It’s not easy to find love on Penn’s campus.
And it’s even more difficult if you’re a queer woman.
We know that LGBTQ+ students have a different experience at Penn from straight students, but we fail to realize just how different. Even with marriage equality, there’s still a stigma around not being straight. Heterosexual relationships are predominantly the ones being fantasized about in TV shows and books. On college campuses, straight is still viewed as the "norm" and stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community are endless.
So, even though Penn has resources available for LGBTQ students, it still can do better. There are plenty of ways this stigma can push people away from queer dating, even if they are queer. Being queer on campus isn't as talked about as it should be, and queer relationships aren't as out in the open as heterosexual ones are. It's not as easy to openly talk about relationships. Whether it's a short pause before admitting to your friend that your date is a girl, or simply getting catcalled for holding a girl's hand on campus, being queer is a unique experience.
Jamie Cahill (C'22) is a junior in the College. She’s also one of the co–presidents of the social club, Sappho, which intends to create and maintain a community where queer women can come together and feel comfortable. In discussing the queer dating environment on campus, she said, “I’m certainly no expert. I think there are lots of people on campus who have very different experiences than me. I have personally found it difficult.”
“You’d go to a lot of LGBT events and it’d be primarily men, which is fine, but it wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for. Before Sappho, I really had a hard time finding queer women in general.”
Diana Cruz (C'22), also a junior in the College and a Sappho member, shared similar sentiments. “[The dating scene] is kind of hidden. It’s the classic ‘you know people who’ve dated other people’ kind of thing that happens in queer women circles.”
In general, dating women is different, since it’s not always easy to tell whether they’re interested. Women tend to give more compliments, especially among friends, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings for queer women. “It can be hard just because … [typically] someone will find someone who’s interested in the same things [they’re] interested in, but then [there’s] the added layer … [of] is she nice or is she queer?” Diana said.
Not only is it a challenge to even find queer woman outwardly on campus, according to Jamie, it can also be complicated, as many queer woman are still figuring out their sexual identity. “So many people are either questioning or closeted,” Jamie said, “which makes dating very difficult. Because if you’re dating somebody who’s in the closet, it puts a whole different kind of pressure on the relationship. If things get serious, then this person is going to have to make changes in their lives and have very big conversations with people close to them.”
Because of her struggle with finding this space for queer woman on campus, Jamie worked alongside Shana Vaid (C'21) in re–forming the club Sappho. It’d shut down during Jamie’s freshman year, but the two were passionate enough to bring it back. Today, they host plenty of weekly virtual events, including Sunday tea times, Lesbiyoga, and speed friending.
Even though being a queer women trying to date on campus can be difficult, Sappho is trying to combat the stigmas around the subject. “I definitely hope it has [helped]. I don’t go around the club asking people if they’re going on dates or whatever,” Jamie joked. “But I think it does help to have a group of people where you know everybody there is at least queer … even though they might be taken or not interested for any number of reasons.”
A big part of how it’s helped is in simply making people more open to and comfortable with the concept of dating queer women. “Before we started the club … I asked a lot of other queer women if [the club] would be a good thing … It was a pretty common response among everybody. Just a resounding, ‘Yes, where are the ladies?’”
Dating women can be especially difficult for women who are more recent to this queer identity. There are plenty of college students who fall into this category, but for many queer women who might not have had that classic high school romance, there might be a pressure to exit that category fast. However, Jamie says, there's no rush.
“There’s no pressure to do anything right away. I think queer women tend to not get that high school dating experience. So, it really can be somebody’s first everything … Take it slow and be kind to yourself," she says.