My first memory of the word "lesbian" being used in my presence was when my mom chastised Anne Heche for her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres. We were walking out of a movie theater when she stopped to look at a poster for Six Days, Seven Nights. Given the movie's release date, I've concluded that I started paying extra attention to women with short hair around June 1998. I was 9 and a half.
Fast-forward to 2003, and I'm ripping off a peasant skirt to pull on rainbow-patched jeans at a Women's Music Festival in Hollywood, Fla. I was 13 and camped out on a grass lawn with a whole bunch of women in wife-beater tank tops. Around midday at the park, I found myself wishing I'd worn something different, so I wandered off to the art-fair-style booths in search of a suitable alternative. My eyes stopped on a pair of jeans with fabric swatches sewn down the seams, starting with red, going through the colors of the spectrum, and ending with purple. I was a bit bohemian and not yet associating rainbow colors with gay people. As I walked back, new jeans on, a woman stopped me and said something I'll never forget: "You'll make a beautiful lesbian one day."
I came out (for the first time) the following year.
Ten years later, I can honestly say that I've never stopped coming out. As an undeniably feminine lesbian, I've had to master the art of coming out tactfully; it's a nuanced skill that I use to defend myself in a variety of scenarios.
Take last week, for instance: I'm with the girl I'm dating at a bar. We grab drinks and sit down in a relatively secluded booth. Like most couples, we wind up kissing a bit, clearly not interested in anybody else around us. Within minutes, a few guys walk over. "Can I get in on that?" one guy asks. As we answer with an unequivocal "no," another guy begins to apologize for the other's poor manners. But rather than usher his friends away, he continues on to say something to the effect of, "You're incredibly hot... can I say 'dykes'? You're hot dykes." The last guy chimes in with a similarly backhanded compliment: "Yeah, you're too pretty to be gay."
We learned that one man was American, one British, and one Australian. Fantastic. The same poor manners span three continents. When we finally shook them, my date turned to me and said, "So this is what it's like? They weren't that bad, but I see how you could get sick of talking about being a feminine lesbian." Being newly out, this was her first time experiencing the kind of attention that I regularly deal with.
I admit that, yes, it could have been worse. They didn't physically harass us, become verbally aggressive, or act belligerently homophobic. Instead, they treated us like objects not to be taken seriously and had no shame in doing so. The words "disrespectful" and "patronizing" only begin to describe their behavior.
My frustration is this: Even after coming out, feminine lesbians walk through life feeling unacknowledged and delegitimized and are often chided for speaking up about their invisibility; it's touted, "You [feminine lesbians] have no right to complain about your struggles because passing as heterosexual is a privilege." The result is that even upon entering queer spaces, our authenticity is questioned and our identities condescended upon.
I developed Girl on Girl: An Original Documentary to call attention not only to the fact that feminine lesbians are legitimate but to the fact that we make up a thriving subset of the LGBTQ community. The film's emphasis on community solidarity will help build a network for women and girls who are just coming out and who aren't naturally inclined to alter their appearance to fit masculine stereotypes of "what a lesbian looks like." With proper funding, marketing and distribution, Girl on Girl has the ability to change the perspectives of masses of people and thus help the LGBTQ community gain visibility as a whole.