Discarding the ‘lesbian uniform’

Elsa Maishman 6 February 2015

But which is the man in your relationship? Which of the two of you is the man, which is the woman? Those who ask me this question fundamentally misunderstand lesbianism, because the answer is really very simple. As neither chopstick represents the fork nor the knife, neither woman represents the man.

The confusion, I think, stems from a perpetuation of stereotypes which divide lesbians into two categories: the butch and the femme. Apparently butch lesbians all have buzz-cuts, hate men and love sports. If you’re not a dyke you’re a lipstick lesbian, a moniker which holds patriarchal connotations that you’re ‘too pretty to be a real lesbian’, and simply haven’t found the right man. And yet, not unsurprisingly, when I look in the mirror I just see me. I see no dyke, no femme, just Alice.

These binaries are the result of our hetero-normative society, which attempts to impose the model of malefemale relationships onto those which do not conform. Yet, there are some who actively conform to these stereotypes, perhaps as a means of feeling more included within the perceived community. People have in the past assumed that I chose to cut my hair short because then ‘it would be obvious I was a lesbian’, but this is misguided; my reasons had more to do with aesthetics than sexual orientation. Such forced conformity to pre-conceived ideas of what it means to be a lesbian, or of any minority group, denies people the right to be themselves.

This supposed conformity to the ‘lesbian uniform’ was perhaps helpful in the past, when lesbians and the wider LGBT+ community had little or no visibility and a shared identity helped to alleviate this.

However, there is now more visibility for LGBT+ people than ever before, making the desire to conform to stereotypes no longer necessary. You are free to be yourself, and in doing so shape a new identity for LGBT+ people: that we’re not stereotypes, but humans.