what being a lesbian means to me

written by Maise


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‘becoming a lesbian gave me a voice // And took away my tongue’ – Cherry Smyth

There is an unspoken strength amongst lesbians, characterised I think by the rejection of society’s expectations for what a woman should be. 

Sociologist Ann Oakley highlighted how gender identity and expectations is channeled – parents generally push dolls, dresses and the narrative we will grow up to marry a handsome prince on their daughters. But what if I want to be a handsome butch with a beautiful queen?

The pushing of a cishet (cisgender/ heterosexual) narrative causes in a lot of lesbians ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. Compulsory Heterosexuality or CompHet refers to how straight relationships are pushed as the norm and anything breaking away from that is deviant. A great example is Section 28 – legislation introduced in 1988 that banned the promotion of LGBTQ+ relationships in school as normal.  By pushing straight relationships as a norm, we don’t give people an alternative, many then assume that everyone feels some apathy to the fact they ‘have’ to date men. The original author of the term, Adrienne Rich, is someone we should read critically as in the modern context she is a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist).

However, Rich’s writing on compulsory heterosexuality shouldn’t be discarded as her ideas hold weight for many people and describe my own personal experience with being attracted to and dating men. CompHet makes the process of discovering whether you are in fact a lesbian or not very difficult because in a society run by cisgender men, the idea you aren’t attracted to them isn’t particularly palatable. It takes time to work through CompHet and, having personally gone through it I’m much happier and confident in who I am.

The general societal assumption that women don’t have any form of sexual agency means there seems to be a general misunderstanding of what being a lesbian is. For many years I was reluctant to label myself as a lesbian because of the fetishism associated with it – a term that was just a porn category to my male peers. The ‘pornification’ of lesbian has led to assumptions people identify as a lesbian for male attention or that its something that needs to be fixed. Despite societal attempts to suppress our sexuality and ignore us, lesbians have continuously found each other through history, we have always existed, and we continue to exist. I find strength in being a lesbian.

My identity as a lesbian is complicated and is as much intertwined with my gender, I think being non-binary compliments my sentiments about being a lesbian. There’s something so freeing about rallying against all social expectations for who I’m supposed to be and do as a lesbian and a non-binary person. I still struggle with the gendered expectations that exist in how I’m supposed to present: don’t be too masculine, don’t look too gay, wear some makeup, don’t look too straight. It feels virtually impossible to do all at once. The fear of not wanting to ‘look too gay’ so that I don’t feel othered around straight people is something I still find difficult. Interacting in spaces where I’m the only non-cishet person can be scary. I’ve found that having community spaces for LGBTQ+ people to be effective at countering that pressure.

In conclusion, being a lesbian to me first: resembles a strength in rejecting the dominant patriarchal narrative. I think there is a beauty in being a lesbian and I’m grateful to have a community that has taught me so much about love, lust and being yourself. I think there’s a real sense of solidarity amongst sapphics in general and I’m grateful for the older lesbians keeping an eye on me in gay bars and making sure I was never uncomfortable. I’m proud to be a lesbian and part of the LGBTQ+ community.