What Does a Lesbian Look Like?: The Autostraddle Roundtable

Brooke:brooke-disco

I pass as straight everywhere. I mean, even when I go to lesbian bars/events and LGBT organization shindigs for promoting, networking and the extensive market research I have to perform for Autostraddle, I’m usually approached at least once throughout the night by someone asking me if I’m straight. I find this to be a problem as it shows queer women feed into this stereotype in some ways as much as the rest of society does.

When people find out I work with Autostraddle, they’ll often ask me if I’m gay. I usually say, “Does it matter?”, wait for their mumbled/uncomfortable response and then let them know. However, I take this as a positive since it means they potentially view the demographic is legitimate enough for someone who is possibly heterosexual to be working on a business targeting it. I don’t bring my sexuality up to most people unless they ask or I think it would serve a purpose.  Often, the easiest way to defy a stereotype on the micro level is to let people feel comfortable and then bring it up.

Re-reading this, I see a contrast between going to LGBT events where people ask me if I’m straight and when I talk to people about Autostraddle who ask me if I’m gay.  I’m not sure what to make of that yet, I’ll think about it and get back to you all.

In the end, I’ve personally encountered very little negative response as a result of my sexuality on an individual level. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that every day I’m made more aware of the lack of rights we have as a group and the detrimental social, political and cultural ramifications homophobia and inequality both in this country and abroad are bringing on us.  And yes, it is our job to change this.

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KatrinaKatrina:

When I came out at 16, I promised myself that I would never become one of ‘those’ lesbians. I wasn’t really sure what that meant exactly, but I knew that I didn’t want to be identifiable. Something about how I liked being a surprise or whatever; I liked to defy people’s expectations. This is funny because, without any conscious effort, three years later I’ve become the short-haired, lip-ringed, plaid-and-skinny-jeans-wearing punk I am today. In fact, it was once been said to me, “Katrina Casino, you walk into a room, and it’s like a rainbow carpet has been rolled out in front of you. It’s just like, ‘LESBIAN!.'”

My gay best friend (GBF) is something of a femme lesbian. Last year we both participated in a friend’s project for her gender and sexuality class, and footage of us speaking was played to random people to guess whether we were gay or straight. As I apparently am the blazing becon of lesbianism on American University’s campus, everyone pinned me, obvs, and that was fine. But the most revealing comments came when people tried to guess her sexuality. Apparently she wasn’t a lesbian because she was cute or pretty. She looked like she took care of herself, and she wore makeup.

Girls who pass get written off as biddies; girls with swagger get privilege, but not attention.

katrinaFor some reason telling a girl that she’d be able to “pass” for straight was some sort of compliment.

Upon getting to college, I tried to reverse the trend. Being able to “pass” may have been aesthetically appealing, but being a lesbian with an androgynous appearance was a major way to access power. Girls who pass get written off as biddies; girls with swagger get privilege, but not attention.

Being a lesbian has allowed me to interpret femininity through a totally different lens. From the days of my tomboyhood, I’ve gotten to redefine what it means to be a girl. Trying to strike a balance between butch and femme in my appearance was exhausting, and I finally realized that I didn’t need to try to “look” like a woman or a lesbian, because I was already both those things.

So yes, I am a woman, though unconventionally so. And yes, I am a lesbian, perhaps conventionally so. But what’s that to anyone? The idea of looking like a woman or looking like a lesbian are based on outdated gender stereotypes and roles, and sometimes all I want is to wear my American Apparel (unisex) boy briefs.

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154 Comments

  1. I am coming to this late, real late..i think all of us have to look at others and accept them for whatever..personally i hate the use of partner..i have a partner in another country and he and i collaborate on our art and teaching every single day..i am sure his wife has no idea…it makes no diff..we are true partners in the best sense of the word..as to looks..some in my community look stereotypical but never seen ties…never..i am a tomboy but always very casual but nice casual…no belts ( reminds me of work when I worked) and no slacker clothes…and i wear short hair and nails…i am a swimmer and have been for many years….have very wavy thick hair..long hair is not an option and nails are killed in the chlorine. Here in Canada, no one asks…it is rude anyway…love whomever and screw all stereotypes!( PS most people even the gay ones do not think I look enough gay) LOL!

  2. I have the opposite problem. I am a ‘bi’ girl i hate that label but I do like men and women. I feel like straight people think i’m ‘too gay’ coz i like rainbows and *shock, horror* kiss my girlfirend in public, and gay people think i’m too fem /straight coz i wear dresses have long hair and have only had one gf.

    Its rediculous, if i’d never had a boyfriend i still think i’d struggle to fit in any box, i like outdoor adventure sports, bugs dont scare me, neither does mud, wrestling (arm or not) is fun and I love a bit of banter (along with lots of my other ‘masculine traits’ but I have long blonde hair, wear make-up (some of the time), and love my pretty dresses, tight clothing and skirts.

    So stuff if with boxes and label, i think while they can be helpful there are often limiting and exclusionary and we are never going to full live up to what they perscribe.

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  4. I love this article because it’s so varied: I also love what Riese says about ” We’re talking about wearing a dress on Monday and a tie on Tuesday”, because that completely sums up my gender presentation! While my gender stays (fairly!) constant at female, my expression is super fluid, and I definitely am more androgynous on some days and more femme on others. Thanks!

  5. As a nearly androgynous transwoman who identifies as lesbian this was always a problem for me. There is a tendency to be mistaken for an effeminate gay male, butch female or just plain vanilla male depending on the day.

    I have found that people tend to signal their sexual identity most reliably in very subtle ways that have more to do with body language, mannerisms, spoken language on an interpersonal level rather than mere fashion. You have to own your own identity and project it as best you can all the time to find the ones who will really love you for who you are. We all exist on a spectrum and it is a wide one.

    As others have commented, it shouldn’t matter if the whole world knows your preference, just the ones your interested in.

  6. I’m still trying to accept myself as more gay-leaning than bisexual at this point in my life. Along with that comes issues of how I present myself. The good news is, I’m getting more comfortable with just being myself! This article was a nice reminder that I don’t have to look any one way, and I can just be myself (and that it’s okay for that to change as I change – it’s all valid). Thanks for that. <3

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