So same-sex marriage has just been granted in England and Wales and hopefully Scotland will be soon to follow. I know that the bill is far from perfect and there are a lot of improvements which could have been made here, but that’s a subject for another blog. In light of this turn of events, I think it’s appropriate to congratulate everyone who has been involved in making this important piece of history possible. Especially the many strong, amazing and inspiring queer women, who have been tirelessly campaigning to make marriage equality a reality. After all, we are one big united community… gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer and trans* women. However we wish to identify ourselves, we all stand together, supporting each other in the face of discrimination we experience in our everyday lives. We are welcoming and accepting. We don’t belittle or judge each other, and we embrace and celebrate the things that make us different… right?
You only have to look at Diva magazine’s blog, Everyday Lesbophobia (http://everydaylesbo.com/) for a plethora of examples of women being harassed in the street, jeered and intimidated for daring to express who they are. If you want to depress yourself even further, check out the twitter page @EverydayLesboph. However, the even more worrying fact that has come to my attention recently, is that some of the ugliest examples of persecution and discrimination come from within our own community. Yes folks, the ugly truth is that in reality, lesbians can be misogynists too! Recently I’ve heard so many disturbing stories from friends and acquaintances that it’s really starting to make feel sick! Over the last few days, I’ve been asking women to share their stories and experiences with me, and here are the results.
Across the board, the most common example was of women being verbally harassed by nightclub door staff and other lesbians for “not looking gay enough!” I know that society likes to perpetuate a certain stereotype that we are all big giant hairy man-haters who dress like blokes and swig beer (and for those of us who do fit that stereotype, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it), but excuse me for being naive in thinking that our community was a bit more open minded than the rest of the general public.
Two friends shared similar stories from living in different cities (London and Manchester) with supposedly large, vibrant and diverse LGBT scenes. Groups of more feminine looking women being refused entry to a gay bar and being subject to comments from the bouncers such as “are you lost?” “Do you know that this is a gay bar?” “You’ll be eaten alive in there,” and “We don’t do hen parties” (I know… what the fuck?!?) among some of the particularly lovely ones. On both occasions, the groups were only allowed entry to the venues when a “gayer” e.g. butcher looking friend/girlfriend appeared to question where their friends had disappeared to. Some examples I heard were just plain ridiculous e.g. you’re not a “proper lesbian” if you’ve never seen the L word. Even more bizarre in my opinion, “I once dated a woman who always introduced me to her friends as straight – because I didn’t look gay!”
Then there are the more sinister examples. One quote I received disturbed me even more…
“I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been verbally abused for not looking gay enough… then there was the time I was punched in the face.”
This type of behaviour is degrading, wholly unacceptable and disgusting!
Am I misunderstanding the point of open and friendly LGBT inclusive spaces? I didn’t realise that femmes were second class citizens who need to be chaperoned by a butch daddy in order to enjoy a night out on the town… as a lady slightly on the butcher side, I don’t experience this problem, but I still find it incredibly offensive. This opinion feeds into the idea that two feminine women who are part of a couple aren’t “real” lesbians; that they are teasing, only there to be ogled for the pleasure and titillation of men. This therefore gives men the right to harass them, make inappropriate comments and ask if they can “join in.” Reading many of the comments on Everyday Lesbophobia, it would appear that many of us have come to expect this sort behaviour from men when out in public. However, I find it sad, confusing and even more surprising to learn that such ignorance can sometimes be perpetuated by other women. This type of prejudice is experienced by some women in our community to a greater extent than others – in particular, those who identify as bisexual or pansexual.
Those who identify into these groups have told me that they are often eyed with suspicion from within the community, and as such find it difficult to fit in. These women are often not taken seriously as it’s assumed that they are only “out for a fling” because “being straight has got a bit boring this week.” A few women told me that women they speak to on the scene think they must be in the closet, since “all bisexuals are just afraid to come out,” either that, or they’re all just “in denial.”
One of the most striking examples comes from a good friend of mine, who brought her boyfriend along to an equal marriage campaign event. “How can you fight for what you’re fighting for when you have a boyfriend?” she was asked by a complete stranger. A complete stranger who knows nothing about her circumstances and experiences, and who really has absolutely no right to make comment. I mean, why would a woman with a boyfriend want to campaign for equal marriage? Aside from the fact that she might think it’s the right thing to do, what does it matter if she happens to be with a man and happens to have the right to choose if she wants to marry him. However if she equally happened to be with a woman, that right would be denied to them. Why should something as trivial as gender have such a massive impact on the outcome of a person’s relationship, especially when gender doesn’t matter in that person’s heart?
Coming out as L,G,B,T, Queer etc. is not the same experience for everyone. However, many of us find it frightening and intimidating, especially with the prospect that we might be rejected by those closest to us. As a 25 year-old that came out at aged 13, a lot of that process seems like a distant memory, but I still remember the first time I went to a gay bar. I was underage, it was during the day and there were a grand total of about 8 people in there – most of them middle aged men. Regardless, I still remember it to be one of the most frightening and intimidating experiences of my teenage years. I’m now trying to imagine how frightening and traumatic this experience might have been, was I a young feminine lesbian, barely out of the closet, going for my first night out in a lesbian bar… only to be heckled at the door and told I wasn’t allowed to come in because I didn’t “look the right way.” After all, many of us want to experience that feeling that we belong somewhere, be it in our families, homes, friendship circles and wider communities. However most of us have a greater expectation of finding that sense of belonging among our LGBT communities.
Speaking of LGBT spaces not being inclusive, I (perhaps controversially) think that this should also apply to straight people. Yes, I live in lesbo land, but many of my nearest and dearest do not. However, if for example it happens to be my birthday, and I want to go out and celebrate in a gay bar… how dare my straight best friends want to come along and celebrate with me? Naturally, depending on the door staff, they are not always welcome.
Maybe this big happy queer bubble only exists in my head, where everything is a bit like pride. Everyone is happy and smiley, there’s lots of glitter and everyone looks fabulous and embraces each other. Why can’t we be more inclusive and welcoming of everyone who wants to be associated with our community? Why can’t we welcome each other with open arms? When we experience such persecution and discrimination from the wider world, why do we feel the need to propagate it among ourselves? This is particularly important for the younger members of our community who might not yet feel so certain about how to define their sexuality or gender identify.
None of us are the same, but our differences are something that I think we should be celebrating! We need to look past all the labels and remember all the things which we do have in common. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, lesbian, bi, pan, trans*, queer, asexual or any other minority identity. We all have a slightly different experience to bring to the table and we all know something about experiencing prejudice –especially if you are a woman. We should be working together to tackle homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, queerphobia, lesbophobia sexism and misogyny – not excluding each other on the basis of meaningless labels. Inside, we are all strong and fabulous – isn’t that enough?