I'm a Midwesterner with a background in writing and media. My articles are mainly about relationships, dating, and heartbreak.
Throughout my life I've been told that it is a lot harder to spot a lesbian than a gay man, that women find it easier to hide their sexual orientation, or even that lesbians don't exist (don't fall for that last one, kids).
The fact is that, just like straight people, LGBT people come in all types. The only way to know anyone’s sexuality for sure is to ask, but that can be an intimidating task. This article will teach you polite ways of figuring out someone’s sexuality, and perhaps even teach you a few tidbits of lesbian style and culture along the way.
Before trying to figure out another person’s sexuality...
Ask yourself: Why do I need to know? Many people consider their sexual lives private, and if you are just curious about a coworker or acquaintance, you should probably respect their privacy and let it be. If you are a woman who likes women and are interested in a particular girl, wait until you know them better and the subject will most likely come up naturally.
With that in mind, and knowing that none of these clues will be totally accurate without a direct, verbal confirmation, here are a few signs that a woman you know is into the ladies.
Style Clues: Hair, Clothes, and Nails
Hairstyles, clothing, and fingernails can provide a few clues when trying to figure out if someone's a lesbian.
This is always the first sign people bring up, and probably one of the least accurate. Seriously, women-loving women have as much variety in their hairstyles as straight women and it’s impossible to tell any woman’s sexuality from her hair. That being said, there are a few hairstyles that are sometimes extra popular in lesbian circles, and I can list them for you here:
- The undercut: Also known in some circles as the “alternative lifestyle haircut,” this haircut is quite popular among activists, hipsters, and artistic young people, many lesbians included. It’s characterized by its asymmetrical style and usually features one side of the head buzzed close to the scalp contrasting with longer hair on the other side.
- Short hair styled with gel and/or with extra-long, shaggy bangs in the style of Justin Bieber. This is a fun, sexy haircut that is great for running fingers through. It’s short enough to never get in the way and long enough to flip.
If you see a traditionally masculine haircut on a woman, you might be tempted to make assumptions about that woman’s sexuality. In fact, she could be straight, bi, lesbian, asexual, or anything in between. All you really know about her is that she likes her hair short. Similarly, if you see a girl with an alternative lifestyle haircut, it’s a very good bet that she considers herself left-leaning, enjoys social criticism, and maybe even works in a creative field. Is she gay, though? It’s impossible to tell. Many lesbians are left-leaning and creative, but so are many straight women. So, as I mentioned above, hair is not going to be a good indicator of sexuality.
Like hair, clothes are not going to help you figure out if a woman is batting for the same team. There are, however, a few exceptions to this:
- If you see a woman wearing a T-shirt or hat that says “Vagitarian” or “I’m a lesbian!” you can probably assume she is into ladies.
- If you see a woman wearing a gay or trans rights t-shirt, a rainbow or pink triangle pin, or a marriage equality sticker, she either identifies as LGBT or an ally. You still won’t know her sexuality until she tells you, but you can probably feel safe opening up to her about your own.
This stereotype actually has some truth to it. Women who are sexually active with other women like to keep their fingernails short to keep from harming their partner’s more sensitive areas. (Men who are sexually active with women often keep their fingernails short for the same reason.) However, there are many, many ways for two women to have sex. There are also many women who are still attracted to women, who aren’t currently in that kind of relationship and haven’t cut their nails lately. And obviously, lots of straight women have short fingernails. So again, not exactly fool-proof.
A Note on Sexual Orientation vs. Gender Identity
Many people equate sexual orientation and gender identity, believing that the vast majority of lesbians also dress and behave in a more masculine way than most straight women. That view unfairly and inaccurately limits the boundaries of what it means to be gay. In fact, the women-loving-women of the world who dress in masculine clothing and have shorter haircuts are simply more visible than those who dress in a more feminine style. The dichotomy of masculine and feminine styles, known as "butch" and "femme," has a long and complicated history originating in working-class lesbian culture of the '50s and '60s, but no longer accurately represents the lives of most non-straight women today.
Here's the gist:
- Gender identity: The gender a person considers themselves to be. This can be "man," "woman," or something else (for example, bi-gender or gender-fluid). Does not have to be the same as their biological sex or the gender assigned to them at birth.
- Gender expression: The way a person expresses their gender identity. This can change from day to day.
- Sexual orientation: Defined by the gender(s) a people feels sexually attracted to.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not necessarily related! Many straight women prefer to behave or dress in more traditionally masculine ways and many gay women are very feminine. It is perfectly OK to be anywhere on the sexuality or gender scales.
