I love The Good Wife right and I love Alicia Florrick she’s so badass but when she does that whole “waaah life is so hard because I can’t afford to put my kids into private school” I’m just like “noooo Alicia don’t be elitiiiiiist there’s nothin wrong with public schooooool, all kids should have opportunitieeeeeeees” *sad face*
You know how straight women ask femmes why don’t they like men if they like butches, but never ask themselves why don’t they like butches if they like men?
Clearly it has nothing to do with finding it hard to tell the difference between butch women and masculine men, because really they couldn’t be more different if they tried. It has everything to do with lesbophobia though and calling female homosexuality into question. Call these androcentric bigots out whenever you can.
How fabulous! Another straight woman has engaged in an anthropological foray into lesbianism. It was absolutely totally to do with her own curiosity and sexual exploration, and nothing to do with the book she has just published which was released in August. This is of course a reference to Brooke Hemphill’s “My Year as a Lesbian”. This blog, however, is not a critique of the book, as this has already been achieved wonderfully by Eleanor Margolis of Lez Miserable fame (1).
Actually what needs to be acknowledged and openly challenged is the exploitative and ethically questionable behaviour exhibited towards the lesbian/queer women’s community. This open and unashamed admission of straight women experimenting on queer women and reporting back to the blogosphere has become increasingly frequent. One blog that appeared on the Leeds edition of The Tab (2) got so much traffic from outraged LGBTQers that it appeared as an item on a current affairs TV show airing in the United States.
The question is why on earth do these people not see how rude, exploitative, patronising and insulting this behaviour is?
First a point of clarity. This is not a dig at or an attack on people who trip down the sexuality escalator and find themselves unexpectedly in love or lust with someone of the same sex when they totally never thought that would happen. This is not to be dismissive of people’s experiences. These are important. This is an outright calling out of people who exploit LGBTQ communities and use their platform as a writer or a blogger or a director or tweeter (you get the idea) to present us as exhibits, to show us as a novelty item. These examples of so called “investigative journalism” are nothing more than ridicule and alienation. The fact that they are often making money, or capital in the form of self promotion and furthering their careers adds insult to injury.
The causes of this behaviour stems from the fact that, for all the rights we have gained, queer relationships, and particularly relationships between two women, are not taken seriously by hetero-normative society. Frequently treated as intense, adolescent style friendships, they are belittled and infantalised by a society that doesn’t acknowledge that something is sex unless a penis is entering an orifice (that’s a legal definition of sexual intercourse by the way, I believe still enshrined by law).
And so the path is open for heterosexual women to declare “oh I’m so annoyed with men I’m going to go and experience relationship-lite, dating-lite, sex-lite BUT I’M NOT A LESBIAN because hahaha it’s just practice for the real thing.”
Whilst is might seem easy to dismiss this as a simple annoyance, actually we need to talk about the effects that these views and this behavior has on LGBTQ women. The gay scene increasingly finds itself hosting large gawping hen parties who swoop into town to admire and physically harass the handsome oiled Adonises dancing to Kylie, and forget that lesbians are a thing and that they are quite likely to be out in gay bars as well (3). That queer women can end up feeling like the subject of an experiment is no surprise when they find themselves pinned down by a drunk Maid of Honour, pink sash askew, crooning “but why do you reeeaaally dress like that? Is it so you don’t get any attention from men? I’ve ALWAYS wanted to sleep with a woman”, like a guinea pig being held down and having shampoo dripped into its eyes “just to see what its like.”
And ironically at the same time femme queer women are finding themselves shut out of queer spaces, erased, overlooked or not taken seriously. They are told “members only” at the gay bar door unless they are accompanied by a butch or boyish woman. They are deemed untrustworthy and unreliable. They are told “what a waste” or “you just need a proper seeing to” by men who don’t consider women to be autonomous people.
Its sexism, that’s what it is, and it’s sneaky and insidious. It’s capitalist. It’s exploitative. It comes from unexpected places. We have so much left still to fight for; the introduction of gay marriage should not be the full stop on the gay rights movement. Crap behaviour still exists and must be challenged as every turn.
Really what this blog is about is seeing some sexism, seeing some homophobia, seeing some exploitation dressed up as someone “having an experience”, and I’m calling bullshit.
