I wish my cover charge were refunded every time I have to scream "WE'RE LESBIANS" over the roar of club music. It seems every time my partner and I go out on the town, being a couple that doesn't look like a couple to most people, we spend much of the evening explaining the nature of our relationship.

We start the explanation process out as nicely as possible. A guy's first cruise is met with a standard "No, thank you," which while temporarily effective has limited staying power. As the evening continues and we're still without male companionship, most guys will give it another go.

On the second approach we escalate to "We prefer to dance together." I understand why guys seem to file this line under "continued flirtation" rather than "bye-bye," where it belongs. Go to any nightclub and you're bound to see at least one pair of straight gals putting on a dirty-dancing floor show for the guys' benefit.

Our final attempt at being subtle is telling a pursuer, "We're together." At this point all I can do is hope I picked up a couple of extra cocktail napkins on the last trip to the bar--chances are I'll need them for the drool. If a guy is interested in one of us, it has been my experience that he's usually even more interested in the pair.

We usually spend the rest of our stay at the club alternating between shouting "LESBIANS!" and "REALLY!"

Most guys never really believe us. My partner and I don't look the way most people expect lesbians to look. We don't have wallets in our back pockets hooked to our belt loops with chains. We wear makeup and sport (what we hope are) hip clothes and hairstyles.

I've often been asked why the majority of lesbians are overweight, dress like auto mechanics and go for the regulation lesbian-hair look--which is most often described as "unflattering."

"It seems they're trying their best to look their worst," was my mom's comment. Maybe in a way, they are. Many lesbians don't want to conform to the stereotypical idea of female beauty, and they certainly aren't interested in attracting men.

This approach doesn't work for gay women like my partner and me, who happen to share the common view of what makes women attractive. But not looking like "typical" lesbians is only one of the reasons men don't believe us. Here's another: "Crying lesbian" has become an all-too-common technique straight women use to rebuff unwanted advances by men. You know something has passed into the mainstream when you see it on "Ally McBeal," and every time I've turned on that show lately Ally is kissing one of her co-workers in an effort to scare off her latest pursuer. Her most recent effort failed when the guy said he wasn't going to fall for "that old lesbian ploy."

My partner and I understand where the guys are coming from when they don't believe us, but that doesn't mean the whole explanation thing isn't getting old. It's enough to make most gay gals go only to gay bars.

Take our friends Shelly and Glenda, for example. Shelly is drop-dead gorgeous--too gorgeous, if you ask Glenda.

"We can't go anywhere with her looking like that," Glenda often says, gesturing toward the ever-supermodelesque Shelly. And they don't go anywhere, except gay bars.

The segregation approach doesn't work for my partner and me. First of all, gay and straight bars are separate, but not equal. Gay bars are too often caves hidden away in scary parts of town, filled with music so cheesy it has no right being played outside an aerobics class. Second, we don't like going to gay bars because 90 percent of our girl friends aren't gay.

This adds yet another complication for us: Hanging out with hets makes our relationship all the more invisible. This is especially true when it's "girls' night out." Traditionally, a girls'-night-out situation involves a group of gals on the loose from the guys in their lives for an evening of freedom and fun. For a lesbian couple, every night out may look like girls' night out, but the good time we're looking for is with each other. It's enough to confuse even the girls we're having a night out with: Friends still point out good-looking guys to my partner and me with an enthusiastic "Look at him." When they see the blank looks on our faces, they usually follow up with a quick "Sorry, I forgot."

When the group leaves the club, over coffee and a big stack at Village Inn, women begin talking about their man-woes in a soul-spilling, too-many-daiquiris kind of way. "He doesn't listen to me." "He looks at other women." "He rents movies because of the babe on the box and then spends all night sweating on the remote control."

It's not that I can't relate--I can (I've been subjected to every Demi Moore movie ever made). But my partner and I can't get in on the group therapy session, not because we wouldn't love to air our own gripes, but because we have our significant other right by our side.

Because there are definite advantages to a night out with gals, without your gal, my partner and I have made an effort to partake in girls' night out in the true sense of the concept. My partner recently went out with her sister and another married friend. The three attractive women sat lined up at the bar, the absolute definition of the term "power bait."

Needless to say, they had a few takers. As the evening wore on, my partner's sister came up with a streamlined explanation process. She would point to herself, her friend and her sister and say: "Married, married, lesbian." Apparently "married" still works and "lesbian" is more effective from a third source, because the three magic words worked every time.

When a friend isn't available to do our explaining for us, we may just go with "married." We won't bother to mention that it's to each other.