Thought Catalog

Why Lipstick Lesbians Have To Keep Coming Out Of The Closet

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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. TC mark

image – mangostar
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  • http://www.facebook.com/anniehighleysmith Annie Highley-Smith

    If only we could all look like Portia de Rossi.

  • Lisa

    Fantastic Read!- i wish that she would have touched upon androgynous or  more masculine females who are not homosexual and the difficulties they face defending their sexuality (the opposite), but i understand it was from a personal perspective. Stereotypes about masculinity, femininity and our sexuality need to be dispelled. Thank you for sharing!

  • JEReich

    Amazing article, and very true.  

  • http://twitter.com/perniciously

     I feel like I wrote this one. Haha! Loved it. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I think both lesbians who look femme and those who look butch have their advantages and disadvantages. Speaking as a femme bi lady, I do find it incredibly disappointing not be welcomed into the LGBT community while simultaneously being rejected by the straight one. I’m met with suspicion from both men and women I’m interested in — like you mentioned, and moreso from the lesbian community. I joke that “lesbians hate me.” :( And surprisingly, gay men have been the most adamant that “bisexuality isn’t real” and that I must be straight because I look straight. We’re all struggling with the same stuff, so it’s sad that there’s segregation even in the community.

    • Anonymous

      Also, first thing I did upon coming out was cut all my hair off. Why do we think we have to do that?

      • http://twitter.com/VAMPARS Smokey Problemson

         Haha, me too! Go go misguided gay gab(b)ys… that’s my name toooo

      • Gabbybrown1218

        Same here! We’re a gay bunch of gabby’s I love it!!

  • http://twitter.com/Nadiaaa87 Nadia

    Too true, my lady. 

  • http://twitter.com/alisonwisneski alisonwisneski

    DID YOU TAKE THESE THOUGHTS FROM MY HEAD AND PUT THEM ON HERE!?!? love love love. to bits and pieces.

  • Lily

    Great article. I think femme, butch, bi, we all have problems interpreting and attracting our desired mate. We’re all pretty cautious people in the first place. 

  • http://twitter.com/homsar315 Ali G

    Preach!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jesperdahl Jesper Dahl

    Great article!

    But, how do people meet on tumblr?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mish-Cheever/1238820074 Mish Cheever

      Ha! Her blog’s name was “iamwickedgay” so it seemed like a sure thing. I saw we lived in the same city and asked her to tea.

  • http://twitter.com/VAMPARS Smokey Problemson

    Thank you for this.  I’m in the same boat, more blue jean/ chapstick femme (who lives in TX and therefore loves dresses b/c pants just don’t work in 110 degree heat) but no one ever sees the gayness coming. I’ve dealt with this for 10+ years and have always felt it inevitable to sacrifice either visibility or authenticity just to live in the world. I hate that I have to come out to every person I meet.

    I even sometimes try to “dress gayer” when I go places where there are likely to be a lot of lesbians, which makes me feel like an idiot teenager again, making myself uncomfortable trying to be something I’m not. I always had this vision of just bursting onto the gay scene and instantly being a valued part of some tight-knit community. But more often than not I’ve found that sexual orientation is barely enough to sustain a conversation, let alone a friendship/ relationship.

    It’s so dumb that it’s 2012 and I feel like I need a strategically colored/ placed bandanna or earring or whatever to broadcast my preferences.

  • Guest

    Thank you :)

  • http://twitter.com/tbarrios47 Tanya Barrios

    HOW DO YOU KNOW MY LIFE?! I’ve gotten the insulting ‘You’re too pretty to be gay’ thing too (sidenote: WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!). To any other femme gay girls out there. Let’s hangout ;) (I might as well use this as a plug right?)

  • KatSprat

    Yup! Where I wanted this to go–or at least where I think the argument naturally goes, this is really fine as it is–is that people just don’t view women/feminine humans in general as having agency. Straight women have the same curse. No one would ever question a masculine, butchy gay guy who outspokenly claimed his gayness, but a feminine guy claiming straightness? He’s fucked too. Silly, BECAUSE MAKE-UP IS FUCKING AWESOME

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mish-Cheever/1238820074 Mish Cheever

      Exactly! I think if I went on I’d have gotten more into the fact that femininity, regardless of biological sex, is considered frivolous, unimportant, and rather ethereal, while masculinity for either sex is always thought to be serious and ‘real.’  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=532223255 Nicolle Fieldsend

    I am not a lesbian but I do feel for you! Your sexuality shouldn’t dictate your dress sense :) But they aren’t wrong, you are pretty!

  • Maggie

    oh my god i did the “I MUST LOOK AS GAY AS POSSIBLE” thing when i first came out, too, except this was awhile ago when skinny jeans weren’t such a trend, so i was in baggy EVERYTHING.

    thank you so much for sharing this, it’s really great to read about an issue a lot of people either don’t know or don’t seem to care about.  well done.  (also OMFG MODCLOTH)

  • Mary Caroline

    I’m bi and I’ve had lesbian friends offer to give me a butch makeover because I’m so girly. So frustrating… “Being femme and gay is hard, you guys!”-this.

