuals still have a bad rep in the LGBTQ community, particularly among lesbians. The false idea that they reaffirm the gender binary lingers (bi doesn't stand for "binary", it's now considered to stand in for "I am attracted to both my gender and others"), as does the idea that they can't "pick a side". But really, their fluidity and link to "straight culture" has meant bisexuals have a subculture all of their own: a penchant for strap-ons, the colours pink / purple, tacky nail extensions, emo music, pink hair, Olivia Wilde, getting pissed off when gay / lesbian people mislabel bisexual / fluid celebrities.
Honourable mentions: Break Ups, Birth charts, Berlin, Butch, "But I’m a Cheerleader", Birkenstocks, Borrowing books then having to give them back when you break up
So cute how male film reviewers like our Cate Blanchett X Rooney Mara sexual fan fic.
Honourable mentions: Cara Delevingne’s Sex Bench, Cats, Coming Out, Carrie Brownstein
"Where are all the single queer women?!" I hear you scream, staring desolately at the bank branches that used to be gay clubs, or that couple who have been together 11+ years and now run a joint Instagram for their two cats, Ellen and Portia. I'll tell you where they are: they're in the DMs. Watching, waiting.
DMs have revolutionised dating for queer women, because dating apps are basically dead and LGBTQ clubs are few and far between. It's easy to tell who's queer on IG, because other lesbians and bi people follow them, they probably have pics of their same-gender ex from like three months ago and… you can just sense it.
Cue replying to each other's thirst traps with fire emojis until one of you cracks and asks the other for their birth chart. After that, it's plain sailing. Shag once, go to an exhibition the next day, then you're basically a couple.
Honourable mentions: Dalston Superstore, Desiree Akhavan, “Dancing on My Own”
E: Exes (Alternative title: Everyone knows each other)
Queer women are particularly good at staying friends with their exes for reasons that no one knows but science will probably be able to explain sometime in the future. We are also good at hooking up with other people’s exes, and their exes getting with our exes, and all the exes conjoining together to form one giant amorphous rat-king ex until you have to move to a new city and start the cycle all over again. It's not our fault we have a small community and high standards.
Honourable mentions: Eating out, Exceptional style
Thanks to New Look printing "femme power" T-shirts for cishet women, everyone has a vague idea of what femme means! But femme is for queer people who present and / or act in a traditionally feminine manner. It could mean buying a crap glittery slogan T-shirt, being a pillow princess or begging your girlfriend to let you get acrylics.
Honourable mentions: Feelings, Fringes, Falling in love with someone you just met, Fingers, Fuckbois
G: Going down
All of the following are fine art: the Sistine Chapel's ceiling; "The Birth of Venus"; Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary; Casablanca; Dante’s Divine Comedy; Dostoyevsky's depiction of urban Russian landscapes; the queer woman's ability to give perfect head.
Honourable mentions: Ghosted, Gender Studies, Goldsmiths
H: Hayley Kiyoko
As soon as #20GAYTEEN came around, Hayley "Lesbian Jesus" Kiyoko had a mission: to not only queer the Disney Channel pop canon, but queer the Bible. Where older millennial queer girls had T.A.T.U., baby queers now have their less problematic anthem to frantically snog to ("Girls Like Girls").
Honourable mentions: Hair
Sure, Instagram is a hellscape. However, it's also a great way to organise fucking (see: the letter D), and make sure you know every single hot queer woman in your country. There are fewer and fewer IRL spaces where we can meet, so praise be that the tech lords stepped in. Lesbian and queer meme accounts have really come into their own, too – you can do anything from put out a personals ad to just perv over Cate Blanchett.
Honourable mentions: I Can't Think Straight
J: Just get over her already
Everyone knows it takes you half the time you were in the relationship to fully get over it. That’s for straights. The queer formula is: ten years X unrequited love X unrealised sexual tension despite years of DMs = your sad lot. If you actually had sex or a relationship, then unfortunately you simply must pass GO and collect a lifetime of longing.
Honourable mentions: Janelle Monae, Jack Daniels and Diet Coke, JT Leroy
Awesome that straight people have found their entry into "queer culture" via wearing harnesses! Same-sex shagging was the original sexually depraved behaviour, so come back when you’re ready to be a properly problematic sexually fluid mess.
Honourable mentions: King Princess, Kristen Stewart
L: Lindsay Lohan
There are a number of things that bond queer men and queer women, culturally. One is being forced to live under the iron thumb of heteronormativity. Another is various types of Tom Ford perfume. Another, importantly, is Lindsay Lohan. The men love her because she’s a Hollywood starlet who parties in Mykonos and crashes cars; the women because she dated Samantha Ronson and has a husky voice. I don't make the rules.
Honourable mentions: Labels, Lip Service, The L Word / the Real L Word
Every single lyric that has ever appeared on any MUNA track is also, simultaneously, a text that a queer girl sent to her ex just now. See: "I saw the wing of a bird on the road / It was early, I was walking alone / And I found it lovely, and I found it sad / I don't know how you'd find it, but I wanted to ask." We must be stopped.