Some Sexual Orientation Terms
Someone who is only attracted to people of the same gender.
Someone who is attracted to both men and women
Someone who is attracted to multiple genders and prefers not to limit themselves to the gender binary
Someone who doesn't feel sexually attracted to anyone and may prefer not to have sexual relationships
Stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender." An umbrella term for people who identify as non-straight or non-gender-normative.
An umbrella term often used instead of LGBT by people within the community. Because this term is still a pejorative and has been reclaimed, make sure to only use it if you identify as queer yourself.
Social contexts can give you slightly better clues to someone else’s sexuality than their appearance. If you are too nervous to bring up sexuality directly in a conversation, here are a few other topics that might help you figure out if she likes women.
- Her friends: Most LGBT people seek out friendships with other people who identify similarly. They have things in common, after all. If the girl you like has a large pool of gay friends, there’s a good chance she identifies that way herself.
- Social media: Many people who identify as LGBT join groups in college or high school in support of gay and trans awareness. If you do a little bit of Facebook stalking you can check her Facebook groups to see if she has joined something like this publicly. If she has, you know that she is at least an ally and likely to be supportive.
- Books, TV, etc.: Bring up books or television shows featuring lesbian characters and see what she thinks. Some popular TV shows with lesbian characters are Orange is the New Black and Pretty Little Liars. There are lots of good books and movies out there, too; you can find them easily with a quick internet search.
- History: If she has had a past relationship or two with women, though she may be with a man now, she probably likes women still.
- Party spots: If she frequents a lesbian or gay bar or other hot spot gay venue, there’s a good chance she likes women, and even if she isn't into women, she is almost certainly an ally.
Now let’s get to the important part: as we know, the only way to actually know how a lady identifies is by asking her. This can be an intimidating task, especially if you think she is cute and feel flustered around her. Here are some tips for how to get that conversation going without being rude or invasive of her privacy. The key here is to create a safe environment in which people around you feel comfortable discussing their identities and private lives.
- Notice her pronouns. When referring to an ex or current partner, does the woman you’re interested in say “ex-boyfriend” or does she just say “ex?”
- Notice your own pronouns. If you identify as gay, bi, or pan, and are comfortable coming out to this girl, mention your own “ex-girlfriend” or “girl I went out with once,” and see if she relates. If you’re asking her about her love life, don’t say, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Instead, try, “Are you seeing someone?” Try doing this with everyone around you. You might be surprised at which people appreciate the fact that you didn’t assume they were straight.
- Ask her out! If you like her, sometimes the best course of action is to simply go for it! Rejection is scary, but it gets easier every time.
- Get to know her. The best way to learn about anyone is to become friends with them. Spend time with her, learn about her and what she likes, and let her learn about you. Eventually you'll know which gender(s) she's attracted to, and you'll also know a whole lot more, like what TV shows she likes, where her family is from, and if she'd like to go to the game with you this weekend. It's a win-win.
© 2014 Andrea Lawrence
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on July 13, 2020:
Has she ever expressed an interest in women to you? Is she interested in you? How long have you two known each other? Don't jump to conclusions. You do need to know the person you're marrying, and I'm not sure you do.
Lwads on July 13, 2020:
My fiance has history of being around lesbian people,while playing soccer,of wich she said it was merely soccer,at her high school level,when we meet i found her saying her last boyfriend has impregnanted some body else while with her so she left,there was one before who just wanted a show and left,now i have henn with her 2 years,and every time i see people wjo knows her from young their first comment is she is lesbian,dnt know what to do,i love her,but waiting my time deffending her and she comes backor vlean on what ever it is,i will be devasteted afraid of the outcome expecially if.....
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on December 04, 2019:
It will come in its right time. Perhaps the way you brought it up last time confused your parent. She likely will understand now that you are older. You could also at some point bring it up like... you know I'm a lesbian, right? I think making it conversational rather than a big display will help break the ice.
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on December 04, 2019:
Reveal yourself in the way you feel makes sense to you. It's a big deal and exciting to come out to your family. Only you know your family dynamic. Perhaps start by talking to some friends you feel comfortable with -- who you know are more liberal. Talk to family members you feel are more liberal, see how they respond to things on TV, what movies they like, what books they like. Think back on the kinds of things they say. Sometimes it is easier coming out to mom than dad. No matter what is their response, you are loved by people and important and there is so much ahead of you in your life. Your parents ultimately want you to have a life you enjoy and for you to prosper and make this world a better place. You may want to talk to a school counselor or someone who can help talk you through these things.
