Really? Wow! Just what does a lesbian look like, anyway?

Jenny Block“Hey,” I said to the woman who sat on the bar stool next to mine at NoNo’s in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Hey,” she replied. “Are you on the Carnival Cruise?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “We’re on the Olivia cruise with you.”

“Really? Wow.”

I recognize that “really” and that “wow.” It’s the one I get all too often when someone discovers I’m a lesbian.

It makes me want to cut my hair or stop wearing heels or give up lipstick and mascara. Kind of. For a second. Well, not really.

It really just makes me grumpy. And it happened more than once on that recent cruise.

“Are you even a lesbian?” asked one of the woman I was talking to. I said I was.

“Really? Wow.” I had had too much rum punch that afternoon and got up in her face and said, “What’s a girl gotta do to prove she’s a dyke these days?”

I wasn’t exactly proud of that smart-ass remark the next day, remembering what I had done. But I wasn’t exactly surprised that I had done it, either. Just like I’m sure it’s no fun when you’re a woman and people call you “sir” or you aren’t gay and people assume you are or you are and people seem to notice that about you before they notice anything else.

It’s still no fun, especially within the group itself.

When a lesbian doesn’t think I’m a lesbian because of how I look, it feels counter-productive and cruel to promote the very stereotypes we should be eschewing and bucking.

I have long hair. I rarely leave the house without at least a little lipstick and mascara, and my shoe collection is definitely more platforms than performance gear. But I prefer tattoos over pearls, ponytails over blow-outs, hoodies over sweater sets, and purple Converse are de rigueur for me these days. Regardless, the only real qualification for being a lesbian is identifying as one, right?

We want more women to feel welcome in our ranks. More welcome — not less. More diversity. More inclusion. Power in numbers and all. And I can be my brand of lesbian, and you can be yours and no harm, no foul. So, where is this stuff coming from?

Some of it, I imagine is rooted in the age-old issue about passing. I will be the first to admit that no one has ever bullied me for being a tomboy or looking like a boy or anything of the kind. (Although I have gotten my share of mean-girl shit and frat-boy crap for other reasons.)

Just because you envision someone having it easier than you is no reason to be hateful or distrusting of that person. The truth is, it’s not easier. It’s different. And we have no idea just how different or hard or easy it might be because we haven’t walked in that person’s shoes.

Passing also means being groped in bars and being the subject of catcalls on the street and being called a bitch for rejecting unwanted advances. It’s no fun being looked at as prey. Interestingly, gay men have the unfortunate reputation of being terribly catty and mean to one another. I’m not sure the same can be said of lesbians, and the behavior may be different. But it’s similar and equally harmful.

We still have so far to go in the equality game. There’s so much hard work left to do. The load would be significantly lighter if we were to do it together.

Call me a dork but I love all my lesbian sisters, butch and femme. Top and bottom. Girly and tomboy. And I cherish my gay friends, too. Seems to me we have a much better chance against the haters if we put an end to the hate amongst our ranks.

I’m a lesbian because I love women. The rest should be moot. So, give a girl a break, huh? Just because I might not look like you doesn’t make me any less of a lesbian.

As time goes by, the hope is that it will be easier for people to be themselves, to express their gender and their sexuality freely. We’re asking straight people to heed that call.

But change has to start at home.

Jenny Block is a Dallas-based writer and Lambda Literary Award winner for her memoir ‘Open.’

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2014.