I had a patient in the clinic who really did not want an abortion but who had no resources to cover the costs of prenatal care or childbirth. She was single and without insurance coverage but made just enough money to be ineligible for state assistance. She already had outstanding bills at the hospital and with the local ob-gyn practice. No doctor would see her without payment up front.
We were willing to do the abortion for a reduced rate or for free if necessary. But she really didn’t want an abortion. Once I understood her situation, I went to the phone and called the local ‘crisis pregnancy center.’
"Hello, this is Dr. Wicklund."
Dead silence. I might as well have said I was Satan.
"Hello?" I said again. "This is Dr. Wicklund."
"Hello," very tentatively, followed by another long silence.
"I need help with a patient," I said. "She came to me for an abortion, but really doesn’t want one. What she really needs is someone to do her prenatal care and birth for free."
"What do you expect us to do?"
I let that hang for a minute.”
When I was a freshman, my sister was in eighth grade. There was a boy in two of her periods who would ask her out every single day. (Third and seventh period, if I remember correctly.) All day during third and seventh she would repeatedly tell him no. She didn’t beat around the bush, she didn’t lie and say she was taken—she just said no.
One day, in third period, after being rejected several times, he said; “I have a gun in my locker. If you don’t say yes, I am going to shoot you in seventh.”
This I so true and I am so depressed at the truth in it :(
Let’s Talk - a poem I wrote unfortunately delivered at break neck speed!
Is anyone else bored of hearing there’s nothing left to fight for
Because some suit in parliament decided to legalise gay marriage,
Which still isn’t equal, so please stop trying to make me call it that.
If it’s not straight people trying not to act
Embarrassed at the over the top queer rage,
It’s the eye rolling coming from the white, middle class gays
Who don’t want the flag wavers representing them these days.
It seems that now the right to assimilate is here
There’s no place left for the radical queer.
The conversation has subsided
And the community’s divided
Down some pretty stark, racist, classist lines,
Which is why we need to talk about what’s hidden;
Behind that shiny facade of acceptibility lies the sad fact
That progress made for queers over the last 15 years
Is built on capitalist ideas
And gays have proved themselves too big of a target market to discrimminate against anymore,
The promise of the pink pound to big of a reward to ignore.
So if you’ve got money to prop up corrupt economic systems you might be alright,
But now let’s talk about the reasons left to fight:
Let’s talk about LGBT youth homelessness
Estrangement, decriminalising sex work engagement,
Slut shaming, victim blaming, street harrassment hate crime,
Overrepresentation of butch women on death row,
Punished once for a crime committed and once for daring to cross genderlines.
Let’s talk about queer women failed by the health
Service because a misogynist physician didn’t have the imagination
To invisage to women’s fluid exchanging capabilities.
Let’s talk about sexism:
If you are a man having sex with another man
You are not straight acting
So stop oppressing femme men by writing it all over your grindr profile.
Let’s talk about femmephobia, Let’s talk about butch phobia,
Let’s talk about body elitism, fatphobia, anorexia nervosa,
Let’s talk about the media -
Why to be on TV do we still need to be
Dysfunctional, on drugs or dead?
Let’s talk about Trans* and the fact that transpeople are routinely shat on from all directions
Let’s talk about your ability to access gay bars being at the doorman’s discretions.
Let’s talk about UKIP:
Now is not the time to be abstaining
Because it’s us who’ll be complaining
When everyone hard won right is chopped
By a government we could have stopped.
Let’s look back and know we did everything we could with no regret
Now are you fucking angry yet?
The Telegraph posted a somewhat ponderous article in which it asked why there are not as many seemingly openly “lesbian” women as there are gay men. It cited lack of role models in the media and lack of a lesbian “scene” as reasons.
The claims and suggestions made in the article weren’t necessarily objectionable. It was more what wasn’t said that was a little more than irritating. The focus on bars and clubs, in particular Candy Bar which is about to close in Soho, London, occurred in tandem with the erasure of the many nights that exist outside of the really commercial, mainstream gay scene, which is extremely white and extremely gay male dominated. As I hail from the North, and am only an occasional gatecrasher at London nights, I asked my friend Rai who lives in London about the scene down there. She said: “London has an east scene, soho scene and south scene. If you’re going to mention nights, you’re going to have to do bit more research. The east london lesbian scene dwell in warehouse parties/and basements - so that’s why the Telegraph can’t find them. The club promoters Twat Boutique runs warehouse house parties every few months that are PACKED with young queer lesbians.”
