Awareness, Feminism | Posted by Vanessa F on 12/3/2009

Questions about Lesbianism

My name is Vanessa Fernando. I’m a writer, a dark chocolate addict, a vegetarian, a lady-loving lady, a repressed cat lover and an undergrad at McGill University majoring in History and Women’s Studies (which I wish was called Gender Studies). I also love to talk about sex.

Disclaimer: Although this post is about the myths surrounding lesbianism, I don’t identify as a lesbian. I identify as a queer, cissexual (non-transsexual) woman. I decided to use the term “lesbian” here because that is how I am perceived (as a female-bodied woman in a relationship with another female-bodied woman), and because the word carries a lot of stigma. As always, I can only speak from my own experience, and I most definitely do not presume to think that my opinions reflect those of the “GLBTIQ community” as a whole (if it’s even possible to make such a generalization).

Ever since I “came out” to my friends and family, I’ve encountered some pretty interesting questions/assumptions about lesbianism. I’ve decided to address a few of them here. If you have your own experiences to share, or any questions to add, please leave a comment!

“If you’re a lesbian, does that mean you have a crush on me?”

Probably not, since conceit isn’t a trait I find particularly attractive in a partner.

Just because someone is attracted to others of your sex, doesn’t mean that they will be attracted to you! Just as heterosexuals are not attracted to everyone of the opposite gender they see, and bisexuals are not attracted to every single person they come across, homosexuals won’t want to have sex with you just because you happen to possess the genitalia of their choice.

The L Word: Not Quite

The L Word: Not Quite

Lesbians are either “hot” or “manly.”

Ah, the Hot Lesbian. Look, I am guilty of it, too—I’ve seen more than my fair share of L Word episodes (that is not “the way that we live,” Ilene Chaiken), and I have lusted after Bette. But the idea that lesbians can either be “hot” (read: conventionally attractive, according to a certain impossible commercial ideal of beauty) or “manly” (ie. not exhibiting enough “feminine” traits to be socially acceptable) is dumb. Do I really need to say this? That “hot” lesbian probably doesn’t want to sleep with you and/or your bicurious girlfriend. Lesbians who don’t conform to your “feminine ideal” have as much of a right to exist on this planet than you do, and you should take your prejudices and your gender policing elsewhere.

Folks, heterosexual and bisexual and lesbian and asexual and pansexual and queer women come in every size, shape, and colour, just like the rest of the world. Lesbians aren’t here to fulfill your sexual fantasy or be on the receiving end of your gender insecurity.

It’s tempting to create these polarized categories of one thing vs. another, but it’s all a spectrum. Sure, there are some lesbians out there who look like Bette (and if they do, they should send me an email), and some who feel more comfortable with a more “masculine” gender presentation. But there are also a lot of folks in between, who, (like me), might play femme one day, dressing up and wearing makeup, and then go for a more androgynous look the next. Bottom line? Just as there’s no one way for a feminist to look, there’s no one way for a lesbian to look.

“Wow, you’re so lucky to be a lesbian! You already know how to please your girlfriend, because you’ve got the same parts, and you don’t have to worry about safer sex.”

A lot of people assume that, just because I am female-bodied and so is my lover, I will automatically know her body inside out, recognize her arousal response and cues, and know exactly how to respond without having to communicate a single word. The common-sense truth is that everyone’s body is different, and everyone enjoys different things.

As for the safer sex issue, lesbians are not immune to sexually transmitted infections! Lady-loving ladies should still be using latex barriers and getting regular STI tests. I won’t lie, though; not having to worry about birth control is pretty sweet.

Before you make assumptions about the queers in your life, question your own motives first. Are you speaking out of ignorance and fear, or out of a desire to learn something new? Everyone’s experience is different, so you can talk to a thousand lesbians and get a thousand different answers about what their sexual identity means to them. But not only lesbians have sexual orientations—so do heterosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, etc. Start conversations with your friends, regardless of how they identify. That way, you can start destabilizing some of your assumptions about those groups, too—and about yourself.

Vanessa also blogs for Athena Magazine

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  • Ruthie G @ at 11:50 am, December 3rd, 2009

    What is the difference between a lesbian and a queer woman? I’m not saying this because I doubt that there is a difference, I genuinly want to know. Around where I live people use queer as something to use interchangeably with gay, if at all. And from reading comments on here, asking here looks more reliable than using a search engine (can’t think of a way to put that that sounds less suck-up-ish).

  • Deanna @ at 12:22 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    And can you tell me what the “I” and “Q” mean in “GLBTIQ.” I’m starting to have trouble keeping up.

  • Toongrrl @ at 12:47 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    @Deanna I think “I” means Intersexual and maybe “Q” stands for Quadrisexual
    Thanks Vanessa!!! I really like that you wrote this and I like to add another thing: lesbians are all beautiful, no matter what

  • Maren @ at 1:10 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    @Deanna+Toongrrl

    I’ve never seen the I, but I imagine that is what that means. The Q traditionally stands for Queer or Questioning.

    Thanks Vanessa! This article is incredibly insightful. I’m a Queer women as well. One of the biggest issues I have though is the label thing, I don’t feel like the term ‘bisexual’ applies to me. It sounds like I have two sexuality’s, while in reality, I only have mine.

