ATTENTION: Are you a straight girl on gay Tinder? You may be participating in FOMOsexuality!

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Nah, it’s actually spelled fauxmosexuality and it’s a phenomenon that has been meticulously studied by one of Emerson’s very own, Dr. Kristin J. Lieb, beloved professor and author of the book Gender, Branding, and The Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars. Sorry for the clickbait—I promise we’ll get back to that pot-stirring declaration later, but first, we have to lay some groundwork.

Lieb defines fauxmosexuality as “a video production strategy in which straight-identified female artists play gay for the camera in order to court the male gaze and everything that its approval enables such as attention and money.” For those of you a little fuzzy on that buzzword, male gaze, it’s a term that theorist Laura Mulvey coined back in the 70s and it refers to the lens through which hetero dudes look at women, and through which women are forced to view themselves.

So—what does fauxmosexuality look like?

Did you ever see the music video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You” with Shakira and Rihanna? I bet you’ve seen the music video for Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”—regardless of how you feel about her, that song was an ‘08 bop. Well, both music videos include performances of eroticism between women: Shakira and Rihanna writhe around on a bed and caress each other’s perfect butts and Perry and her friends have a fun and flirty pillow fight in their underwear. At the end of KP’s video, she wakes up next to her boyfriend; phew, it was all a dream.

Speaking of boyfriends, in a 2014 interview with Billboard magazine, Shakira said of hers: “He’s very territorial, and since he no longer lets me do videos with men, well, I have to do them with women.” She said this with a laugh, but these words insinuate that relationships with women don’t count, which totally invalidates the identities of lesbian, bi, and pansexual people, and that’s no laughing matter.

Some stars try to package their girl-on-girl on-camera action as some sort of celebration of sexual diversity, but how can that be if they’re not engaging with each other the way two people who are genuinely attracted to each other would? In “I Kissed a Girl,” no girls are kissed, and in “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” no lips lock either, no eyes even lock.

What’s more, the female pop stars perpetuating fauxmosexuality (Katy Perry, Rihanna, Shakira, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, etc.) are all highly feminine and gender normative and, thus, their images are pretty much constructed to please male audiences. The real nail in the coffin though is that all these stars publicly identify as straight, sealing the deal that these performances are just playing into male lesbian porn fantasies for commercial gain.

When Professor Lieb first mentioned fauxmosexuality in class, I thought it was spelled FOMOsexuality, as in Fear of Missing Out, and my brain went immediately to this thing I’ve been lazily calling “straight girls on gay Tinder.” The age of swiping left and right has ushered in a new phenomenon of women who have historically identified as straight switching on the option of women in their dating app preferences.

This bothers some gay and bi women. Apps like Tinder have been important spaces where queer people can find people that they know are also queer. So you can understand why someone would be upset that women who aren’t actually interested in dating other women are on “gay Tinder”—it brings doubt back into this space that was built on the notion of guaranteed mutual attraction, sexual attraction; it’s a dating and hookup app after all!

I spoke to my friend Jess about this, who graduated from college a few years ago and now lives in New York. “It’s amazing that sexuality is so fluid, that it’s being talked about and that identity isn’t so stark, but I guess my problem is when people just do it to ride the contemporary wave. It’s almost like an art movement, right? The current movement is to be completely fluid…” It is indeed amazing that the times are increasingly open to spectrums, fluidity, and freedom, but it gets complicated when sexuality is treated like a trend. “I’m first generation too, right?” Jess says. “So for me to wake up and identify as queer or gay, when I hear those words it’s just like panic in my family, you know? It’s nothing that I just wake up and choose. It’s very heavy and loaded.” And so this is very much a conversation about the privilege of choice too; it is a conversation very similar to that of cultural appropriation. For both, a glaring issue is those having the privilege to choose to take part in something, and to be able to shed it when it’s not working out.

“Fomo-sexuality has similarities to fauxmosexuality in that it focuses on the perceived exoticism of non-heterosexual sexual identities, but it is less concerned with attention and more concerned with not missing out on anything exciting,” says Lieb “It, too, can be harmful to the people living in lesbian or bi identities because it can be hard to tell who's afraid of missing out, who’s experimenting with same-gender attraction because they’re in the process of discovering their identity, and who is actually identifying and/or living as bi, lesbian, or pansexual.”

Yes, FOMOsexuality is less concerned with the same kind of attention; in fact, it entirely and intentionally excludes male attention. For some of these women, their motivation to swipe through gals instead of guys comes from some form of the “I’m sick of men” narrative, and for some it comes from a desire to receive approval from other women. For some it comes from a fear of missing out, but for many it doesn’t. For many it comes from the sentiment of “you never know ‘til you try.”

And this is why telling straight women to switch off the preference of women on their dating apps isn’t really fair either. Straight women have the freedom and the right to do this, because exploring your sexuality is something that should be encouraged.

So where does that leave us? How do we navigate the infinitely nuanced realm of human sexuality in a way that feels liberated, while also taking care in not simply touring another sexuality, hurting people along our trip? I’m not sure, but if you’d like to continue the conversation, hit me with a Super Like and we can DM about it.

Illustration by: Nicolas Sugrue