The term “girl crush,” alongside trends like “Woman Crush Wednesday,” is a phenomenon in social media. I see it on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook –- I haven't seen it on LinkedIn yet, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it pop up under “Endorsements” or “Special Skills.”
Most of us have at least a vague understanding of what the term “girl crush” refers to –- it is said by a woman, who is most likely cis-gender and heterosexual, to or about another woman, who is most likely cis-gender and heterosexual. Often this declaration of a “girl crush” is accompanied by a conventionally attractive photo of said woman –- even more often than not, this attractive photo involves the “girl crush” in a state of semi-undress and in a provocative position.
So what do we, as “friends” or “followers” think when we see these posts? Perhaps more importantly, what do our peers really mean when they share these posts with us?
I think what most women really, really mean when they say they have a “girl crush” is this: You admire this woman. You respect her intellect, her beauty, her level of physique, her witty humor, or her courage. In some ways, you wish you were this woman. You wish to emulate the traits in her which you see as most desirable, whether that person is an actress plastered on the cover of a magazine or your best friend from high school. You don't really have a “crush” on this person in the romantic or sexual sense. You are probably a cis-gender, straight woman.
Let's review some facts about life as an LGBTQ individual in the United States right now. The Trevor Project shares that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are four to six times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Nearly half of all transgender youth have considered suicide, while a quarter have attempted. In 29 states, your employer can fire of you being gay, lesbian or bisexual. In 34 states, your employer can fire you for being transgender. More than half of the country still does not have marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Most of us can agree that these statistics are devastating. But what does the term “girl crush” have to do with homophobia? Sadly, quite a lot.
Consider this: You are a lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or questioning young person who hears the term “girl crush” on social media or in person. You are confused –- is a “girl crush” a crush on a girl, like the ones you experience? Does this mean that the person using the phrase “girl crush” is also LGBTQ, or that they are at least an ally you can connect with?
No, of course not –- it's a girl crush, not a real crush. But why are romantic or sexual feelings (as recognized by the word “crush”) changed and lessened because we put the word “girl” in front of them? What message does it send –- to ourselves and to each other –- when we use the word “girl” to signify that feelings are not as real or valid as a “normal crush”? What exactly is a normal crush?
For most of us, when we hear the word “crush” we think of the feelings experienced between two heterosexual, cis-gender individuals. This recognition stems from living in a society which is largely heterosexist and patriarchal. But using a phrase like “girl crush” to express platonic friendship or admiration is potentially dangerous and hurtful to those within the LGBTQ because it sends the message that while you like this woman, you don't want anyone to suspect you of being gay.
I ask you this, heterosexual women who use the term “girl crush” –- what is so wrong with someone mistaking you for being LGBTQ?
Internalized homophobia tells us that distinguishing ourselves between our LGBTQ peers is a necessity –- before I came out of the closet, I considered myself an ally, but I was always very careful to make sure people knew I was straight. Why? Because I knew I was a lesbian, and I was ashamed and panicked.
Obviously not everyone is secretly in the closet, but we all experience a degree of internalized homophobia because it is intrinsic in the society we're raised in. Times and laws are changing, but social change is important, too, and that includes raising awareness for how problematic phrases like “girl crush” are. Is “girl crush” any less offensive or homophobic than saying “no homo” between two men? I don't think so.
But for women who do experience crushes on other women, or men who do experience attractions to other men, the constant reminder from our heterosexual peers that “Oh, no, they aren't gay” is painful and isolating. Again: What is the so horrible about someone mistaking you for gay? People constantly mistake me for straight, and believe me, it is frustrating and sometimes awkward, but I don't feel the need to preface my statements with “no hetero” or “man crush” when I talk about a male friend or a male actor or politician I respect or admire.
Why not? Because, even though I am a lesbian, I see nothing wrong, immoral, or disgusting about heterosexual attraction. I don't need to preface a “crush” with a word meant to demean its romantic or sexual connotation -– I simply don't use the word “crush” at all in those contexts. There is no need to separate ourselves from our peers in a way that is so isolating and reinforces such internalized discomfort and hate.
While I believe most people's intentions are good when they say “girl crush," I think it is time we take a step back, educate ourselves, and move away from these phrases which are so exclusionary to the LGBTQ population. Because what you really, really mean when you say you have a “girl crush” is that you like someone of the same sex, but you don't like them like them, because ew, you don't want to be mistaken for gay. And that's homophobic, whether you realized it or not.