Honourable mentions: Meme Accounts, Marsha P. Johnson, Maggie Nelson, Masc
Straight people are serious about so many things, such as marriage and hair growth and cutting cakes open to reveal colours inside that represent the gender of a baby that hasn't yet taken a single breath. Queer people can also be serious about the aforementioned things. But some of us take a more lax approach to the traditions and conventions that are hammered into us from birth.
Monogamy, for instance, isn’t for everyone. We’re all hurtling towards death, every second of every day, and most of our lives are spent toiling under the incessant grip of capitalism until we are old and decrepit. If you fancy more than one person and want to sleep with them, just do it. Your tits will never look this perky again.
Honorable mentions: Nautical appropriation
O: Older mentors
You might have a mentor appointed to you at work, we have global and local lesbians who wear suit jackets and own large dogs. Yes, they're women we stalk on social media. No, they don't know they're our mentors, that’s not the point, ugh!!!
Honourable mentions: One night stands, Orgasms
Wow, no wonder I'm so haggard and fatigued. I've spent so much time "processing" I'm not even sure there's anything left to process. I’m basically a one woman processing plant for emotions and situations, reactions and sub-reactions, my feelings, your feelings, that random girl over there’s feelings.
But seriously, queer women are better at processing than our straight male counterparts. If that sounds like a one-dimensional stereotype, it's not. According to this 12-year study, queer couples "use fewer controlling, hostile emotional tactics" and "display less belligerence, domineering and fear with each other than straight couples do".
In other words, queer folk are good at communicating. We say things like, "I think I really need time to process" – and then, lo and behold, we do.
Honourable mentions: Plantlife, Polyamory, Pink (the colour, but hey, why not P!nk)
Q: Queer Theory
If you are a queer woman studying Queer Theory, you are almost certainly guaranteed to get laid from now until the end of time, especially if you do it at either Goldsmiths or The Brooklyn Institute. Yeah, good hair and a decent sense of style is important. But being able to quote Judith Butler’s seminal essay Performative Acts and Gender Constitution over a homemade kombucha in your local vegan cafe during a first date? A 10/10 aphrodisiac.
Honourable mentions: Questioning, ‘Queer Eye’ for women – where the f is it?
R: Rachel Weisz
Direct quote from journalist Jill Gutowitz, in full: "i think queer women worship rachel weisz cause she has Cursed Locket Energy, and there’s nothing we love more than a spooky charm. sit on my chest and whisper ominous nothings, you sexy haunted heirloom." Thank you.
Honourable mentions: Rehoming cats, Reclamation
"They’re a mindset, an e n e r g y, and they can be really empowering" – read our extensive Guide to Strap-Ons if you know what's good for you.
Honourable mentions: Septum Piercings, Stick n Pokes, Sugar Rush, Scorpios
T: Tarot Cards
Similarly to astrology, queer woman angst is predicated on queer longing X uncertainty. So magical cards that show us a little window into our future are always welcomed. Also, the imagery is queer as fuck.
Honourable mentions: Tinder, T.A.T.U., Tara and Willow, Tegan and Sara
Remember around 2013-14, when every teen / 20-something who'd once been "alternative" got either a little bit of undercut on the sides or a full half-head? For some of us, that look "never came into fashion" – or, for that matter, "went out of fashion" – it's just always been there, and forever will be.
Honourable mentions: Unavailable
Before veganism was mainstream, there were lesbian couples. And where there were lesbian couples, there was one asking the other if they wanted tofu in their vegan pho broth.
Honourable mentions: Vests, St Vincent
Because duhhhh. That’s the whole point.
Honourable mentions: Whitney Mixter, Weed, Working things through
The oft-mentioned concept of "Dyke Drama" is based on nothing but reductive, misogynist notions about how women behave with each other in romantic scenarios. But also, when my friend found out her girlfriend was cheating on her with the next-door neighbour, she posted a shit through the neighbour's front door, who then came to confront her. They hooked up, and now they're married *clinks glasses*. Basically, it's OK to say we're extra, but only if we're talking about ourselves. See also: the entire plot of The Real L Word.
Honourable mentions: X-rated
Y: Young and Foolish
Yes, we were all young and foolish once – back when we thought that "straight" girl at school really would leave her boyfriend for us after we drunkenly fingered behind Tesco, or that gay clubs were where people hooked up, rather than just spaces for queer girls to gather in clusters and scowl across the dance floor at each other while Robyn plays in the background.
Once you pass the age of 25 you realise that most relationships have a two-year expiry date, that you should just say what you mean and mean what you say, and that nothing lasts forever.
Honourable mentions: Yoga, Your friend's fit mum
Z: Generation Z
From their rejection of labels to their hardcore stanning of every pop star who speaks out about LGBTQ issues, Gen Z – the children of Tumblr – basically invented queerness. I mean, I know they didn't (Kristen Stewart did), but the younger generation do give us older queers a lot of hope for the future. May they raise Generation Alpha to be genderless, sexually fluid little cyborgs.
Honourable mentions: Lesbian Zaddies.