Long before femme invisibility became a familiar concept in queer spaces, fake sociologists writing exposés on lesbianism were marveling in disbelief that lesbians who didn’t appear “mannish” even existed. It was believed that homosexuality and “gender deviance” went hand in hand and that it was easiest to spot a lesbian by looking for broad shoulders, suits and ties, angular faces and short-cropped haircuts. Ordinances against cross-dressing were employed to stamp out “the homosexual problem.” In retrospect, the awe of these “researchers” to discover femme lesbians ranges from hilarious to uneasily relevant today.
These quotes come from The Grapevine, The Lesbian Handbook, A New Look at the Lesbian, Female Homosexuality and The Lesbian in America, which are all faux-scientific books published in the ’50s and ’60s that provided readers with an “in-depth” look at this deviant lifestyle.
1. Many people had the idea that all lesbians were [masculine], because only butches could be readily identified. But many were beyond average in looks and sensitivity — different from other women only because they did not prefer men.
2. A lesbian can wear her hair long, favor feminine dresses, use cosmetics, laugh and talk and move normally, and nobody will know the difference.
3. I have seen bars where lesbians were as well dressed and groomed as any model stepping out of the pages of the fashion magazines. And often, ironically, it was that very model.
4. Standing near us, in a dirty sweatshirt, was a fair-haired blonde with regular features and a well-scrubbed look. Virginia whispered, “She looks like the girls I used to play field hockey with in school!”
5. Some lesbians take only the feminine role in lovemaking, allowing themselves to be loved without ever really taking the active role with their partners. These women are called femmes, and their appearance is often deceiving. They dress in clothing associated with wholly feminine women, and an uninitatied person would never suspect them of sexual deviation.
6. “Over the years, I’ve become convinced that among themselves, lesbians have as many variations as other women. The most beautiful and the ugliest girls are lesbians, the smartest and the silliest, the richest and the poorest, from good homes and from bad.”
7. The feminine type of lesbian is one who seeks mother-love, who enjoys being the recipient of much attention and affection. She is often preoccupied with personal beauty and somewhat narcissistic. She is more apt to be bisexual.
8. Feminine types are a clinging-vine type who bores her teachers by hanging around them and who is always seeking for physical contact with other girls and women, twining her arms about them, kissing them and fondling them; the girl who is often thought and spoken of by her elders as a ‘little fool’.
9. For the most part, lesbians are girls who carry no outward sign by which the world can recognize them, and who find concealment and pretense so easy that the specter of universal unmasking is frightening.
10. Does the Lesbian lose all her womanhood, her liking for nice clothing, make-up, hair-dos? Certainly, say the scoffers. Untrue.