Alex on December 02, 2019:
I am lesbian and I am afraid of comming out... I tried before but my parent thought it was a joke.....now that I am older I think she will understand but I don’t want to tell her and I wouldn’t ever know how...
blackcat135dcc on October 16, 2019:
I started middle school and my friend is gay and she says I dress gay and I wanted to know what that meant she only beleives that because I love rainbows but I do support this.
Anonymous on August 16, 2019:
Ok, I’m NOT lesbian or anything! The only reason I watched this, is cause I just began middle school. There is this girl in my 3rd period who I think is totally into me! And I’m a girl! I have nothing against bi,trans,gay,and lesbian people. I just feel bad, cause they are sinning, it’s against gods law to be like this. But again, you can’t control how you feel towards a person. Anyway,it’s SO awkward. I think she is totally lesbian! I’m trying to find out!
mimi on July 16, 2019:
how do you come out to the person you like but don't know if they like you back
LGBT on July 02, 2019:
LGBT Rocks i have no clue what i would do without it
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on May 23, 2019:
Give it time, try going to LGBT friendly events with ones you trust. Go with what makes you feel comfortable.
kitkat on May 20, 2019:
I want to come out as BI but my friends are homophobic. Don't know what to do.
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2019:
Calm down and play it more cool. Treat her like a person and try talking and see if you have similar interests. Don't let your head get too high into the clouds before something has happened.
oof on February 05, 2019:
Okay, so... I have a crush. (Technically 3.) When I say 3, I mean that there are people who all fit the part. They have the nickname 'Ruby'. I saw 1 Ruby today and I freaked. She's adorable! We're close in age, I believe. I'm ugly af and because I suffer from anxiety, I never know how to talk to her. Let me describe her: THAT ONE GAY HAIRCUT ALMOST EVERY GIRL HAS-.. and glasses. So cuteeee!! Anyone have any advice?? I'm a new student and we've only met a few times. I fell in love with her at first sight...
sharon on December 21, 2018:
Am a young girl of 24 years, but am tired of all d guys disappointing me so i wanna be a lesbian.... but do not know how to talk to her
Rick on August 06, 2018:
That’s a very cool video. Thumbs up
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on July 19, 2018:
14 is young! Enjoy your time and try to make friends.
caslyn barackin on July 13, 2018:
how can you tell if she likes you
A. M. on May 21, 2018:
I am 19 and really shy but I have been realizing lately that I may be bisexual. Now that I have this thought, I don't know what to do with it. I'm lost I guess.
Also, as of right now I don't have many opportunities to get out of my house and meeting new people. Since I'm new to all this I don't really know anything about it or what to do..
jeff bob on May 09, 2018:
that's a cute video. x
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on January 11, 2018:
This is a really young age. She's very openly getting comfortable with YOUR body. You need to talk to her about consent and whether you are okay with these things. Set boundaries and say this is way too heavy for a friendship. You have to communicate. That you do care about her feelings, but are straight and this isn't what you're wanting. If she is not getting your consent, this could actually be considered assault. It doesn't matter what she labels herself at this point -- your comfort matters. So help her to understand the boundaries that make sense to you. And be careful.
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on March 04, 2017:
add another letter to the list on March 03, 2017:
Feel the energy between the both of you..... the past should not matter...live in the now... love IS love
Tasha on August 13, 2016:
Imagine how hard it is for trans lesbians.
Char Milbrett from Minnesota on July 23, 2015:
that's a cute video.
she found me on March 26, 2015:
I have a hard time knowing if a woman is lesbian or bisexual. It detures me. Im shy and rather she make the first move. I find a lot of women attractive but don't know how to connect. brunetts are a favorite
grace on November 27, 2014:
Yeah, i wish this article had more to say about how to spot a lipstick lesbian. I am lesbian and am more attracted to feminine girls than macho girls.
lily on November 17, 2014:
Okay. This article isn't bad but it is full of stereotypes. I am a lesbian. And I have a bunch of lesbian friends. I wear dresses. I look like every other straight girl. Some lesbians are butch. But there are femme lesbians. And not every girl with a pixie cut is gay. Trust me been there.
FirstStepsFitness on November 05, 2014:
The L Word did a funny segment on trying to spot a woman who loved women .
Rebecca from USA on January 30, 2014:
interesting if you're looking at butch lesbians. But what about lipstick lesbians? I don't think you can always tell one's sexual orientation simply by how they look, although...sometimes it's possible. Interesting topic.