God We’re Trendy: Token Lesbian Friends are the New Token Gay Friends

Having a token lesbian friend is the new having a token gay friend, according to the Times of London.

Stephanie Theobald opens her “article” (headlined “Guess who’s coming to dinner? Now lesbians are the must-have accessory for middle-class society”) as many lackluster trend piece writers do, by quoting a single person: a woman named “Claire Balding.” Claire Balding, who presents horse racing for the BBC, testifies that everyone LOVES lesbians ’cause you can talk to them about horse racing without worrying that they’ll try to steal your boyfriend/husband/mainstream heterosexual utopia away! And! They have marriage and adoption and families now and there are no lingering equality issues about this anywhere, at all (she says).

In the intro, she writes, “And anyway, who cares about sexuality anymore?” Either she’s arguing that sexuality is a non-issue, because the world is open-minded and accepting and full of happy dancing butterflies (to which I can only say, I’ll have what she’s on, and also: this is not true), or she’s arguing that sexuality has been discussed to the point of being too dull to think about, in which case, I’m not sure why she’s discussing it.

In either case, apparently no one cares enough about sexuality to be bothered by the following:

“The majority of my friends are straight,” says Emma Reynolds, 32, who set up Tsuru organic sushi restaurants, in London, “and my sexuality is rarely mentioned. Although sometimes, when I’m going to a dinner, friends will say, ‘Sarah’s coming, Scott’s coming… and the two lesbos are coming.’ ” The other “lesbo” is Clare Eastburn, 34, a banker, Reynolds’s partner of two years. “I think it’s because they don’t know many lesbians,” Reynolds says. “It’s their way of normalising the situation for everybody.”

This is, apparently, an example of straight people being comfortable with gay ladies. And being uncomfortable? Haley Magee, who owns a nightclub, says:

‘”It’s as if I’m a modern-day curio. If there’s a lull in conversation around the table, they think it’s okay to ask really intimate questions about my sex life.”

One of the types of lesbians to be friends with

Magee also gives the best response ever to a straight dude asking how she knows she’s a lesbian if she’s never had sex with a man, which is clearly, “How do you know you’re straight if you’ve never had sex with a man?” Yes, LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT AGAIN, what a revelatory piece of information.

Other lesbians in the article discuss their kids’ friends’ mothers escorting them to play dates constantly; feeling like the other parents are uncomfortable around them and are relieved if they find out the biological father is involved with their family; being spontaneously offered sperm “all the time” by random men; and feeling like people around them are only “being polite on the surface.” Meanwhile, the straight dudes interviewed talk about “the classic reaction of curiosity, then a twinge of disappointment at their unavailability”; people who come out at work as being a subject of embarrassment; finding all lesbians “very self-centered” and “unbelievably selfish” because the interviewee’s wife’s sister doesn’t have kids and gets to go to pubs; and how lesbians always want to talk about sexuality and their relationships.

Theobald then goes on to offer a sort of field guide to the wild species that is the modern lesbian, in a reductive and essentializing way that also gets some things wrong. Because if you’re going to perpetuate stereotypes, at least do it correctly, right?

it's funnier when actual lesbians do it

 

The guide breaks down gender presentation and interest in buttoned shirts into: the literati, DJs, alphas (translation: Bette Porter), fashionistas (translation: femmes with short hair, because obviously anyone with short hair is a lesbian), head girls (wistful translation: Emma Watson), eco-activists, and latecomers (translation: anyone in a blazer with children). And while it’s refreshing to see a lack of references to, say, lack of fashion sense or cats, there’s something more than a little off-putting about it. Sample:

The DJs
Find them: On the decks at a fashion party, or falling out of the Box after pulling an A-lister.
Signature look: Justin Bieber fringe, American Apparel T-shirt, low-slung Carhartt jeans, wallet chain and Louis Vuitton high-tops by Kanye West.
Make friends with them: With some straight-up tonsil tennis.

The Alphas
Find them: On the board of a City law firm, or running the trading floor at an international bank.
Signature look: Paul Smith suit (complete with jazzy lining), TM Lewin shirt, Mulberry Bayswater, Tom Ford specs and Condoleezza Rice screensaver.
Make friends with them: At Islington dinner parties and contemporary art openings.

