July 14, 2013

Icon“Homophobia with a side order of sexism” – it’s time to take lesbophobia off the menu

“Which one of you is the man?”

“You don’t look like a lesbian.”

“Can I join in?”

“You just haven’t met the right man yet.”

“I’m sure I could turn you.”

… and so the list of lesbophobic comments goes on. If any of these are sounding familiar then you are certainly not alone. It would seem that lesbophobia is a worryingly common occurrence but what exactly is it?

According to Jane Czyzselska of Diva Magazine fame, lesbophobia is “homophobia with a side order of sexism”.

In other words, lesbophobia includes all the verbal and physical abuse aimed a person perceived to be lesbian, as well as all those subtly offensive comments that indicate that lesbians are second class citizens or in some way abnormal because they do not desire a man or a heterosexual relationship.

The team at DIVA have decided it is time to fight back and have started a campaign called “Everyday Lesbophobia”, based on the successful “Everyday Sexism” project.

The intention of the campaign is to raise awareness about lesbophobia and make the point that it is not acceptable. Facebook, Twitter and a blog are being used as a platform for lesbians and bi women to share their stories and experiences from serious attacks to everyday putdowns.

Does lesbophobia really need its own campaign?

As members of the LGBT community we are regularly assumed to be the same, face the same issues and have exactly the same beliefs as each other, so it is likely that we may be questioned why we need to campaign against lesbophobia when we are already fight against homophobia. Apart from the obvious fact that one is aimed at people perceived to be homosexual and the other is aimed solely at people perceived to be lesbians, there are other significant differences.

Arguably, it is that “side of sexism” that makes a huge difference. The root of this is presumably the fact that we live in an extremely heteronormative society. Men often feel threatened if they are not needed or desired and tend to display this by making crude comments about “joining in” or “watching” lesbians sex life. But it’s not just men; women are often as guilty. Comments about lesbian sex not being real sex or being asked “what do you actually do” are as common from women as from men.

Lesbophobic comments are not restricted to sexual references though. It is just as offensive to be asked who the man in the relationship is because surprisingly not every relationship is based on the normative heterosexual style relationship. People fail to understand that two women can have a relationship with each other whilst acting, dressing, talking and feeling like women.

It may not seem important to straight people, but it gets very tedious when you talk to someone new about your partner and she is automatically assumed to be a man. There have even been times when I have corrected a person and stated SHE and either been met with a refusal to accept what I’d said or been asked “don’t you mean HE” as if I must have completely forgotten the gender of my partner.

Another important distinction is the way in which lesbophobia is manifested. While there is no doubt there are verbal and physical lesbophobic hate crimes, there is also a whole lot of lesbophobia that doesn’t happen out of malice, spite or hate.

People often say things such as “you’re too pretty to be a lesbian” or “it’s such a waste”, which they appear to think is a compliment. In fact a large amount of lesbophobic comments come from friends and family who have, according to them, ‘accepted’ the person’s sexuality. This is more difficult to tackle than the overtly abusive hate crime type lesbophobia as people genuinely do not understand why their comments are offensive.

Hate crimes deliver a huge blow to us physically and mentally, whereas the more subtle, everyday lesbophobia chips away at our self-esteem.  Arguably then the way to tackle it is to raise awareness, educate people and stand up for ourselves. This is exactly what the “Everyday Lesbophobia” campaign is trying to do.

So in answer to the question “does lesbophobia really need its’ own campaign”? The simple answer is yes.

To get involved go to the blog, Facebook page or Twitter and share you experiences.

2 Responses to “Homophobia with a side order of sexism” – it’s time to take lesbophobia off the menu

  1. L. says:

    I had a girlfriend for over 2 years at uni, the first and so far only woman I’ve ever been with. The litany of ‘you’re the prettiest lesbian I’ve ever met!’(usually women), ‘what a shame!’(usually men), ‘are you sure?’ (people of all genders) and ‘that’s not a real relationship, so I’m not worried’ (the last by a sleazy guy who kept hitting on me at a Christmas dinner) still angers me, though we are no longer together.

  2. Lauren says:

    I’ve also been asked if I’m a lesbian because of how I was treated by men when I was younger. I am a rape survivor, and as soon as someone knows that, and that I’m a lesbian, I almost always get comments about how I am probably just too afraid of men to have close relationships with them and I am not a “real” lesbian. So offensive, not only telling me my sexuality is not real, but implying that things that have happened in my past define every part of my sexual identity. No matter how much I try to correct them, they are just further convinced that I am in denial. I think this is pretty common too, among LGBT abuse survivors..

Sara Newnes

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