  • Maren @ at 1:15 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    @Ruthie G

    Also, Queer in the LGBTQ community doesn’t really have a set definition. It’s more often used as an umbrella term for the entire community. I self-identify with queer which basically means I don’t fit int o the heteronormative gender binary.
    See, way back in the day ‘Queer’ was a degrading term used by homophobes to marginalize the LGBTQ community. Then the community started self-identifying as queer, changing the connotation to a positive one, thus making the insult ineffective.

  • Laura @ at 2:30 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    Yes, “I” stands for Intersex, and “Q” stands for “Queer” or “Questioning.”

    Like Maren, I am uncomfortable with the word “bisexual” for myself, so I use “queer.” Bisexual doesn’t fit, since I’m often attracted to people who don’t fit into the gender binary. Pansexual sounds very clinical to me and just doesn’t feel right. Since I’ve always seen myself as a person who doesn’t fit into social norms (not just in terms of sexual orientation), “queer” fits me very well.

    At my college, people use “queer” to refer to anyone who isn’t cisgendered, heterosexual, and monogamous, since we have added a lot more letters to our acronym in order to be inclusive. When the accepted acronym is “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamourous, Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism (LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM)” using the acronym doesn’t work very well anymore. So we just say “queer.”

  • Kat R @ at 2:32 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    Thanks for posting this! I think by putting the information out there, we can minimize the negative effect of stereotypes :D

  • K8 AH @ at 7:44 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    Great post! I definitely agree that one of the most obnoxious views that those with narrow heteronomative perspectives have is: Lesbian/Bisexual women = want to put the moves on EVERY female! Seriously!!!

  • thatdude @ at 8:34 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    Once a lesbian confided in me that all they really want is penis without the macho attitude, that why you use strap-ons. I feel very sorry for you, you gave up to early, lates :)

  • Lauren @ at 9:01 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    bi pride!

    :D

  • Kati @ at 9:16 pm, December 3rd, 2009

    Great post!

    @K8 AH, I agree, another one is that one man who assumes that you’ll get one of your ‘hot’ friends and go to bed with him. Bisexuality is just to turn the dudes on don’t ya know.

  • Steph @ at 10:53 am, December 4th, 2009

    @Ruthie: ‘Queer’ doesn’t really have a set definition.
    Personally, as a generally lady-loving person whose gender expression confuses the fuck out of most people, I identify as queer. It tends to be a personal identity thing, IME.
    @Deanna: I stands for ‘Intersex’ and Q stands for either ‘Queer’ or ‘Questioning’.

    Also, Vanessa, great post. I, too, identify as queer, and it was nice to read about other people’s experiences and thoughts.
    Just a side note: do you actually identify as cis? I’ve never met anyone who actually does, and for whom being cis is an integral part of their identity. I’d love to hear your take on that.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 11:05 am, December 5th, 2009

    Lesbians are either “hot” or “manly.”

    I think that comes from the attempt to reconcile the sexes. It’s no secret that many very attractive men are bi/gay, sooo it would make sense that many very attractive women would be bi/lesbians

    …or Men really are from Mars, Women from Venus (Implying that the sexes are not as similar as one would believe).

    That’s not to say that all gay men are pretty, they are not, as a matter of fact there is an entire sub-culture of “bears”, very “manly ” gay men who get very little press.

    This could be where sexism comes into play in sexual orientation – “manly” lesbians get most of the press leading to the

    “She’s not attractive enough to get a man, so she became a lesbian”, and a feminist, because everybody knows all feminists are lesbians(sic) stereotype.

    South Africans attempt to “correct” lesbianism via gang rape as it’s considered insulting that a desirable women would choose to be with another women rather than them.

    You will note that their is no tribe of women anywhere on the planet that attempt to “fix” gay men via gang rape.

  • toongrrl @ at 8:25 pm, December 6th, 2009

    @Maran
    Thanks for correcting me on “Q”

  • body loving blogosphere 12.06.09 @ at 11:52 pm, December 6th, 2009

    [...] fbomb, Questions about Lesbianism [...]

  • Moria @ at 1:44 am, December 8th, 2009

    I think it’s interesting (though not surprising) that you’re perceived as lesbian, Vanessa. I’ve noticed this in my personal experience, and it’s difficult, at least for me, to have part of my identity erased in others’ eyes if I’m either with a man or a woman. It would be really great if people could recognize that sexuality isn’t so black-and-white, and that just because I’m with a guy doesn’t make me heterosexual…

    Also, the “you must like me, right?” thing is SOOO annoying! Seriously, it’s not as if men assume all straight women like them (and if they do assume that, well, that’s a bit surprising, and probably inaccurate!).

  • dana_mai @ at 11:11 am, December 17th, 2009

    In the interest of full disclosure, i’ll admit that i haven’t told everyone in my life that i’m interested in the same sex. But, i did open up to a few choice friends. My best friend accepted me completely and (thankfully) did not assume that i wanted to get in her pants. Before i had told anyone my secret, i was deathly afraid of hearing the same assumptions verbalized that you’ve listed here. I can’t tell you how relieved, and lucky, i was that my friends did not repeat them.

  • A @ at 8:46 pm, April 26th, 2011

    @Vanessa- great article! but I still don’t understand the different between a queer woman and a lesbian. I apologize for my ignorance on this issue. Thank you!

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