So here’s the thing: I like women. Sorry boys, this prime cut of Welsh beef is off the shelves. It’s alright though, I’m not one of those lesbians – you know the sort – short hair, flannel shirt, never seen a razor. I’m reliably informed that I’m what’s called a ‘femme’ – the feminine looking OK sort of lesbian – I’ve got blonde hair past my shoulders, don’t leave the house without at least mascara, and mainly wear dresses. It doesn’t mean your mum will be any happier that I’m dating her daughter, but it does mean she’ll find it easier to pretend that we’re just good friends.
Alright, calm down, I was kidding. I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ sort of lesbian – any amount of flannel a girl chooses to wear, gay or straight is fine by me. And when it comes to the term “femme”, I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee*. Why? Because of what it implies. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s take a trip down memory lane to visit a younger, more impressionable Beci, then less at ease with her fantastic self. As a sixteen year old slowly coming to the realisation that I might not be as straight as my other lady friends (it took me long enough – in primary school I was obsessed with Jo from S Club 7 – who could possibly have known?), the only concept I had of a lesbian was that typically “masculine” stereotype.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t identify with her; in fact, I was frightened of being perceived in that way, and so I did my utmost to prevent that from happening. Over the next few years, I grew my hair long, plastered on the foundation and ditched the baggy jeans in favour of little dresses (ok, the jeans probably needed to go anyway). “Finally” I said to myself, peering into the full length mirror, “That’s a woman.” Did I really think that dressing “feminine” was going to change the way others perceived me? How sweet.
If you live in a liberal bubble, it’s easy to be ignorant of the difficulties faced by gay people living outside of it. On campus here in Edinburgh, for example, I’ve never once been berated whilst holding my girlfriend’s hand in public (I mean, we do get the odd double take every now and again, but that’s mainly because we look FABULOUS). But off campus, it’s a different story. In my hometown, Cardiff, I used to get jeered at in the street on a regular basis for holding my then girlfriend’s hand, men twice our age would ask us to kiss in front of them for their pleasure, and on one occasion, an old man started stalking us in a park, hoping to catch a glimpse of something “sexy”. The sad truth is for much of society, there are two types of lesbian: the Dyke and the Pornstar. One, the man repeller, the other, there for his satisfaction. And so by “femming up”, to avoid the former stereotype, I was playing right into the hands of the latter.
As a society, we love to categorise. Maybe it’s because of our low attention spans, or the fact that it’s just difficult to understand people sometimes, but we have this inherent need to place everyone neatly in their boxes, “Freyja’s a femme, so she’s into girly things, but Fiona’s a butch, so she wants to look like a man.” This is all very convenient for the onlooker, but for the person who’s trying to fit themselves into that box, it’s a problem. As human beings, we don’t work that way – we can’t contort ourselves to requirement, and so by trying to do so, we inevitably end up damaged.
What may be surprising to some is that this problem is prevalent within the gay community itself. I’ve never met with more shock at my sexuality as from other gay women. Girls have asked me, “Are you lost? You know this is a gay club, right?”, whilst others just assume I’ve come with my gay friends, a “fag hag” as Lily Allen so eloquently put it. And isn’t that sad? Doesn’t that show a huge limitation on the perception of what a lesbian can be? That it is shocking that you cannot surmise my sexuality simply from my appearance is testament to the fact that many in the gay community accept this quality of “other” that has been unceremoniously bestowed upon them. Implying that gay people – male, female, transgender – are inherently “different” from the rest of society is such an outdated notion that it makes me cringe.
It took me the longest time to realise that sexuality has nothing to do with appearance and gender stereotypes. I could be the most “masculine” looking girl on the planet, and still love the D. And when I finally stepped back and realised that, I felt a little ashamed. Who decided what “feminine” was, anyway, and why was I trying so desperately to meet that standard, instead of living up to my own? I do not believe that the archetypal ‘woman’ has the monopoly on femininity. If being feminine is really just about growing your hair out and squeezing into dresses then I’m sorry, but I’m not a femme.
*Maxim for life: Always slip in a bit of Shakespeare where possible to demonstrate how cultured you truly are.
Beci Moss is a second year student at Edinburgh University. She studies French and Philosophy. She is Welsh. She is also a huge fan of Iggy Azalea – although if we’re honest she thinks that now Azalea has hit the mainstream it’s unlikely that she’ll reach the heights of tracks such as My World and Pu$$y. Pu$$y was great – wasn’t it?
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