Have you ever seen that meme saying something along the lines of: “as your best friend, I swear to always pretend to be your lesbian lover when you get hit on by some ugly asshole in a bar”? If you haven’t, then let me explain that it’s been circulating for a while now and the point is to tag your gal-pals in celebration of women standing up against the creepy guys who plague bars the world over.
It’s super cool that women are feeling more empowered and don’t need to be polite to every random dude who wants to sleep with them but, as someone who is actually attracted to women, this whole fake lesbian thing leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. I mean, being gay is my life, it’s not a cute prank. Yeah, it’s all in good fun and this is a tiny issue to be picking up on, but I really do not need another reminder that no one takes my sexuality seriously — and I’m sure I’m not alone in the queer community in feeling this.
It’s pretty obvious that one of the reasons queer femmes are less accepted stems from the fact that they aren’t well represented in modern culture. Queer-erasure is real and apart from the Ellens (Degeneres and Page obvs) it’s hard to think of any super famous lesbians – with Kristen Stewart (praised be) as the only famous bisexual who springs to mind. The straight population doesn’t know what to expect from queer femmes and if they were to take their cues from popular culture, it would seem that so few exist that said cluelessness about them doesn’t really matter! On the other hand, trying to get with a woman in a straight club and then have her turn around and be like: ‘Eh no, I’m gay and this is my fabulous girlfriend’ could be a pretty effective way of finally teaching creepers in clubs not to assume that everyone is straight.
Even if this could be a way of normalizing girl-on-girl action, I’m still finding it pretty hard to ignore my knee-jerk ‘WHY DON’T YOU TAKE ME SERIOUSLY??’ reaction…and it probably has something to do with the blatant heterosexism surrounding the whole thing. Heterosexism is homophobia’s lesser-known partner in crime: the ingrained belief in the superiority and rightness of heterosexuality. If homophobia was the Donald Trump of gay intolerance, then heterosexism would be Theresa May – not openly preaching hatred but being pretty aggressively anti-diversity. So, while pretending to be a lesbian when you’re not isn’t necessarily homophobic it is kind of heterosexist. The idea that you can pretend to be gay when it’s convenient reinforces the idea that anything other than heterosexuality is just a phase or a joke…which is obviously kind of shitty. It’s also worth saying that heterosexism means that even if you are openly gay, you’re not protected from unwanted attention from the opposite sex. As pretty much every out lesbian will attest, the world makes it obvious that it’s just waiting for you to wake up and realise that you’ve been kidding yourself all along.
On another level, this whole issue also reinforces what said creepy dude at bar would call the ‘hot or not’ equation. If you’re gay but also cis and/or pretty by Eurocentric beauty standards then you’re semi-acceptable (albeit hyper-sexualised by the media – whoo!) but if you’re not then you are more visible target for homophobia. It might not be immediately obvious but this whole pretending to be lesbian lovers thing totally feeds into this! When straight women pretend to be lesbians, they’re invoking the powers of the mythical Lipstick Lesbian as dreamed up by Pornhub: a hyper-femininity coveted by men but at once inaccessible (at least until the right guy comes along). Not only does this reinforce the idea that queer femmes can only be accepted if they adhere to unrealistic beauty standards, it actively contributes to the erasure of gender identity minorities within and out-with the LGBTQI+ community. Androgyny in all of its manifestations is super hot and we need to be celebrating this version of beauty and seeing it as a valid manifestation of lesbianism, rather than suggesting that femme lesbians are the be-all and end-all.
Sexuality is fluid and maybe one night you want to call yourself gay to see how it feels, to have fun and safely experiment with the female friends who you, quite rightly, think are fabulous. This’s totally not a problem, especially if you’re not entirely closed-off to sexual advances coming from someone not of the opposite sex. I’m not going to be the queer-police and say that you can’t call yourself gay unless you’ve kissed X number of girls but if you’re the type of person who worries about calling yourself a feminist lest someone thinks you’re ‘a man-hating lesbian’ then maybe lay off a bit and go read Compulsory Heterosexuality.
Okay so let’s talk a little bit now about what this all stems from — creepy guy syndrome. It’s a statement of fact to say that clubs and bars have a sexual overtone. It’s here, helped by a bit of Dutch courage, where we find casual and not-so-casual sex partners. However what complicates all of this are the legions of pushy men who take boundaries for granted. If a woman looks uncomfortable when you approach her in a club then you should stop, rather than haranguing her until she has no option but to pretend that she is completely off-limits according to guy code: that either she’s gay or has a long-term boyfriend.
Women have the agency to find their own sexual partners thank-you-very-much, and don’t need to be coerced. If she wants you, she’ll let you know.
Words: Megan Wallace
Images: Rachel O’Regan