Lesbros: Corey Swartsel


The trusty website, UrbanDictionary.com, has several definitions for the term lesbro:

1. A man who has more friendships with lesbians than other women or men.

2. The male equivalent of a fag hag.

3. A heterosexual man who is either one or both of the following: a brother to one or more lesbian sisters, or, friends with a disproportionate amount of homosexual women. “Wow, your brother really only hangs out with gay girls, doesn’t he! And you’re a big gay yourself, sister! What a lesbro you’ve got there!”

To us, a lesbro is a little bit of all, but at his core, a lesbro is a male friend to at least one, but possibly several, lesbians. This column shares a little bit about some famous lesbros that we love.

This week’s Lesbro: Corey Swartsel.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Corey Swartsel is a prop stylist and set dresser for film, TV and still photography. He lives in L.A., where he is also a spiritual counselor and meditation coach in the Vipassana tradition.

AfterEllen.com: Of the above three definitions of Lesbro, which do you think describes you best?

Corey Swartsel
I guess number three is the least insulting to me, although the tone kind of evokes the image of a straight pet — it kinda glazes over the depth and breadth of what have been some some of the most significant relationships in my life.

AE: What is the best thing about your lesbian friends?

I’m pretty much drawn to the same qualities in my lesbian friends that I am in my straight friends: honesty, integrity, humility, empathy and humor. But if I had to sum it up ,I’d say sharp wits, wicked humor and an ability to bounce back. I’ve been blessed to know some women who are rough and tumble survivors but still approach the world with a generous heart, they’re the kinds of friends who are also mentors, exactly the people you want in your corner when things get tough.

Oh, and fashion! These days it seems like outside of the lesbian world there’s a Saharan proportioned drought when it comes to comfortable, casual butch sensibilities. If I get a compliment from a lesbian friend on my togs, I can rest assured I’ve got my drag down proper.

And I’ll admit that I get a kick out of those moments when me and a lesbian friend catch each other checking out the same girl.

AE: What stereotype about lesbians have you found to be false?

Good question. I’m not sure I’m familiar with the stereotypes that people outside of the GBLT community are spreading around. Maybe I’ve been on the inside looking out too long.

Stereotypes are always false in one sense or another, aren’t they? Stereotyping is like an exercise in taking big, complicated truths and flattening them down into into simple little lies. I suppose the process is a means of objectifying and reducing “the other” in order to guard our against our deepest fears about ourselves. I pretty sure my propensity for stereotyping is as healthy as the next fellow’s but I’ve never felt the need to guard myself when comes to gender or sexual identity and I generally don’t spending time with people who are that contracted.

Perhaps one of the oldest stereotypes about lesbians is that they’re man-hating feminists. I’m sure there are a more than a few people out there who proudly fit this bill but for some reason I don’t seem find myself hanging out with them. In not exemplifying the negative stereotypes of straight men it seems I’ve been responded to in kind.

AE: What do you think it is specifically that draws you towards being friends with lesbians?

I’ve often asked myself this same question, I guess, I feel comfortable around lesbians for a couple of basic reasons.

First, I grew up in the late ‘70s and the early-to-mid ‘80s and during this time there was this very different sense of gender identity permeating straight pop culture. Although I was raised in Alaska, which is very conservative, my adolescent icons were people like the New York Dolls, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde. Early on I noticed that these people didn’t really seemed too concerned with rigid gender roles; they wore their sexuality like comfortable garments. I also started painting and exhibiting my own art at an early age and as we all know, the art world is also rife with larger than life role models who seem to defy standard sexual conventions. This ideology really exploded into the mainstream in the ‘80s, with the sexual agendas of people like Prince, Boy George and Madonna influencing the larger culture on an unprecedented level through music videos. I really thought I was going to grow up into a world that was sort of pan-sexual, that that was just the natural, obvious progression to things and that the bigots and haters would kind of end up on the margins of society like some sort of Neanderthals.

