So, a few weeks ago I posted a link to a blog Passing for Straight in the 21st Century, about passing for white and straight by Aviva Dove-Viebahn. I thought it was interesting and thoughtfully written and it called into question my own experiences with passing for straight in a very gendered world.
Several years ago, when I first came out, I remember going to our local gay bar with a few friends and being approached by a rather attractive woman while waiting for my drink. She asked, “Where’s your husband?” Now this might have been her pick up line, or just a way to ask me if I was lesbian without making any assumptions based on my “straight” appearance. Either way, I told her that I wasn’t married and that I was indeed lesbian. Otherwise why would I be hanging out in a gay bar? I guess I need to give you a little background. I’m a black lesbian woman who also identifies as femme. Yeah, femme. In other words, I am not masculine identified and I tend to subscribe to a few traditional notions of femininity. And I do not apologize for it. I like wearing lip gloss and skirts. I’ve never worn a lot of make-up, but I do wear eye-liner and mascara since it tends to accentuate what I think are one of my best features, my eyes.
Still, my first experiences with the black lesbian community in my hometown were rather strange. I was often accused of being “too femme,” and in my naivete at the time, I really couldn’t understand why it was an issue. Regardless, I tried to conform, wearing more pantsuits and slacks than skirts and dresses. I was also told that butches and femmes were “out of fashion” and that no one “did that” anymore. I’ve come to realize that these black women were feeding into common arguments at the time (especially in white lesbian communities) that butch/femme relationships mirrored heterosexual relationships. I know now that that was bullshit; just another way of folks trying to police our sexual and gender expressions.
In any event, through the years I have become more comfortable with identifying as femme, although in most cases people (even lesbians who should know better) assume that I’m straight. I’m always asked about a boyfriend or husband, and frequently have had a hard time meeting women who assume that because I do not transgress gender boundaries, that I must subscribe to heteronormative ones.
Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I love being a “girl,” and as a feminist I make no apologies for my own brand of gendered expressions, fully realizing that not everyone feels the same way. And? I also love love love more masculine identified women, and have generally dated what I would consider “soft” studs. For me it’s all about attitude, and less about any particular brand of masculinity. Nothing gets my pulse to racing quicker than a cool-ass woman, or what is more commonly known now as her “swag.”
There you have it, I’m a black lesbian femme, and although I realize that I pass for straight, I’m also aware that my very existence counters common stereotypes about what lesbians “look like.” As far as I’m concerned, they look like me and you. So there.