Extra! Extra! The words “boi” and “genderqueer” appeared recently in O Magazine, and (as far as we know), there have been no reports of brains in middle America short-circuiting. This, my friends, is a good sign. The article in question is “Why Women Are Leaving Men for Other Women.”
Although increased visibility for queer women in mainstream publications is a good thing, I will admit that a few things in the article bothered me.
First, same-sex relationships were treated like a new and trendy phenomenon. (That tired line again?) Second, the headline implies that all queer women have abandoned men for women. And third, the article reinforces the stereotype that all “true” lesbians are butch or masculine and that women who exhibit traditionally feminine qualities are attracted to lesbians, because lesbians exhibit masculine qualities. I will address these gripes in turn.
Gripe #1: “Lesbianism is trendy.”
Lately, a new kind of sisterly love seems to be in the air. In the past few years, Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon left a boyfriend after a decade and a half and started dating a woman (and talked openly about it). Actress Lindsay Lohan and DJ Samantha Ronson flaunted their relationship from New York to Dubai. Katy Perry‘s song “I Kissed a Girl” topped the charts. The L Word, Work Out, and Top Chef are featuring gay women on TV, and there’s even talk of a lesbian reality show in the works. Certainly nothing is new about women having sex with women, but we’ve arrived at a moment in the popular culture when it all suddenly seems almost fashionable—or at least, acceptable.
Same-sex lovin’ between gals is “a new kind of sisterly love” and fashionable? Fashionable? Like skinny jeans and keffiyehs worn as scarves? I guess if a couple of famous redheads decide to date women, then dating women must be fashionable.
Thank you, famous redheads, for making people like me new, bright, shiny and cool.
Will heterosexuality make a comeback in 2010? I better take note of that so I can put a few guys on my dating short list so I can be in the “in” crowd and get into Bungalow 8.
Gripe #2: Women become queer when they abandon men.
Female sexuality cannot be reduced to an Almond Joy/Mounds commercial: “Sometimes you feel like a nut — sometimes you don’t.” There are plenty of queer women out there who never felt an attraction to men. They kissed a girl, and they liked it. And there was never any boyfriend to speak of.
Gripe #3: All lesbians are masculine.
This is my personal pet peeve.
Ironically — or not, as some might argue — it is certain “masculine” qualities that draw many straight-labeled women to female partners; that, in combination with emotional connection, intimacy, and intensity. This was definitely true for Macarena Gomez-Barris, whose partner, Judith Halberstam, 47, says she has never felt “female.” Growing up in England as a tomboy who had short hair and refused to wear dresses, Halberstam says people were often unable to figure out whether she was a boy or a girl: “I was a source of embarrassment for my family.”
“Still, I was uncertain about my sexuality, trying to figure it out, which is why I was at first drawn to dykes. I liked their masculinity. When I went out, I wanted to be with someone who, unlike me, was secure in her gayness. There was no mistaking who I was. I’m the girly girl, the one who wears skirts, dresses, and makeup.”
Repeat after me and write this on the blackboard 100 times: Not all lesbians are masculine or butch. Furthermore, you can wear skirts, dresses and makeup and still be attracted to women who wear skirts, dresses and makeup. Not all lesbians buck gender norms, and those who do not buck gender norms are just as gay as those who do. Gender identity/expression and sexual orientation are not always intertwined.
This is the preacher. Choir, are you listening? (Furthermore, members of the choir, can you send this memo to the general public, because the ’90s are over, and I’m tired of preaching.)
Still, it is a good sign that a publication that has been traditionally marketed to straight audiences touched upon sexual orientation and gender. I will take well-intentioned articles on sexuality and gender that slightly miss the mark over no visibility at all. What are your thoughts?