The Reagan-Bush era and the AIDS Crisis really changed the trajectory of our culture — not all for the worse, it forced people to come out, literally in order to survive but there was a terrible back-lash and things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I lived in Seattle on Capitol Hill during the height of the crises and I would defy any human with a heart to live through that experience and not be drawn closer to the community it was devastating. I attended art school in San Francisco in the early ‘90s and was pretty politically active, it was the era of Act-Up and the Radical Fairy movement. The young lesbian scene was really coming into its own at this time and I was brought into it by my peers and people I had grown up with who had come out when we were still teens.

Second, and on a more personal note, I’ve found that I generally identify with people who have faced particularly strong challenges and have had to fight for their place in the mainstream. This might sound funny coming from a straight white guy, but I grew up under geographically, economically and culturally marginal circumstances- most of my peers (and family) died or ended up in prison or worse, I guess I’m doomed to continually identify with the minority and the social outlaw. In my own life I’ve consciously worked with the tension between masculine and feminine energy as a means of balancing survival and renewal, this is one just one area where I feel I’ve been lucky to have lesbians in my life who are willing to share their experience and strength.

AE: How have your girlfriends responded to your friendships with lesbians?

I think my partners as a general rule have been accepting of these relationships, my selection skills might not always be the best in some areas but seem to have pretty well avoided homophobes and the compulsively jealous. Most of my girlfriends (and my ex-wife) had lesbian friends of their own.

For that matter, most of my former partners had had sexual relations with women at some point before I met them. I’m not sure if this is atypical or not. I just know that I’m fairly loyal to my friends — take ’em or leave me. A few of my partners have been out bisexuals, although I’ve never chosen a partner based on this knowledge, mostly I’ve started with chemistry and found out history later. It doesn’t always make for the smoothest ride — is been my experience that the dynamics and expectations are really different, its not just a matter of switching out the “bits” if you know what I mean.

Obviously there are pros, cons and preferences either way and a person coming out of an exclusive history with one gender probably needs to be extra mindful of what generally does and doesn’t work if they get involved with another gender. You don’t want to set yourself up for disappointed by critiquing one party on the basis of the others inherent qualities.

I don’t like jealous partners and I try to avoid bringing that energy to the table, so I generally don’t have doubt about peoples loyalties. If someone is capable of being dishonest or disloyal does it really matter what gender the person they cheated on you with was? I’ve only been burned a couple of times and I’m pretty sure I got some of my better character traits from these of life lessons.

AE: You work in the entertainment industry — do you feel sympathy for those people who still feel that it’s necessary for them to be closeted?

CS: As someone who somehow fell into working in the entertainment industry, I have been privy to a certain amount of insider knowledge into the lives of people who’s careers are based upon their public personas. I’m sometimes amused and sometimes disheartened by the knowledge that some well known celebrities choose to remain closeted but, at the end of the day, I feel that coming out is a very important and very personal choice for each individual who faces it. In my world there is no “right way” to approach sharing your individual sexual identity in the context of society at large.

Having public figures come has the potential to be very empowering to marginalized communities but sexuality is a ultimately a personal issue, on the flip side I know that I wouldn’t want to be categorized as being part of the same sexual identity group as certain straight white male college athletes whose personal escapades have landed them in the spotlight. Ultimately though, this is a struggle for people I love and support, not an issue that I personally face so I don’t hold my perspective on this as being too important.

AE: As a straight man who obviously believes in marriage equality, how do you feel about straight people marrying even when everyone cannot exercise the same right?

CS: There is no logical reason why two people who want to be in a state-recognized committed relationship of their own definition shouldn’t be allowed to pursue their commitment, period. I was once engaged to woman who had previously been engaged to another woman and it was important to her that we not actually get married until it was legal for everybody to do so and I really respected and admired her perspective. Although we eventually broke off our engagement, today I would probably take a similar stance with another partner.

However, I don’t think this means that people who are currently allowed to get married and who are pro gay marriage are a–holes if they don’t forgo their own unions, again I defer to personal liberties. Outside of the very real legal and medical ramifications of not having your partnership recognized by the state, I would say who gives an “effin ef” what the state thinks about any of our personal lives?


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