In an article for The Atlantic this week, Shauna Miller took down some classic lesbians stereotypes while perpetrating a few new ones. Miller’s article is a response to a piece in Slate last week praising the lack of monogamy in relationships between gay men. Recent data shows that gay men are more likely to be non-monogamous while being happier than straight couples: “This kind of openness may infect the straight world, and heterosexual couples may actually start to tackle the age-old problem of boring monogamous sex.”
In contrast to the lithe flexibility of male on male monogamy, Miller states that “Lesbians have their own coupling customs — some influenced by a traditional monogamy seem pretty great… Even in the lesbian world in the 20th century, gender roles were clear, and a butch and a femme made a family that looked at least somewhat like others… The femmes worked too, and also kept the home and butch spirits up.”
Do you know who else was influenced by traditional gender roles in the 20th century? Everyone. That’s why they’re called traditional gender roles. “In general, the butches tended to work, with blue-collar labor offering somewhat steady employment for masculine-presenting women.” Again, do you know who else found blue-collar labor a source of steady employment? Dudes. Do you know who else often kept a home and their partner’s spirits up? Women. Miller’s statements aren’t inaccurate, but they do ignore a little thing called the rest of the world. It’s irritating how when straight people tend to do something, it’s accepted as normal, while when gay people do something, it must be interpreted and reinterpreted as having special significance to the gay community at large.
One aspect of lesbian dating culture Miller did get right was the U-Haul phenomena, a staple of lesbian couples since people started documenting lesbian cultures. Miller traced the term back 20 years to Stone Butch Blues, when butch protagonist Jess describes meeting her future wife with “Within a month we rented a U-haul trailer and moved into a new apartment together in Buffalo.” Just like that, a lesbian trope was borne.
I’ve observed the U-Haul phenomena time and time again among my peers, who as young modern women I would really expect to be more independent. It’s always struck me as a bit bizarre. Miller makes a good point when she suggests that the lesbian tendency towards monogamy comes from a superior ability to get a girl off, a point that directly contradicts the heterosexist nonsense that is “lesbian bed death.”
Miller explains: “The other end of the U-Haul “joke,” of course, is the good old “lesbian bed death” joke. Since neither of you is naturally jacked up on testosterone, the story goes, those quickies that keep straight couples together even when they barely see or like one another aren’t as easy to conjure.” This couldn’t be less true, and I’m not (just) being arrogant; it’s science. Miller cites a study from 2013 “ that almost half of lesbians my age  in long-term, committed relationships went at it for 45 minutes or more the last time they had sex together, compared to around 16 percent of straight females. 8.9 percent of us were at it for more than two hours, compared to 1.9 percent of straight ladies.” This confirms my long standing suspicion that most dudes are straight up incompetent when it comes to beating that pussy up, particularly the ones who like to say “I could fuck the shit out of you” when you tell them you’re a lesbo.
Alas, Miller didn’t end on that upbeat and accurate dismissal of ‘lesbian bed death’ as quasi-Freudian poppycock; she again miscategorized trends in young Americans as lesbian trends, and labels those trends polyamory rather than simply acknowledging them to be changes in how young people date, fuck, and sustain relationships. I’d argue that it isn’t “lesbian” relationships that are changing, it’s “human” relationships that are changing. We’re hooking up, sexting, booty calling, and casually dating just like everyone else. We don’t live in a vacuum. Surely at this point we’ve all read pearl-clutching articles about hook-up culture on virtually every media medium imaginable. While straights seem inclined to view these casual fuckerys as the decline of romance, relationships, Rome, etc, Miller makes a pretentious, if positive, mistake that Non-U-haulers = polyamorous. We’re not polyamorous, we’re single. I wish people would stop trying to make that more complex than it is.
While Miller managed to elegantly dispel the myth of lesbian bed death, she falls into a trap of separating lesbian relationship trends from human relationship trends. Every journalist tempted to make sweeping generalizations about lesbians might first ask themselves “Is this about lesbians or is this about people?” Because, darling unicorns that we may be, gay women are still first are foremost people.