Catherine Cheng looked around the room to see overeager men and guarded women at a speed dating event. Compared to them, she was having fun.
Cheng, who sat at the women-looking-for-women table, was attending the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars’ annual International Speed Dating event Thursday. The event, which was first held in 2010, has always included tables for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Jennie Weingarten, the Dashew Center’s assistant director of programming, said 12 women and nine men attended the event looking for people of the same gender.
Almost 200 other people attended the event to meet people of the opposite gender.
Weingarten said the center made sure to use gender-inclusive language on materials so nonbinary students would feel welcome.
Cheng, a third-year electrical engineering student who identifies as lesbian, advertised the event on social media because she was concerned not enough women would attend to make the speed dating work.
She said she liked meeting several other women interested in women at once because it can be difficult to find other queer women. She added she thinks it can be even more difficult to connect with people who only speak English at LGBTQ social events, because she finds it easier to bond with students who also speak Mandarin.
“The queer community at UCLA is so tiny,” she said. “Every queer event you go to, you’re bound to find someone you already knew.”
She added it can also be harder to approach women at UCLA because queer dating culture in the United States is different from Cheng’s experience in her native country of Taiwan.
Cheng said she thinks it’s easier to identify other queer women in Taiwan based on how people dress because the United States’ queer community is more diverse and doesn’t have a singular fashion style.
A fourth-year sociology student who identifies as bisexual said she also finds it hard to meet queer women even though she is a member of Pan-Asian Queers and tries to attend social events. She said she did not want to use her real name because her parents are not aware of her sexuality.
“The hardest part of dating queer women is finding queer women,” she said. “I’m sure there are a lot of queer people at UCLA, but you grow up in a society that’s very gendered.”
The fourth-year student added she thinks people are raised to believe men should initiate romance and that it is harder to identify who should approach whom in a same-gender relationship.
A first-year financial actuarial mathematics student who identifies as bisexual said she thinks the event’s design was fun because people got to know each other in pairs, but weren’t forced to speak more than five minutes if they didn’t like each other. She said she does not want to use her real name because neither her parents nor her friends know about her sexuality.
“It was much less awkward than I thought it’d be,” she said. “I thought it’d be really embarrassing and we wouldn’t speak much – just politely smile.”
The women also had criticisms of how the event was run, primarily because of how others treated them.
The first-year student said she originally thought the women-looking-for-women table would be somewhere more private and felt uncomfortable when she realized the table was in the middle of the room.
She only tells close friends about her sexuality, but saw at the event more than 20 friends to whom she was not out, she said.
“A lot of my friends recognized me, so I was forced to come out, which was really uncomfortable,” she said. “They didn’t ask anything, but their eyes were on me.”
The fourth-year student added she would have liked to meet both men and women, but did not know how that would work with speed dating.
Cheng said she liked how event organizers did not separate LGBTQ tables from the rest of the room, but said she thinks it might have been better if they were somewhere more secluded for people not out of the closet.
Their position in the room made some of the women feel vulnerable to others’ stares and comments, she added.
During the event, a man from another table approached some of the women to ask if they were serious about being interested in women, she said.
However, dating women isn’t only difficult because of others’ expectations, Cheng said. It can also be difficult to find people who have the same comfort zones when it comes to being in a relationship.
“A closeted person might feel guilty they’re dragging their partner back into the closet because they can’t hold hands in public or tell their parents,” she said. “If you’re a very out person, it can feel like you have an underground lover.”