When I began dating girls as a college sophomore, my first question was not: “So how does this sex thing without a penis even go?” Or, “How do I come out to my mother as bisexual, or possibly, a lesbian?” What I really wanted to know was “Can I still wear dresses?”
It’s a shame, but the answer I arrived at was no. No you can’t, because you’re some kind of gay now and this is how lesbians look. If gay sex emasculates men, it seems to masculinize women. Banished were the florals, gone were five inches of hair, and tossed away were the heels. I trimmed my wardrobe to its bare bones: v-neck tees, skinny jeans, grandpa cardigans. At the time I was searching for some sense of validity in my superficial gay look because I really, stupidly needed everyone to trust the validity of my feelings.
Three years later, I’m still queer. I have officially not seen a penis in a year and a half, if that matters to you as a qualifier. Go me! But even more triumphant, even more radical to me, is that I have returned to the girly girl I truly am, gay or not. I don’t leave my apartment without winged eyeliner slicked on and my hair in some sixties ‘do. Anything lacy and white and delicate — get on my body. I always have nail polish on. Always. Unpainted, my girlfriend and I get creeped out by how similar our fingers look when interlaced.
I’m where I’m meant to be now, but I hate that I believed I had to present myself differently in order for others to believe that I’m queer. I hate that dressing girly now makes me invisible to the lesbian community. What I hate most of all, however, is that even if I make it a known fact that I am into women, I am still doubted and distrusted by everyone. I could literally fingerbang a girl in the street but because I’d do it with glitter nail polish and bracelets clanging, I won’t be viewed as truly, purely gay.
And, okay, maybe I’m not! I prefer girls, but if my soulmate turned out to be Gael Garcia Bernal, so be it. I suppose that makes me bisexual, and complicates my full ability to say, “I may look straight but I’m gay as all getup!” It’d be easier that way. But, really, my romantic future is as uncertain as anybody else’s. My point is that even in this moment, even as I am in love with a lady and love our life together, even as I do things that couldn’t be more homosexual, people still don’t trust that I am acting of my own agency. It feels like everyone is waiting with bated breath for the return to men they believe is inevitable. What kills me is that the only evidence they have is that I do not fit in with their visual idea of a lesbian, and, using deductive reasoning, I must actually be straight.
Bewilderingly, it is not just straight men who use the insulting, “You’re too pretty to be gay” line. It’s lesbians too, which is possibly the most disheartening thing about femme invisibility. It is shocking that a marginalized group still holds up such rigid boundaries within its own community. It’s painfully ironic too, because plenty of dykes are into femme lesbians. Even my own girlfriend, who loves girly girls, says she wouldn’t have hit on me at a gay bar out of certainty that I was straight. (Go figure, we met on Tumblr.)
In some ways my invisibility is preferable. I can safely move throughout the mainstream world untethered to a certain identity, while butch lesbians wear their sexuality on their sleeve. My girlfriend can rarely go into a public bathroom without getting a second, confused glance. That’s hard. But she’s also a smash in specifically gay spaces, she gets to fully embody an identity, and she’d get laid more often than the girl in the skirt we’re unsure about.
Being femme and gay is hard, you guys! Butch girls visually ‘come out the closet’ without having to say a word, whether they like it or not. They just toss on some plaid and pomade in their short hair and let people assume away. Personal style, post-maturation, can’t be helped — we all end up dressing in the way we are most comfortable and then we deal with the way people interpret us. It just sucks that feminine women are never correctly interpreted and are then held accountable for other’s misconceptions. To correct this, lipstick lesbians have to come out of closet after closet for the sake of honesty and pride. It’s slightly uncomfortable to alter someone else’s fundamental opinion of me, like when the family I nanny for asks if I have a boyfriend, or when a man follows me out of a coffee shop, asks me on a date so sweetly, and I have to watch his face fall with I respond with two words: “I’m gay.”
It is radical to present yourself femininely knowing that masculine is still valued and privileged, even in a queer community made up entirely of females. It is a radical and subversive act to continually go through the ritual of beauty in spite of alienation from one group and unwanted attention from another. Being femme will stop being radical once it is seen as valid as being butch is. But for now, I choose to celebrate my girlyness and my gayness. I choose to say that getting gussied up is as essential and important to me as my queerness is, and that I wouldn’t give up either to become culturally comprehensible or belong to some imagined club. That would be the real tragedy.
Because have you seen Mod Cloth’s dresses? Oh my gosh.