What about monthly nights like Dancing on My Own and Unskinny Bop in East London, not lesbian per se, but a lot more balanced than the mainstream gay scene. How about the lesbian bars and club nights outside of London like The Fox in Birmingham, Vanilla and Coyotes and monthly queer night Bollox in Manchester? Why was there no mention of specific LGBTQ spaces for People of Colour like Club Kali and Liberte?
The Guardian returned my pitch to send this article to Comment is Free with an email to say they had already a commissioned a piece which cites the lack of “celesbians” as the problem. I don’t necessarily disagree, but it doesn’t go far enough, and the fact that it was posted the day before this gem which makes hideous generalisations about women’s sexuality did little to placate me. We need to recognise discrimination and the way it is impacting on young LBTQ women, and we need to tackle it head on.
When discussing role models (or lack thereof) for young LBTQ women in the media, the stock examples given are always Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow, Clare Balding, Portia de Rossi. Why is no one talking about Nicola Adams? What about Margaret Cho? Wanda Skyes? Raven? Lesbianism is so often seen as a white identity, not helped by the fact that racism often rampages as unchecked within the white lesbian community as anywhere else in our white supremacist society.
There are way more role models around than people realise, but the reason it doesn’t seem that many is because the white press consistently erases LGBTQ POC role models. It fails to give them the platform they should, and then fails to acknowledge them as role models at all.
So I’d start by saying one of the reasons that young lesbians don’t seem as visible is because women who date and sleep with other women don’t all call themselves lesbians and don’t always hang out in mainstream, white lesbian spaces. The rigid view of what LBTQ women look like and do obscures the view of the many other women who are not white lesbians or do not hang out in white lesbian spaces but are just as much a part of the queer community.
But lack of role models alone is not a sufficient answer to why there are seemingly fewer visible queer women, anywhere. We need to be up front about the lesbophobia sitting insidiously at the intersection of sexism and homophobia. It is this that led to me breaking away from the frustrations of the horrific Content Management System in my office to explain the complexities of the intersection between homophobia and sexism.
“Hey Jo, isn’t it strange, how gay men can openly make suggestive comments to straight men on family orientated TV shows, and it’s considered funny and non-threatening, yet if a lesbian was to do the same it would be completely taken seriously and seen as really threatening and overtly sexual?” (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the gist. He went on to tell me that he’d been listening to Women’s Hour on the way into work, which was why he’d been thinking about it. I was impressed with his radio choices.)
But of course this is the case, because in recent time mainstream society, having begrudgingly acknowledged there will be no en masse return to the closet anytime soon, has coped with the queers is to either sanitise or sexualise.
The gay men who enjoy huge media profiles are consistently desexualised. They’re wrapped in feather boas, blow dried, fluffed up or eccentrified and thrown to the crowds. They’re adorable, and oh so entertaining. They cease to become sexual beings to the point where society will allow their children to watch them on saturday teatime television, and chuckle over gay innuendo. After all…it’s not real is it? No self respecting straight man would allow himself to be seduced by a cuddly, colourful TV personality…would he?
For women, as ever, the rules are different. Society has dealt with the existence of lesbians in other ways. One of these methods has been to hypersexualise and comodify lesbianism on a huge scale, repackaging it for the heterosexual male’s gaze and enjoyment. Lesbians who aren’t really lesbians, who only have sex when there’s a man around to finish the job, those lesbians are ok. I’ve lost count of the time some grinning creep in a bar has stood too close, beery breath winding into my nostrils, and announced “I’m ok with homosexuality, but only between women”.
Femme queer women are still seen as available for turning.“…straight men still feel it’s appropriate to approach lesbian couples and ask ‘can I watch?’…if straight guys come to lesbian nights unaccompanied they tend to stare at girls…This is our space.” This is from Sandra of popular lesbian night Ruby Tuesdays, talking to the Telegraph. What she describes is the physical manifestation of a problem that continues online - attempts to set up a dating or hook-up app similar to Grindr but for women who like women have been foiled by the sheer number of men joining to harass lesbians and bi women online.
