On the 9th of September 2019, someone under the username u/myfriendisanightmare posted in the popular Reddit thread, r/relationships. The user, a 19 year old woman, detailed her confusing relationship with her roommate, a 20 year old woman.
?I can?t figure out if she?s flirting with me or not? wrote the poster, ?please help me?.
Going on to list moments of intimacy the two had shared: from hand holding to pet name allocating and drunken almost kisses (which don?t count apparently), the poster gave r/relationship readers an insight into the psyche of a so called ?useless lesbian?.
Hallmarks of the useless lesbian trope include obliviousness towards other people?s romantic feelings, being too awkward to flirt with women they actually like, and just generally lacking confidence in romantic relationships. None of these are in any way, shape, or form exclusive to lesbians- but the idea of a subset of useless lesbians bumbling their way through romantic experiences clearly resonates, especially with younger women.
If you run a Twitter search on the term ?useless lesbian?, you?ll find heaps upon heaps of girls and young women displaying it as their Twitter name, using it as self reference, and projecting it onto fictional characters. It?s hard to pinpoint where the title itself originates, but some people credit the below Tumblr post for bringing the term into wider use.
?TIFFANY YOU USELESS LESBIAN?
Later, the term would be used in the web series ?Carmilla?, a modern adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu?s novella of the same name, with the subtitle writer dubbing the titular character a ?useless lesbian vampire? in the episode ?War & Pieces?.
You can find YouTube compilation videos of ?Lesbians Being Useless? sitting at over 600,000+ views, merchandise with the term proudly displayed, and quizzes made to determine if you- the reader- are yourself a useless lesbian.
The type of uselessness that the useless lesbian embodies is quite clearly a draw for some; it gives an identity within an identity to young people who are increasingly self assured with regards to their sexuality, but aren?t equipped with the social skills or indeed the societal climate to experience dating like their teenage peers. Because, of course, just realising that you?re attracted to women and being given the language to acknowledge it doesn?t immediately grant you the ability to act on it. Alongside the useless lesbian, you?ll find the concept of the disaster lesbian; similar to the useless lesbian in its focus on the lesbian in question?s inability to behave around women.
The collective knowingness of what exactly constitutes a ?useless lesbian? in a romantic context tells us that it?s not an entirely new concept.
Some look at this uselessness as an extension of social norms that promote affection between women as strictly platonic, that women who flirt with women are probably just flirty with everyone, and that gestures that would typically be intimate between a man and a woman are void of sexual connotation when performed between two women. These aspects pair with a basic level of fear that acting on feelings for someone who hasn?t openly declared their own interest in the same sex can only result in embarrassment or worse.
On the other side, prefacing the label of ?lesbian? with something that renders it harmless or useless feels like a direct response to the way the word has been stigmatised as pornographic, predatory, or just plain ugly. The term lesbian can for some feel like it no longer belongs to those to whom it applies.
Therefore, useless lesbian could be a way to display a disclaimer of safety and sexlessness and distance oneself from these connotations without having to forego the label entirely, a form of reclamation that doesn?t involve actually tackling the issues that cause the stigma. It feels like a paradox, but it sits somewhere between the standard lesbian identity, and that of the women who opt for supposedly softer terms like ?gay?, ?sapphic?, or ?WLW? (women who like women). Identity is a deeply personal thing, and none of the above are wrong- they just carry different nuances.
Following the original Reddit post, u/myfriendisanightmare followed up and told readers that she and her roommate were now girlfriends. It was a win not just for the poster, but for every other useless lesbian who got emotionally involved in the story as it unfolded- maybe giving them hope that their obliviousness would result in a similar happy ending… one day.