- Smashing the Stereotypes: The L in LGBT+
All of the articles in this series have been written with the help of interviews conducted with LGBT+ people. This series is about trying to break down existing LGBT+ stereotypes, to give some insight into different LGBT+ identities and to discuss the struggles some LGBT+ people face. While stereotypes are based loosely on truth, they’re just a way to put people into boxes and limit people’s views of LGBT+ people. Of course, this is based on responses from about 20 people, so not comprehensive by any means, but a good starting point for discussion!
‘L’ stands for Lesbian. Those I talked to were either cisgendered and lesbian, or gender-fluid and lesbian.
On difficulties being LGBT+, they tended to mostly be centred around other people’s stereotypes and questions about them, or people just not understanding. Difficulties were often around people over-sexualising lesbians, one person kissed her girlfriend in a club and everyone started watching them as if it was “some sort of show”. They said that it’s super common to be asked questions like “So who’s the man in your relationship?”, “How do you know you don’t like penis unless you’ve tried it?”, or “How can you have sex with a girl?” To quote one person interviewed, “If you think ramming your penis repeatedly into a woman is the only way you can have sex with her then you’re doing it wrong!” Overall, difficulties seemed to be about other people’s perceptions of lesbians, and how they react.
Worries people had around coming out were, surprisingly, often to do with the word ‘lesbian’. A common response was that they hadn’t fully accepted it themselves yet, they’d tried to suppress it or they hadn’t known that being lesbian was something they could be. For people who presented as more masculine, they found that people in their lives weren’t surprised, whereas it was the opposite for more feminine people, which just shows how ingrained into society the stereotype of ‘lesbians are butch’ is. The people interviewed seemed not to have big dramatic stories about coming out, it was all very calm and casual. That isn’t to say that everyone has a smooth coming out, or to undermine how difficult coming out can be. The biggest worry was people just not wanting their friends and family to see them any differently, for them to not be excluded or for people to not want to be their friend anymore.
When it came to specific stereotypes people had faced, the most common by far was being classified as ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ – the former being a more masculine way of dressing, the latter being overly feminine (also known as a lipstick lesbian).. Some enjoy that, and almost encourage it, while others have changed their appearance accordingly to have a more androgynous look. Commonly, ‘femme’ lesbians are told they’re “too pretty to be a lesbian”, which just enforces the stereotype that all lesbians are ‘butch’ when in fact lesbians look like all kinds of people! ‘Butch’ lesbians are often assumed to be gay from the outset, whereas ‘femme’ lesbians are straight until proven gay. Another stereotype often placed on people is that if they cut their hair, for example, people would assume that they were ‘no longer a lesbian’, that they wanted to be male instead. People often assume ‘femme’ lesbians aren’t actually gay, that they’re just saying it to stop guys from flirting with them, and also lesbians are heavily stereotyped as being attracted to every woman they see just because they happen to be gay.
Probably one of the biggest stereotypes about lesbians is that they’re man-haters when in fact, the majority of people I talked to openly told me that they’re feminists, and definitely not man-haters! “Lesbians don’t hate men, lesbians hate men who won’t accept their lesbianism and try to sleep with them anyway.” When I asked about aspects of the community they’d like to change, it was unanimous that they wanted the community to have less stereotyping, especially towards bisexual people.
So, which stereotypes seemed true and others not so much? I talked to a mixture of people, some ‘butch’, some ‘femme’, but others who weren’t overly masculine or feminine, and some who were androgynous, so I think it’s safe to say the whole ‘all lesbians are butch or femme’ stereotype isn’t true. Same for lesbians all hating men, as well as one person being the man in the relationship – not one person said they’d had that in a relationship. In fact, they all complained about people asking who was the man (the point of being a lesbian is there ISN’T a man!). Nobody wanted to ‘try it with a man’ to check they were gay, and actually nobody was that into sports or had found out their being lesbian was a phase. But the plaid shirt thing, that’s definitely legitimate.