Clearly, this intensively researched and carefully compiled guide was in no way influenced by anyone watching three episodes of The L Word and drawing conclusions. Which is probably why she omitted several key categories: the adorable butch comic (translation: Julie Goldman times 100), the malnourished blogger trying to remember what the sun looks like, and vegans. Following her good example, I can only assume that legions of random British people will now be going out, armed with organic hummus, and trying to befriend lesbians so they can ask them inappropriate questions. Like Skynet and velociraptors, the threat is real. So:

How to Spot a Straight Person

 

The Straight Dude Who Watches Girl-on-Girl Porn

Find them: In any lesbian bar, alone, sitting furtively in the corner. Or, at Dinah Shore.
Signature move: Telling you and any girl in proximity to you that you two make a beautiful couple and smiling creepily when you don’t respond because you’re both in line for the washroom, offering to donate sperm just in case, being asked to leave by security (if you’re lucky).
Avoid them: By breaking gender conventions.

The Prim Lady Trying to Avoid Eye Contact

Find them: Being over protective at daycare, in light coloured cardigans in straight bars, at PTA meetings, at Republican conventions.
Signature move: Pulling their children closer, going to the washroom to avoid eye contact, or supporting Prop 8.
Avoid them: By making out with your girlfriend/partner/lover.

Watched a Showtime L Word Marathon Recently, Recommends it to Friends as “Sex and the City But Gay”

Find them: In the Sunday Times (this isn’t the first time).
Signature move: Writing trend pieces about befriending lesbians that are completely off-putting.
Avoid them: By closing the tab.

Are we feeling essentialized yet?

Carolyn Yates was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles by way of Montreal and Toronto. Find her on twitter or instagram.

Carolyn has written 946 articles for us.

62 Comments

  1. I never understand how this kind of stuff is okayed by editors. Does no one give a shit about fetishizing a marginalized group? Or sounding like an ignorant idiot? No one sees an issue in saying “the lesbos are coming”?

    And yes, I think the author got a lot of this from simply watching the L Word.

    • I think there’s a lot of people who are just totally out of it. They think about lesbians so infrequently, and gay rights almost never, and therefore when they have one thought — one actual real thought about what lesbians are up to these days –it seems to them that it must be a really important thought because you know, THEY HAD IT. This one thing — like lesbians being trendy friends — being the only thought they’ve ever had about lesbians, must be a “thing” because it’s SUCH A THING that even they thought of it.

      i think i just said the same thing 5 times, but as an editor that scours everything with a toothbrush, i must return to my neverending labors of love.

      If only they had passionate commenters like ours who could yell at them about fetishizing lezzers

  2. One of my straight friends actually forwarded me that article. She found it as obnoxious and offensive as I did. Which obviously makes me feel good about my ability to pick my token “straight friends”… 🙂

  3. I’m totally the lesbian mascot for the drunken straight girl gang at my college. Was fun at first (got me out of the house at least), but if I have to go to any more straight clubs (“gayveyards”, I’ve dubbed them), then someone’s getting some organic humus to the face.

    Seriously though, this kind of exoticising of homosexuality just seems like a shallower version of homophobia; if you can’t oppress them, make them the centrepiece at your oh-so-fashionably liberal middle class dinner parties. Like when people say their not a bit racist because they have a black acquaintance. Well done you.

    Also, I find answering the first couple of inappropriate questions from inappropriate straight people with inappropriate amounts of graphic detail generally puts a stop to them. Fills those awkward dinner party silences too.

  4. It’s like after watching those three episodes of The L Word she got intimidated by lesbian subjectivity and attempted to subvert it into some meaningless thing that she could then attribute to herself.

  5. “I think it’s because they don’t know many lesbians,” Reynolds says. “It’s their way of normalising the situation for everybody.”

    Because nothing normalises a situation like reducing someone’s identity to their sexual orientation!

  6. A. Is this woman serious?

    B. I just can’t be friends with people who want to treat me like her own personal PBS documentary or Smithsonian exhibit.

    C. Seriously, is this woman serious? She didn’t knock her head on the sink in the bathroom getting ready for work then came up with this brilliant article? A concussion is the only legimate thing I can think of to explain away the ridiculousness of this article. That, or gun to the head.

