Too many LGBTs automatically assume ‘straight’ when someone doesn’t fit the stereotypes, denying others a community connection
No one can tell my girlfriend is gay. An example: About two years ago, Jenny and a gay male friend went to San Francisco in June. They were excited to celebrate Pride.
But first they were hungry, so they approached a short gay guy wearing leather.
"Anyplace around here we can get Mexican food?" Jenny asked.
The man looked them up and down and then said with a condescending sigh, "The Mexican neighborhood is a few blocks over. This is the Castro. If you really want to stay in the neighborhood, there will be long waits, because there’s a thing happening called Gay Pride."
Jenny and her friend stared at him in disbelief.
"I am a lesbian standing with a gay guy in the Castro," Jenny said to me later. "And even then, no one knows I’m gay."
I think this is funny, because to me Jenny is obviously gay.
Sure, she keeps her curly hair long. She wears makeup. But she tends to gesture like a boy, she talks low in her throat and her nails are short.
In these post-"L Word" glamour lesbian days, those should be all the cues another gay person needs.
Not even gay people can tell that Jenny is gay, and it makes her sad.
"How can you be part of a community if no one can see you?" she asks.
Humans are a tribal animal, and if you’re gay, the LGBT community is your tribe. We want other gay people to recognize us, because it makes us feel less alone. It makes us feel like part of something.
"Also, being gay is more fun," Jenny says.
Back in the early ’90s era of identity politics, recognition was easy. We wore rainbow rings around our necks, pink and black triangles in our ears, shirts with slogans like "No one knows I’m a lesbian" on our torsos.
When we came out, lesbians automatically cut their hair and stopped wearing makeup completely.
But as the movement has gotten older, lesbians — and gay men, too — have stopped conforming to a narrow (if highly recognizable) stereotype and instead have found ways to be both gay and deeply ourselves.
We now know that if we like the feeling of long hair against our shoulders, if we like the way our eyes look when rimmed with mascara, if we like the swish of skirts against our knees or the brisk click of heels, then that’s OK.
We can be butch all the time, sometimes or never. Whatever we choose to wear, we’re still lesbians.
But while society has gradually grown more accustomed to the idea that gay people can be flamboyant or perfectly ordinary, we in the gay community don’t always recognize our more subtle brothers and sisters on the street. We assume heterosexuality, even in our own neighborhoods and our own shops.
Yesterday, Jenny walked into a cafe. "Feminist Salads" was chalked on the menu board. Ani DiFranco growled over the sound system. And the woman behind the counter, pierced and short-haired, was so clearly lesbian she could have been wearing a name-tag.
"I kept joking with her and talking to her, wanting her to know I was gay without actually saying, ‘Hey, I’m gay!’ or ‘Hey, I have a girlfriend at home!’" Jenny told me later.
"I looked at her and felt a sense of connection — and I wanted her to have that sense of connection, too. But of course she didn’t."
So Jenny left, feeling more isolated than if the barista had been straight. Because the woman didn’t see her.
Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist with long hair and curves. Follow her at Twitter.com/JenniferVanasco.
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