The assumption of heterosexuality is twofold when you're a feminine lesbian: it comes from both the straight and the gay communities. And you know what they say when you assume: you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me." Gay men often proclaim, "But you're too pretty to be gay!" Lesbians look at you like you do not belong. Straight men try their very best to convince you that if you sleep with them, they'll open your eyes to what you've been missing. And straight women aren't sure whether they should behave the same way with you as they do with their other friends. They assume you're the same as them, so they talk about their boyfriends, husbands, and which Hollywood men they fancy. Informing them that despite your love for heels, makeup, and fashion, you actually fancy the main actress instead of the actor can create a divide. And if, like me, you are a femme who likes femmes, the assumption of heterosexuality can also affect your love life. If you cannot tell whether a girl you like is gay, what's to say she can tell that you are also a lady lover? You are forever stuck in a dilemma involving a lot of (perhaps Dutch) courage and a high chance of ruining a perfectly good friendship in the name of love.
Even when you find your other half, like I have, the assumption of heterosexuality continues to have an impact on your daily life. When my fiancée and I first met, we headed to a lesbian bar in London. The bouncer asked us if we were aware of what kind of bar we were entering, as if to brace us against shock of our lives. Men often see it as their right to try to come between the two of you. If, for argument's sake, a straight couple were on a date, or a couple comprising a femme woman and a butch woman, there is no way that a man would try to chat up one of them. Just recently, we were out for dinner in Paris to celebrate Valentine's Day. The waiter took a liking to me, and as I left the restaurant, he tried to have a bit of a grope and demanded my number. My partner got very annoyed and informed him that she was my fiancée. His reply was mocking: no, he told us, he was in fact my fiancé. This went on for a little while, until it finally clocked him that we are actually a couple. He then made the joke that he is very feminine, so making love to him would be no different. This is just one of several such situations we have endured as a couple. Men swagger over to our table and linger even when we give them the obvious cue to leave: "I am gay, this is my girlfriend, and we are on a date." In fact, some take that as an invitation to sit down and join us, because they clearly see us as a challenge. No, boys, you will not turn us, you cannot join in, and you most certainly cannot watch. There is often a blurred line where the initial assumption of heterosexuality slips into thinking they have a right to intrude on your sex life. If they tried this with any other couple, they'd be guaranteed a black eye.
Although those who look more stereotypically gay do not have the choice of when and where they come out, that's not to say that having this choice is very appealing, either. When I'm starting a new job, for instance, the fact that I'm feminine should not be taken to mean that I want to hide the fact that I'm gay, or the fact that I'm engaged to a beautiful lady. I of course do not want to introduce myself by saying, "Hi, I'm Megan, and 'lesbian' is my middle name." It does, however, get to the point where it's awkward to randomly mention it, and yet the assumption of heterosexuality lingers for so long that it almost feels like I'm living a lie. Whilst wanting to remain true to my feminine self, I sometimes wish there were a visible way to show that I'm gay. Even holding hands with my partner doesn't always portray that we are a couple. We often get asked if we're sisters, cousins, or best friends.
Being feminine has its disadvantages in not being recognised for who you are, even if you are very out and proud. Obviously, there are also advantages to this, as more butch-looking lesbians cannot always avoid discrimination and hate crimes. This, however, comes down to tightening laws and eliminating prejudice, two things that I am very passionate about. Just because I haven't experienced it myself does not mean I will stand in silence and let others suffer and be victimised.
I will not try to pretend that I can imagine what it is like to live the life of a more visible lesbian, and short of tattooing "lesbian" on my forehead, there isn't really much I can do to make it obvious. However, the point is that we should not have to change our physical appearance to be viewed as gay. After all, "feminine" is not a synonym for "heterosexual," and this connotation needs to be broken down and reviewed. I want femme lesbians to be recognised for who we are, to be acknowledged, accepted, and respected. I do not want to be seen as my partner's sister, and I do not want to be viewed as not truly belonging to the lesbian community. I do not want to be assumed as something I'm not; we deserve to be treated as legitimate by both the straight and gay communities. I am proud to love women, and I do not want other femmes to wonder if they belong. I want them to know that they do.
In highlighting the issues that femmes encounter due to our appearance, I am not trying to create a divide within the lesbian community. I recognise that there isn't a strict binary between feminine and butch lesbians, and that the majority of lesbians lie somewhere in the middle. All lesbians deserve visibility and to be able to feel that they belong.
Alongside the Femme Visibility campaign, I also run a Real-Life Lesbians campaign to showcase the different types of lesbians. We do not all come in the same shape, size, and colour, and it is no longer possible to pigeonhole what a lesbian looks like. If you want to take part in helping shake up what society deems to be a lesbian, please email me or visit What Wegan Did Next to find out more.
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