  • Chloe

    As a straight girl who doesn’t own any lipstick, wears plaid, and pomades her short hair, I feel ya.

    • Leialu03

      too bad I did an instant judge in my mind and thought, “cry for help, she wants someone to bring her out.” ….how quickly we loose sight of the article…….

    • madgroucho88

      I have had friends literally tell me that I shouldn’t/couldn’t wear the plaid shirt and combat boots that I love together with my super short hair, because I looked too butch and like a lesbian even though I am straight and have a boyfriend. Why should it matter if I look like a lesbian? I feel like just as much as femme lesbians struggle with being accepted as gay due to their physical identity, straight girls can be just as misjudged and easily mislabeled “Butch lesbians.” It took 23 years for a guy to ask me out and I sometimes wonder if my appearance ever misled someone to think I would not be interested in them as they were not the same sex…

  • http://twitter.com/JonTargaryen Carly Fowler

    For a while, everyone assumed I was a lesbian because of my dress style. Then I dated a guy and threw everyone for a loop. As I dress more feminine I feel like I will never date another woman because I don’t “look” the part. 
    Sorry that I suck at this whole “what bisexuals should look like” thing.

    • Anonymous

      Oh god, so much yes.

  • PB

    I either get “You wear baggy plaid and almost no makeup; there’s no way you like boys.” or “Your hair is almost down to your ass; there’s no way you like girls.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessi.smith1 Jessi Smith

    Yup. This.

    I was actually scolded yesterday by a couple of my fellow lesbian friends when we went to the beach because I did not look “gay enough.” They were teasing but it was still kind of “…What?”

    Just a few weeks prior, one of my colleagues expressed great surprise over “how straight” I looked when I showed up to an informal meeting in a sundress rather than my typical jeans and a t-shirt.

    Can’t win!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Andlikethecatihaveninetimestodie Heather Mckown

    As an adult, nobody ever assumes that i am gay.  I even had a mohawk and people still thought i was straight.  In fifth grade EVERYONE thought i was a lesbian (i always stared at the pretty girls and blushed when they spoke to me)…where did those people go?  I am engaged to a woman and people assume that she is a guy (she has an interesting name, but what guy is named Elfi? )

  • Anonymous

    I’m a straight girl, but definitely get what you’re saying. As far as the whole ‘guy asking you out’ thing goes, I feel like many people (male or female, straight or gay) just don’t mind risking it. I’m pretty femme (aside from frequently wearing sweats to class) with hair almost down to my ass, but have been hit on by lesbians multiple times. I feel like it might be an age thing as well, though. I’m only 19…I’m not saying you’re old by any means! Just that you’re closer to the ‘real adult world,’ while I’m only in my early years of college where people are still willing to take a chance on anything with legs and a vagina (once again, whether gay or straight. and legs are optional), are more than likely under the influence while doing it, and are programmed to think in terms of ‘YOLO’ (gag me).  So maybe that makes a difference.

    But regardless, I have noticed a recent spike in ballsiness from the male community in asking any girl out, so don’t feel too uncomfortable about that. It does suck to not feel included or accepted and to have a sort of ‘stigma’ placed on top of you. For example, a girl I know is gay, but a femme. And even though she may say and do things that are to the degree of  ‘Oh my god you are a mega lesbian,’ I still feel like some people would feel more comfortable having her around as opposed to a butch. Y’know, like those lesbian fearing girls? Who are afraid all lesbians want to get on top of them? I think that even though a femme lesbian could be having the same “dirty” thoughts as a butch lesbian, they’d still rather have her around than the butch one. Which is idiotic.

    But honestly, it’s 2012, get it together, society.  If Portia could do it, so can anyone else.

    • Anonymous

       Also, forgot to add that I don’t get why anyone would ever complain about you wearing skirts or dresses! They get a better view of your…assets (depending on the type of skirt/dress/whatever), and then imagine their surprise when you see them checking you out & approach them, leading them to find out that you, too, are gay. [This is all hypothetical since you’re in a relationship, but still]

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mish-Cheever/1238820074 Mish Cheever

      IDK, I think being hit on is actually only a small example of the bigger issue of exclusivity and rigid thinking. 

      Oh lesbians and their dirty, dirty thoughts about their straight friends, how daaare they.

  • nicole.marie

    The night I met my girlfriend, who I’ve since been dating for a year and a half and identifies as butch, we’d been drunkenly making out for an hour before she asked me (three times) whether I was sure I was definitely a lesbian. 

    A) We only had lips locked in a gay bar because I’d made the first move. B) It turned out she was the one whose most recent long-term relationship was with a man of three years…

    To her credit, we were probably seven or nine drinks in (it was a messy yet somehow star-crossed night), and she claims that she doesn’t remember asking that question (multiple times). SO yeah, I totally agree with you… and I hope our more visible counterparts stop making assumptions about women in thigh-high boots and mascara sometime soon.

  • Guest

    “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.”

    SO FUCKING TRUE!!

    and being bi is even worse!

    • Mariana Garces

      be careful, I’ve read scary stories on autostraddle (or was it jezebel?) about glitter nail polish and sex. hahaha

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