  7. Not gonna lie I found this article pretty funny.. if it had been written by a lesbian everyone would be laughing along at how apt the stereotypes were! I agree that the angle she’s approached it from in making lesbians seem like fashion accessories is patronising and obnoxious but looking on the bright side, considering The Times is a pile of tory crap, at least there’s an article included in it that acknowledges there are lesbians out there in committed relationships with children and white collar jobs and that we can actually fit in quite nicely at middle class dinner parties because we’re not all working as lumberjacks and burning our bras like newspapers like that usually try to portray. I’m not trying to trivialise the issue of the article being incredibly patronising but I do think we all need to lighten up a bit because if you don’t laugh with the joke you basically become the joke.. Just saying…

    • I totally disagree with your last line. I think it’s when you laugh with the joke, even when it’s something that’s presenting lesbians like some kind of zoo attraction or trendy new handbag — I think that’s when you become the joke. Which is not to say that there’s nothing funny about this article, but it’s possible to find things funny and really insulting at the same time, and I’m not sure why we have to do one or the other. I think that laughing with the joke is fine, but if it’s hurting you and you’re not pointing out that, hey, it’s hurting you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

      DOES THAT MAKE SENSE I feel like I never make sense ever. Basically, it’s okay to laugh at shit like this! Just make sure you know exactly why you’re laughing, and why other people might not be.

      • Yeah you’re making sense and you pretty much changed my mind (a bit). I say a bit because I still stand by my belief that if people take themselves too seriously they marginalise themselves more because people feel really edgy around them and it kind of breeds resentment. There’s a massive culture in Britain of piss taking and you have to be able to take it to an extent so long as it isn’t meant in a hurtful way. But I do agree that a joke can go too far and at that point people have a right to step in and be like hey that’s not cool,and i get that for some people here this article has hit that level.

  8. The description of the DJ wearing carhartt jeans had me baffled. I associate carhartt with ranchers or hunters, not DJ’s or people otherwise considered fashionable.

    And those velociraptors are dangerous, never know when a pack of them will hunt you down and turn you gay.

  9. And of course, I always introduce my straight friends by using their sexuality! “Hi, this is my friend Jane, she’s straight.”

  10. I seriously can’t believe this article…. woowww.
    -In all seriousness though I told a few of my “friends” that i was gay and they introduced me as the newly found lesbo… we arent friends anymore( they werent that great besides these comments)
    – aswell I already feel awkward naked with another woman, let alone having every new aquaintance imagining it too….

    ” Times of London”… in the words of Job from arrested development “COME ON!”

  11. If this article were about any other minority group/group of people in general I think readers would NOT be okay with it. Well maybe not “any” but most other groups. Some of those sentences, if you replaced “lesbo” with “negro” could’ve come straight out of the 1950’s/60’s. The next step would be this woman pronouncing that we are “post-sexuality”…

  12. I’ve noticed this myself recently – very eager straight people wanting to hang out – mostly (I suppose I’m cynical) because they want to be able to say ‘i am so totally unprejudiced, i even have GAY friends. look, they’re JUST LIKE US.’ Talk about being recruited into a lifestyle..lol…

  13. British papers always come up with these asinine stereotypes when the weather’s good: it seems it’s the turn of gay women this time but they always identify social groups to parcel up in a ridiculous manner.

    It’s just a piece of idle charicature: it’s annoying and yes, it perpetrates damaging stereotypes, but it’s not meant to be remotely serious. People read it on the beach and feel smug about their social insight, have a chuckle about “how true” it is, or use it to start uncomfortable conversations around the dinner table.

    The Sunday Times is a Murdoch owned paper.

    • Exactly. This article is far more homophobic than it looks at first glance, as is treating lesbians like mascots – almost like they’re pets. Definitely shades of “Some of my very best friends are black” and such.

      There is actually a LONG history of treating minority groups in this way in the West. The first example I can think of off the top of my head occurred when African slaves first arrived in Europe and the upper-class LITERALLY treated them like pets. There are some really disgusting portraits with them posed like dogs next to aristocrats.

      Obviously this situation isn’t nearly as horrific as the one African slaves experienced in the 17th c. but this is an insiduous and highly damaging trope that has been around for a long time and justifies serious discrimination and mistreatment of minority groups.

      I am not at ALL surprised it showed up in a Rupert Murdoch publication – he specializes in this kind of nonsense (and far worse).

  14. I have to just speak in defence of Clare Balding! She is a well known dykeon in the UK, and I am certain that she was not implying the sexuality was a non-issue. She was recently embroiled in a nasty case of homophobia herself, when a columnist made some snide remarks about her sexuality (in the same paper as this article). She took this to the press complaints commission. As she eloquently explains here, this was not really for her benefit, but as by letting this go it would contribute to a general climate of acceptability of casual homophobia:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/clare-balding-homophobia-aa-gill-and-me-2040474.html

    The complaint was indeed upheld. Go Clare!

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