What Being Queer Is Like When You Don’t “Look Like a Lesbian”

“Wait, but you don’t look like a lesbian.”

Feminine appearing lesbians hear this all too often. They are told “it’s just a phase,” “you just haven’t met the right guy yet” or even “but you’re so pretty!” Femme used to only refer to a lesbian who always wears heels and makeup when they leave the house, depicting a stereotypical feminine appearance.

But as the lesbian community has evolved and created more labels to fit the diversity of the community, the term femme has also progressed. Femme now includes the girl next door, the sporty girl, and (of course) the original femmes who do happen to fit the traditional feminine stereotype. This new definition of “femme” is more simple and inclusive: a female who is mistaken as straight due to a feminine appearance.

But where are these femmes in the lesbian community? The answer is that they are everywhere. However, most people do not notice them because they were taught that lesbians can be spotted from a mile away. You know, just look for the girl with the short choppy haircut, combat boots, and cargo shorts, all topped off with a flannel. Right? Isn’t that what we all look like?

This could not be further from the truth. Lesbians, and queer women in general, come in just as many types as straight women, if not more. But we are always trying to box people into simple stereotypes to make them easier to understand and avoid the complexity of the truth and how it challenges what we were taught was true.

So, how do we help femmes feel like they are a more visible part of the LGBT community? If you are straight, then the best tip is to not belittle a queer female with a line such as, “Wow, I never would have guessed!” Treat her as you would if she had revealed she were straight. Why should the conversation be any different because she is a feminine appearing lesbian? Seeing the shock on your face because she is “so beautiful” doesn’t help her feel better about herself.

Instead, it reminds her of how difficult it can be to fit in within her own community, and how she always feels that she has to prove how gay she is. If she were straight, how would you proceed with the conversation? Would you ask her about her job, what her favorite restaurant is, or where she likes to hang out? Feel free to continue the conversation as you typically would if she had said she was straight.

Did she reveal that she is a lesbian by telling you that she and her girlfriend just broke up? Don’t be that guy that tries to convince her that you’re the perfect man to bring her back to her straight roots. Be the cool guy that doesn’t think twice about it — but instead buys her a drink to help ease the pain. And don’t be that girl that runs away in fear that you’ll get hit on. You never know, maybe you’ll make a cool new friend who will be there for you when your guy or girl dumps you. Then she can then return the favor and take you out to get your mind off of your heartbreak.

The queer community isn’t completely innocent of stereotyping femme girls either. So how do we welcome these femme women into the LGBT community? It’s actually pretty simple: Don’t make assumptions.

To the queer guys: Don’t just assume that the feminine appearing girls that just walked into your favorite gay bar are straight. And if you’re one of those guys who doesn’t like straight girls going into the gay bars, don’t be the one to look foolish when you make a comment about breeders entering your territory. Those girls may be a group of us queer femme women who will make you feel like an idiot for assuming we must be straight.

And if you are a queer, but not femme, woman: Don’t ignore us. Please don’t assume that the cute girl chatting you up is straight just because she is wearing a dress and heels. We femmes have had to get used to being more aggressive when we flirt because we have to convince those who catch our eye that we are hitting on them. If you see a cute femme girl eyeing you from across the room, don’t get weirded out and assume she has a staring problem. She likely is trying to build up the courage to go talk to you because she knows you won’t approach her unless straight girls happen to be your thing. Instead, throw her off by going over and making conversation. She’ll be pleasantly surprised that she didn’t have to scream, “I’m a lesbian” to get your attention.

And please, if a femme girl tells you she’s gay, believe her. Don’t make us have to convince you that we’re truly into you because you don’t believe that a femme can truly be loyal to a woman. Don’t assume she is just experimenting and will one day leave you for a man. Give her a chance, and you may unexpectedly find your perfect match.

Have your own story to share about femme invisibility? Dawn Brown is collecting perspectives on the issue for her upcoming book, Invisible Femmes: Our Stories. To be a part of the book, contact Dawn via her website. TC mark

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