First published in The Independent Friday 13th December 2013
My girlfriend and I were finishing our drinks in a pub in Cardiff. We shared a brief kiss and got up to leave. I was half-way to the door when I realised that a group of men were loudly applauding us and one was filming on his phone.
The incident wasn’t just intimidating. As a woman in a lesbian relationship, it made me feel that my girlfriend and I were being considered ‘entertainment’ by these men. Like we were something exotic from a porn set. Like our affection for each other existed for the personal pleasure of those outside our relationship.According to female friends who are also in relationships with women, these aren’t isolated incidents. Comments like “can I get in on that?” or “I’d pay to see a bit more of that” when we kiss are just as threatening and unpleasant as homophobic name-calling. These statements devalue the relationship. They make it into a sexy show that’s put on for the satisfaction of others. Since when does this happen with heterosexual couples?
I think this occurs because we like to put people in boxes, and we get annoyed when this doesn’t work out. Elizabeth, 23, says “it’s like people feel uncomfortable if they can’t pick out those who are gay in a crowd according to their own stereotypes”.
It seems that there’s still a lot of rigid stereotyping going on when it comes to queer women and what they should look like. Lesbians who look more masculine or androgynous are more easily recognised as gay, but being traditionally feminine-looking means that people don’t know until you start holding your girlfriend’s hand or publically displaying affection. I find it very strange that there are expectations regarding how a lesbian or a woman in a lesbian relationship ‘should’ dress or present themselves. Surely queer women are just like all other women, varied and all unique.
This seems to be an issue that has seeped into the LGBT community itself. Poppy, 21, says “I was in a bar in Manchester’s gay district and another lesbian asked me to prove my sexuality by getting off with her friend. They didn’t believe I was gay because I didn’t look a certain way.”
Statistics from the ONS indicate that more than twice as many men identify as gay than women. Is this because there genuinely aren’t very many lesbians out there? Perhaps feeling intimidated by inappropriate comments or like you have to look a certain way to identify as a lesbian has something to do with the relatively low numbers of young women coming out.
This kind of ‘lesbophobia’ is alive and well, but gains are being made for the LGBT community. Last week, the Montreal bar Le Manoir issued an official apology to a lesbian couple who were asked to leave the establishment because they were kissing. It’s important for queer women to feel accepted and comfortable in public, unafraid that they will be the target of sexualised remarks or the institutional homophobia demonstrated by the manager of Le Manoir. I’d like more lesbians and particularly more ‘feminine’ lesbians to feel comfortable coming out. I’d also like guys to stop catcalling or clapping me and my other half when we go for a drink. Yes, we’re wearing dresses and no, you can’t get in on that.