Three Things Straight People Don’t Understand About Lesbian Culture

Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images

Between 2008 and 2010, the blog “Stuff White People Like” (and subsequent companion books) poked good-natured fun at the interests of liberal, urban white Canadians and Americans, stereotyping them as affluent, anti-corporate hipsters interested in things like yoga, pumpkin spice lattes, and children’s games as adults. Although some protested that the blog was racist and unfair to that segment of society, many people who fell within the lampooned group agreed that it accurately reflected the societal stereotype about them and contributed their own suggestions to the blog in a spirit of goodwill and self-deprecation.

A positive effect of the blog was to show that while not universally true across a group, certain interests, likes, and experiences do seem to be common in general, and by pointing these out—in this case, for urban, upper-middle-class whites—people both within and outside of the group can begin to understand these stereotypes/commonalities and the effects that privilege (or in other cases, the absence of privilege) have on shaping the group.

The gay and lesbian community cuts across all groups (gender, race, disability/ability, age, urban/rural, socio-economic status, etc.), making it hard to create a generic list of “Stuff Gay People Like” that would be generally representative of everyone without being so broad that the listed items are things everyone, gay or straight, likes. A narrower list of stereotypical “Things Lesbians Like” would be feasible—and include things such as Xena: Warrior Princess, lesbian female rockers, and plaid shirts, all the things we joke about with our friends—but rather than teaching a lesson about privilege, as “Stuff White People Like” did, probably would speak more to how a subculture’s “culture” is diffused across time and geography to its members.

To look at lesbian subculture through the lens of privilege, a more educational list would be “Stuff Straight People Don’t Understand about Lesbian Culture.” The following (incomplete) list is therefore intended to point out three experiences many lesbian and bi women undergo which straight people, in general, don’t seem to understand, on the hopes that by pointing out how heterosexual privilege has contributed to these experiences, our straight allies will work within their own community to create change.

Why Lesbians are Upset About Lesbian Tropes

Lesbians die on TV. A lot. Over 146 lesbian and bisexual characters around the world dead and counting at the end of 2016. They also spend a lot of time falling in love with men and suddenly becoming straight, or being crazy bisexuals. For a full list of tropes and lesbians, see TV Tropes, and for a funny summation, see this AfterEllen article from last year. Most straight people don’t understand the magnitude of this recurrent tropes problem (although many black people do, given their own struggle with tropes) or know that these tropes exist at all. (Or they’re Jason Rothenberg and they knew about the trope but then pretended the time they killed their lesbian character was totally different from all the other times lesbians were killed).

Perusing the comments section of Variety’s excellent article on Lexa’s death on The 100, for example, several straight commentators argue that the LGBT community shouldn’t be upset because straight characters die all the time. It’s just equality, so it’s no big deal. Plus, it advanced the storyline, you know? As another commentator astutely responded, however, if there are two plates of cookies, one with 100 cookies and the other with two cookies, and each plate has a cookie removed, that’s 1% of the straight cookies gone and 50% of the lesbian cookies. It must be nice to have so many characters on TV that represent your sexual orientation that the loss of one is unremarkable. Given how few characters are lesbian and how often they’re murdered or killed in an accident, however, the community is rightly sensitized to the maddening recurrence of the “Bury Your Gays” trope, as well as other tropes.

A quote from Rothenberg’s interview with TV Insider  about Lexa’s death summarizes the problem well:

“Lexa’s death triggered real emotional trauma for some people, you know? It tapped into the real world, it tapped into their lives, and as a straight white male, I obviously didn’t anticipate how deeply it would affect certain people. I look at it now and I realize that if somebody had that kind of a reaction and then were to look back at the way I behaved on Twitter leading up to it, which was celebrating this relationship that then crushed them, I can understand why they would find that reprehensible. I hope that people understand that.”

#Straightwhitemaleproblems, bro.