There’s a classic old lesbian joke, and it goes like this: what does a lesbian bring to a second date? A U-Haul. Ha ha! If you don't understand, let me explain. A stereotype persists in which queer girls fall in love after one drink, move in together by the second date (hence the U-Haul), buy a jointly owned cat then break up and become lifelong best friends, maybe even swap exes or something. I would love to say this is bullshit – because of course it is, everyone's different – but I'd also be lying if I said I hadn't gone through the aforementioned at least once (she kept the cat).
Still, that joke has become outdated – mainly because queer dating among women has changed radically over the past few years. We’ve already spoken at length about how LGBTQ clubs in the UK are kind of dead, and Tinder is very quickly heading the same way. When you factor that in alongside the statistic that only 2 percent of the population outwardly identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, meeting new queer people who you also fancy can feel impossible. A friend of mine recently described it as like having to navigate an obstacle course, except you can only use the powers of your intuition, and you are walking backwards, wearing a blindfold. At least, it felt a lot more like that before Instagram Stories.
Instagram Stories – the feature which allows you to upload photos or videos to your profile for 24 hours – turns two today. That's two years of well-angled thirst traps. Two years of replying to other people's thirst traps with appropriate thirst (emojis). Two years of posting videos of yourself slowly stirring some risotto, or mouthing Frank Ocean songs in your underwear, or blurry footage from the sesh, before scanning the list of viewers for the name of the person you want to sleep with like an absurd millennial version of Where's Wally? Instagram Stories have changed dating for everybody because they are the perfect tool for sexual gameplay and sexting. But for queer women especially, they go one step further in that they can feel like the only channel that's available.
Most of the people I follow on Instagram, and who follow me back, are queer women and femmes. A large portion of those people follow each other, too. In that way, the communities that I would imagine used to flourish in the clubs, or in cafes, or neighbourhoods, now exist via our phones. It’s become a way for us to forge a space that is entirely devoid of the cishet male gaze, while also engaging with and supporting other queer people. Among all of this, IG can also be the perfect catalyst for hook-ups, because a) you assume someone is queer if lots of other queer people follow them, so there’s not that awkward "are they or aren’t they" thing that exists IRL, and b) Stories mean everyone can make first contact with potential shags. If that sounds gross, I’m sorry, but single and non-monog people: you know this to be true.
That's not to say Instagram is purely for hook-ups – not everything has a grim little motive. It's obviously also used to keep up with pals or show off creative ventures, etc – but the hook-up thing is definitely a thing. Most queer women I know met the person they are sleeping with, or used to sleep with, or want to sleep with, through Instagram. And even if you meet someone on Tinder or (loool) in the great outdoors, chances are you’ll follow them on IG at some point, allowing the dance to begin properly. You will reply to their glowing morning selfie with a sweat emoji, they will reply to your meme with a "lmao same", you will reply to their video of them walking their labradoodle in Victoria Park with heart eyes, and on it goes.
That said, within the queer community, trying to hook up via Instagram DMs comes with its own problems. Unlike straight white cis dudes, women are well aware that coming across creepy or predatory online is neither nice nor attractive, so everybody treads extremely carefully so as not to make the other person feel uncomfortable. What this can lead to, however, is: absolutely nothing. I mean, literally nothing. Everybody is so subtle that they eventually cancel each other out and settle into being friends because nobody wants to make the first move.
If the old joke was that queer women brought a U-Haul to the second date, the new joke is that they bring nothing, because the first date never happened: they keep on replying to each other's Stories with fire emojis until one of them dies.