Years ago, when I was but a young budding queer lady, I worked quite hard on my queer getup. As a long-haired makeup-wearing be-skirted member of the female gender, previously in possession of a beloved boyfriend, my street cred was constantly in question. I showed up to parties populated by lezzies and received cold shoulders and withering stares – one alpha lesbian would often ask, very much within earshot, “Who invited her?”
Not being accepted by my own damn peer group was a new and deeply unpleasant experience, so I immediately set to work lesbonifying myself. I remember one outfit in particular that was a hit – army green shortalls (crotch cut out so it was more like a minidress with a bib), ripped fishnets, green combat boots, tube top. Even when attempting to be butch, I still couldn’t stop myself from adding things like tights and tube tops to the equation.
I no longer have to prove myself in this way, partly due to the fact that I’ve been dating women for so long that everyone has accepted that I am not some kind of Benedict Arnold. But the rejection I experienced still smarts – and it still exists in gay communities everywhere for non-mainstream queers. Just try changing your gender, or being bisexual, and watch as your previously-accepting social circle turns their backs.
Melanie from silly wrong but vivid right* has smart things to say (and good advice) about lesbian fashion, and how mandatory aesthetic conformity is just plain backward, so read on:
Hey, Sarah’s blog friends :) so you may remember, a short while ago, Sarah wrote a guest post on my blog. Well, here I am, returning the … I was going to say favour, but actually it was a privilege to have Sarah write a blog for me, and it’s a privilege to appear on hers. I’ve known, and admired the lovely Sarah for her writing for many years now (how time flies!) and am excited that our wee blog worlds can cross like this.
I was a little stuck on which angle to go with, and so asked Sarah for a little guidance, and this is what she said:
“How does being “femme” change your lesbian identity? (or something like that). You know, how do you deal with people who assume you are straight, or other lesbians who questions your “street cred” because you dress in girly getups, etc.”
So here’s my attempt at a response:
“I need to go shopping” I said to my friend Jo. She is the leader in all things fashionable, and she’s one of my few straight friends. Actually, she’s the fiancée of my Very Best Friend Ever, Chris. What I believe Americans would call a BFF? I learned that from Paris Hilton. Already, I’m digressing. I shouldn’t write blogs on Monday mornings.
So for the short while that I lived with Chris and Jo a few months back, I was well dressed. Jo works in events and so therefore ‘knows’ all the right people, and often attends fashionable parties in the city on roof tops with hot tubs. She wouldn’t ever wear the same dress twice. Her wardrobe is immense! Whenever I was off out for the night, she’d send me in to it to pick something. Thanks be to the lord that we are the same size.
I often try to manufacture my look a little too much, rather than just going with instincts. Quite often, while getting dressed, I’d ask her opinion:
“Jo, do I look too lesbian?”
“Melanie, you are a lesbian.”
“Jo, do I look too girly?”
“Melanie, you are a girl.”
It’s hard work, being a girl, and a lesbian all at once.
Back to the original point though – over cocktails one night a few weeks back, I mentioned that I needed to shop. She waited for me to suggest a time and place, and I had to tell her that this wasn’t one for her. The intention of this shopping trip was to lesbonify myself.
Manchester Pride (also known as ‘Gay Christmas’) was fast approaching, and just a couple of nights before I’d had to defend my lesbian status to a gay guy, in a bar called G-A-Y (!!) who then went and retrieved one of his ‘proper’ lesbian friends to get confirmation that “this one’s straight, yeah?” The girl with the Ice-White-funky-Mohawk/Mullet-combo confirmed. Despite my shaking my head at her in a very disapproving manner. She was hot – but she pissed me off.
I think I may have been born without the chip that sets other peoples gaydars off, and the fact that I like to wear makeup and pretty clothes doesn’t do a lot to help this. I should mention that my gaydar is finely tuned, and quite often I spot the ones disguised as ‘real girls’.
But, for Pride, I intended to get chatted up. I was going to give in, and put on the uniform. Jo was having none of this, she didn’t want to hear my protests, and told me that I shouldn’t ugly myself up to get a girl. Her words, not mine. Chris also chimed in with a little wisdom; “Mel, dress for your personality, not your sexuality.” I know, I know. I hate it when other people are right. Because to be honest, I’m not going to feel myself, or beautiful, wearing clothes that aren’t my style. I walk taller, with a straighter back and my legs look better in heels. In stompy boots, I stomp, I swagger. My tummy looks bigger. Stop laughing, it’s true.
Years ago, I had a big drove of babbling gay boy friends, who I used to go out and misbehave with every weekend. I was often assumed to be their Fag Hag. I bought myself a little black vest top, and some iron-on diamantes, and emblazoned the top with the letters F, A and G. People didn’t get it.
This seems archaic to me, to write all of this. Lipstick Lesbos (ugh, I really, really hate that term!) … beautiful lesbians, have been around for so long now, they exist in hoards, I know loads of them, they are everywhere. Lesbians are no longer only overweight butchies with crew cuts and neck ties, who will only ever be seen darkened in bars far off the beaten track. We now exist in the form of beauties such as Portia de Rossi (who I’m pretty sure the world is still waiting on to get over her ‘phase’.) Shows such as The L Word and Lip Service show us lesbians in the image that they really are – diverse. So I can’t work out why it is that my own community have a problem with accepting my sexuality without me wearing it like a badge. Straight people, although often with a flicker of surprise, don’t seem to have the same problem when I reveal myself to them – but the gayers; they just don’t get it.
I get the cultural/sociological thing; that people need to ‘belong’ to their group, that their identity is as a part of that group and that they want to wear this on the outside, to be recognised by others for their ‘belonging’ – but surely we’ve moved on from that? Surely with the ‘out and proud’ diversity that exists in the more civilised parts of the world today, we can all just be who we are without having to learn secret bloody handshakes?
Sexuality should be about just that; sexuality, not fashion. There is only one thing that makes me gay, and that’s the fact that I’m attracted to women. I’ll keep on with that line of thought in that hope that others will too, and that this changing world will continue to evolve in to something that allows us to remain the individuals that we are.
And wear high heels.
* My mysterious and hip British pen pal – she sends me handwritten letters! That means, among other things, that she is nearly single-handedly propping up the US Postal Service, for which we should all be grateful.
Additional VERY IMPORTANT but completely unrelated footnote: It is exactly one month until my birthday. AHEM. Just so you know.