What does the Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber fascination really mean?

Oh, Bitch magazine. Your ability to articulate just what I was thinking about some pop culture phenomenon du jour is so uncanny — like the whole “lesbians who look like Justin Bieber” thing. Which came first: the adorable pre-pubescent pop star, or dykes who rock swoop bangs, baseball caps and a well worn hoodie aesthetic?

Um, dykes. Duh.

In her awesome essay for Bitch, Jonanna Widner illustrates exactly how boyish coiffed hair belongs to the sapphicly inclined, and wonders if the widespread Biebians joke could actually signal some strange fraction of acceptance of gender deviants.

Take, for instance, the mullet as case study in lesbian-hairdo-turned-mainstream-lexicon. Widner breaks it down like this:

Popular in dyke circles throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, the mullet’s no-nonsense, 90-degree shape was, in its heyday, a metaphor for delineated lines of lesbian sexuality and gender constriction. The definition of the straight-man’s mullet—“Business in the front, party in the back” — could have been reworked for the Sapphic set as “Dude in the front, chick in the back.” In short, a manifestation of the feminine/masculine binary, captured in a hairdo.

Truth — google image search some pics of the Indigo Girls circa 1985. Lesbian mullet fashion like whoa! And Widner makes good on the idea that hair is the telltale sign of many a queer — a shaved head or cropped cut or greasy razored locked may be to lesbians what tight T-shirts and effeminate gestures are to gay men. Now, are these signifiers often stereotypical and problematic? Totally. But if I had a quarter for every time my heart leapt in high school when I saw another short haired girl on the street. (Next step was always to ask if they had heard the latest Sleater Kinney album, FYI.) Hair for lesbians has long been like pride rings without the bling; a sort of visibility code.

So if there’s all this undeniable love for Justin Bieber’s adorable aesthetic, can lesbians reap the same kind of cultural acceptance? Here’s Widner, who points out that Bieber’s lack of sexual threat comes from that safe cocoon of adolescence, and not a sudden widespread understanding of queer style:

A 16-year-old boy-man whose testicles don’t seem to have dropped, with a strange haircut and a baseball cap that’s three sizes too big? Cool. A thirtysomething woman rocking that same look? Cue the panicky reactions. Why is that person wearing a tie buying tampons? This person is not fitting into my regimented paradigm! What happened to the rules?”

Ah, right. Gender norms and assumptions. That little problem. Still, Widner totally nails the awesome deviance and style that queers express in their everyday presentation, whether that’s the hair, the tattoos, the bow tie, or the swagger. Queers exist in that rad place where the gender binary is totally bendable.

“Justin Bieber,” Widner points out, “is just the normalized version of [queers’] existence.” So if you’re loving those swoop bangs and that closet full of bright colored hoodies, Justin Bieber, let’s just say you’re welcome. We’ve been breakin’ in that style for awhile now.

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