Lesbians, bi and queer women not willing to have sex with men who approach them online or in bars can expect harrassment and assault. The femme woman who sleeps with/dates other women regularly does not have her lesbianism/queerness taken seriously, especially when she dates other femmes (common both in heteronormative society and, shamefully, within the LGBTQ community). The femme who likes butches or bois or those masculine of centre will be asked why they just don’t date a man instead. Their existence as sexual beings is dismissed, or considered unthreatening or entertaining. They are not represented in the media because it is not in a heteronormative societies interest to present queer women as anything other than completely deviant and unrecognisable.
But the Butches. The Bois. The Studs. The Aggressives. The in-any-way-masculine-presenting, are the heternormatives worst nightmare. They are so much harder to erase and dismiss. They aren’t marketable, or easy to pornogrify for cis-hetero-men nor are they fluffy and desexualised like the gay guy presenting early evening television. Their presence is a threat, because they have given themselves a gender order promotion without permission, unlike the flamboyant gay man who has relinquished some of his privilege, and therefore in society’s eyes some of his power. The butch occupies a space marked “Men Only” and all too often men don’t want them in it.
Butches have been demonised as deviant sexual beings, out to corrupt and steal innocent, wholesome women away from more deserving men (see that agency being taken away from femmes again?!). The media more often than not presents lesbians as butches and turns butches into boogey-dykes; things to be feared and abhorred, never creatures of beauty or desire. Parents keep their daughters away from sports teams with openly lesbian coaches or players (see Strong Women Deep Closets for more information), and any bois in the mainstream spotlight find themselves being pummelled into more feminine attire, forced into boxes that are too small and the wrong shape.
The problem with the media is not just the lack of exposure given to queer women. It’s the type of exposure. The majority of lesbian relationships presented in TV and film are dysfunctional, transient or abusive, and often involve violence and suicide.
It’s enough to get me thinking that the media doesn’t want to portray queer women in a positive light. Fictional queer women and the things they do and the sex they have too often comes from the imagination of straight male directors. Their sexuality is the focus of the story line, rather than one aspect of who they are, and so again and again becomes dramatised for entertainment purposes, rather than normalised and accepted.
When mainstream, heterosexual journalists ask “where are all the (young) lesbians?” what they actually want to know is “where are all the white baby butches?” Where is the personification of the stereotypes that heteronormative society can control?
The question they should be asking is “why can’t we see many lesbians, bisexual or queer women?” To which I would answer: open your eyes, we are right here.
The beginning is made of spilt beer and smeared eyeliner
Mingled with shimmering foundation and glitter.
The air misted with hairspray; all big eyes, skinny jeans and outrageous quiffs,
Worn as gladiators don warpaint and armour.
It smells of candle wax and burning rolling papers,
Cigarette smoke curling leisurely out of the kitchen window.
It tastes of takeaway veggie burger and rum,
Brushed away with exhilarating toothpaste.
Twenty ears overflowing with the sounds of The Gossip,
Playing just loud enough to annoy the neighbours
Until it snaps off abruptly. Lets go, lets go, lets go!
Queer grrls pour out of the front door,
Armed with sharp tongues and blunt humour,
Let loose, howling, into the night.
My queer grrl night out looks like grrls in zombie print dresses
Playing nintendo on the big screen in the pub,
Pausing periodically to sip breathtaking mojitos.
It sounds like Bikini Kill and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fighting for space on a crowded playlist,
Smells of gossip, flirting and tequila shots,
And tastes of minty gum chewed hastily to mask tobacco.
It feels like sturdy arms arms linking in and out,
Holding on, raising up, wrapping round.
It feels like a pulsating, sweating crowd
Riding powerful and thumping bass.
In the morning my queer girl night out feels like tiny hammers beating the inside of skulls.
It tastes of stale smoke and morning breath,
Smells of hair products matted into tangled hair.
It looks like glitter smeared across makeshift pillows.
Heaps of Killer heels, converse and brogues cuddle by the front door,
Clothes lie scattered around sleeping bags and unconscious bodies,
Aching, alcohol soaked muscles do not respond properly
To messages from the nervous system.
It sounds like pained groaning and snores.
But sometimes the headaches are worth it,
And sugary tea and fry ups for ten around one huge table,
Coupled with the melodic sound of women laughing fit to burst
Can lift the worst of hangovers.
That’s what my queer grrl night is about,
Next I hope I’ll see you out.