A while back, I stumbled on an article labelled ‘Things No One Tells You About Being a Lesbian’. It talked about problems and experiences faced exclusively by lesbians, and whilst some of it was accurate and applied generally to being a queer woman, much of it didn’t quite sit right. Looking back, this was because being a lesbian, like any identity, isn’t a universal experience.
Different cultures, races, countries, socio-economic classes – so many things affect what it’s like to be gay. In my case, as a relatively masculine presenting woman, what I didn’t identify with in the article was often the more feminine aspects. Masculine (‘butch’) women have contrasting experiences of being gay compared to their ‘femme’ counterparts, mainly because they are treated in different ways and have different struggles. So, without further ado, here are some problems no one tells you about being masc/butch or femme.
For masculine women, coming out as gay is often met with little surprise. You were probably a tomboy as a child and just never ‘grew out’ of that phase as most did, preferring to wear a suit to school prom. This means the homophobia might even start before you come out. I started hearing those slurs aged eleven but only came out at sixteen, but when I did eventually come out it was met with little resistance or shock. The path is much harder for feminine women however, as people often assume that you are straight (and then sometimes forget you are – almost making you a Schrodinger’s gay?), and therefore the reaction you are faced with is much worse. One of the most difficult and most dangerous versions of this is coming out when asked out by a guy.
Clothes and Gender Presentation
Clothing companies really need to make men’s clothing in smaller sizes. Most women’s clothing is too feminine for me, and as I’m on the shorter side, finding men’s clothing that fits properly is very difficult, to the extent that most of what I wear comes from the boys’ section. For butch women, finding clothes that fit well is very difficult. As butch women (cis or trans) can experience gender dysphoria, dressing to suit gender identity is important! There’s also something quite entertaining about being in your twenties and people mistaking you for a thirteen-year-old boy – leading to a whole world of possibilities for cheap public transport. Feminine presenting women might find finding clothing easier, but equally, it can still be hard to properly express yourself. Femme women often subvert feminine clothing expectations rather than adhere to them, and so clothing made for the ‘straight’ market doesn’t always quite work for them either. On a more superficial level, lesbian couples that are femme/femme and masc/masc are very, very good at accidentally wearing the same outfit. Especially if you borrow clothes from your partner, which almost certainly happens.
There has been a definite increase in LGBTQ+ representation in the media. Think Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn 99 and films like Moonlight; lesbian representation is a mixed bag but improving, with harmful stereotypes being broken down in shows like Orange is the New Black. There is, however, still a general trend for the couples shown to be butch/femme couples, reinforcing traditional heteronormative ideas and not representing femme/femme and butch/butch couples. Where butch/butch couples are represented, it is often in the form of rampant stereotypes (brash and rowdy butch anyone?) which really doesn’t help educate the public. Femme/femme couples are shown more, but there’s always the worry that they are shown through the ‘male gaze’ and primarily for men, rather than for the women who need the representation.
Ah, the big one. Homophobia can be very different depending on how you present yourself. For a masculine person, homophobia is more of an everyday experience, and mainly appearance-based along with behaviour stereotypes. If you ‘conform’ more to gender norms, you’re more likely to only face homophobia once you’ve come out, and especially when you have a partner. There’s also the fun chance that you might befriend people who are homophobic, leading to a lot of indirect gay ‘jokes’. As I’ve already mentioned, some men don’t take your rejection of them very well, and there are some who see feminine lesbians as a ‘challenge’ to turn straight.
That might seem like an awful lot of problems just for dressing and acting in a certain way, and it is. But presenting as you want can be liberating, and makes most difficulties really worth it.