Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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My problem with the lesbian handshake

I was recently greeted with a double kiss by someone in a gay club. I was simultaneously relieved that I’d avoided a handshake and convinced that her mouth-based greeting meant that she wanted to move into a semi with me and have 2.4 cats.

New Statesman
A good handshake is hard to find, and vice versa. Image: Getty

“How was it?” I ask.

“Fine,” my friend says.

“What’s ‘fine’? Was it firm enough?”

“It was reasonably firm.”

“You hated it.”

“No, it was fine.”

“Oh God, it was sweaty, wasn’t it?”

“Not really, no.”

“Just tell me the truth – was it limp?”

“It was fine. This ends now.”

“I’m screwed.”

From the flaccid and gluey to the zealous and bone-crushing; the act of placing your hand in someone else’s and jiggling it about is inoffensive at best, a bit like being fondled by ham at worst.What kind of schmuck invented the handshake?

More importantly though, why has it become standard lesbian etiquette? The lesbian handshake is now socially ubiquitous, and I haven’t been so concerned about whether I’m doing something “right” since the first time I went down on a girl. For a while now, nearly every time I’ve met a new lesbian we’ve shaken hands. I’ve become so certain that it’s going to happen (whether I like it or not), that I’ve even started initiating the handshake. I’ve submitted to its inevitability like a floppy, netted trout.

There’s something business-like about the lesbian handshake. We’ve ditched the kiss-greet for something devoid of frivolity. The handshake is the sensible shoes of greetings, and when I shake hands with a group of lesbians I’m meeting for the first time, it’s like being at a renewable energy conference. Perhaps the handshake is our way of saying to one another;“We are perfectly capable of being two lesbians in the same room, without ending up in bed together.” With a handshake, there’s no room for ambiguity; it’s asexual, earnest and about as flirtatious as a cheese sandwich. Our business may bedrinking G&Ts and comparing notes on the best Vietnamese restaurants, but my God do we mean it. The handshake solidifies these good, wholesome intentions.

My handshaking abilities are now more important than ever and, in trying to figure out whether I’m up to scratch, I’ve become insufferable. I obsess over firmness, clamminess and the socially acceptable number of pumps. Never knowing when my next handshake might crop up, my eyes are constantly fixed on my hands, trying to gauge the moistness level of my palms. And in spite of several practice sessions, the thought of greeting potential girlfriends with a handshake like week-old salad has exacerbated my social anxiety.

I was recently greeted with an ultra-rare double kiss by a friend of a friend in a gay club. I was simultaneously relieved that I’d avoided a handshake and convinced that her mouth-based greeting meant that she wanted to move into a mock Tudor semi with me and have 2.4 Biblically-named cats. I was so taken aback that I went straight into a semi-coherent rant about how greetings are “super-weird”. It transpired that this friend of a friend was French. She wasn’t impressed by my diatribe, and we did not move in together.

The kiss greeting has a whole bunch of its own obstacles and nuances. But with the handshake, it’s not the physical contact side of things that bothers me. In fact, I’d probably be more comfortable greeting other women with a mutual boob-honk. The handshake says, “I am a serious human being.” That’s a lot to live up to. Even a mediocre handshake suggests that you’re the sort of person who eats muesli and reads the FT at seven every morning. Atleast with the boob-honk, my starting point with strangers would be, “I am the kind of person who honks boobs.”

Hopefully, from that point onwards, I could only improve.