Lou is on the same page as the Niamhs
I guess I should start by saying I am a girly girl. I completely reject the label ‘femme’ to describe myself, but girly is a characteristic that I can’t deny. It’s not so much clothes I don’t think. True I know how to manoeuvre a pair of tights better than a football but at times I’ve been told I have ‘gay hair’ and I’m not aversed to the odd pair of chunky boots.
Reading what the Niamhs have had to say on Gaelick the last few days finally got me motivated to start writing about something I feel quite strongly about; the ways people are perceived because of their appearances and the affect this can have on social interaction, especially when it comes to sexuality. When Niamh amháin talks about seeing the girls in heels and dresses being turned away from the door of a gay night, that is an all too familiar scenario for me. I’ve been that girl on many occasions. Well not so much now, but this could be because I’ve ditched the heels as they’re not really conducive to running for the Nitelink.
Clothed in a barrier
Where she questions whether ‘femme’ girls are welcome on a male-dominated gay circle, it really resonated with me. On gay nights out, my clothes, hair, make up – my whole appearance – seem to act like a physical barrier between me and positive interaction with well, the majority of other people that are out of an eve, not just the bouncers.
A regular gay night out for me will entail: being sought out in by the few straight men that always seem to be lurking around, being groped and told I’m ‘too pretty to be a dyke’ (offensive on so many levels) in an environment where this isn’t supposed to happen. Being assumed to be a ‘fag-hag’ by gay men and flattered by them until they realise there’s no ‘gay best friend’ to be set up with. The awkward conversations with other identifiably gay girls; who either feel judged themselves by me assuming I’m up on some ‘femme’ high-horse and make self depreciating comments about their own appearances, or the gay girls who do the judging and put me down or who make lewd comments about always wanting to ‘score a femme girl’.
To always be mistaken as the ‘straight tag along’ if with a group of gay people, and have conversations that go ‘gay blah gay blah gay blah – oh sorry you wouldn’t understand’. To be persistently and invasively questioned about my sexuality by people of all genders and sexualities; are you sure, are you experimenting, you’re just looking for attention, etc. I realise this probably happens to a lot of people but this always has the tone of ‘because you look so straight’ running through it.
Labels? We got them all
Straight and femme seem to be interchangeable labels. When people first see me they assume straight, then when I correct them transitions into labeling me as femme, which has the connotations of not really being gay, that initial impression of straight still lingering.
Thankfully I’m very comfortable with my sexuality and have accepted my inherent girliness long ago. It does worry me however, how intertwined a persons looks are in whether their sexuality will be accepted by society. I understand that for many, clothes are an expression of their sexuality, and they are an integral part of their identity. For me though, it’s just not the case. If I go to stock up on clothes I never wonder about how ‘gay’, or rather ‘straight’ they’ll make me look. How I look and my sexuality are completely separate (well, apart from the odd attempt to look sexy!).
I’m confident in saying that there are masses of women (and I imagine men too) out there not feeling like they can openly identify with their sexualities because they don’t fit the gay mold. I was never really interested in having a completely ‘gay life’ as I could see other people around me did once they came out. I didn’t give up my straight friends, change my style, or immerse myself in only gay social activities. My life continued on much the same (apart from the sex!!); work, college, socialising.
It was through this that I began to encounter other women and girls like me; not welcome to be themselves in gay places, not free to be themselves in straight. They don’t look ‘gay’ their lives aren’t surrounded by everything ‘gay’ they may even not be ‘gay’ but they ain’t purely straight either and where’s the place for them?
Pumped up in Pjs
In Niamh eile’s discussion about pumps vs pants she made the very good point about well, not looking the same every day. As I sit here writing this I’m in what my sister so eloquently describes as my ‘house uniform’ (you know, those comfy clothes that you can’t bear to part with but can’t leave the house in either – for me it’s a raggedy hoody and tracksuit bottoms with hair dye splattered on them). I have no make up on and my hair is scraped back. If you were to put me in a sort of straight line up today, given peoples’ predisposition to stereotypes, I’d certainly be picked out as the lesbian. But that’s the thing though, for the majority of people, when it comes to sitting at home or even going to bed at night, all of the markers that society defines as ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ or ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ are quite literally stripped away. Pj’s are the great equaliser!
Years ago, my best friend was showing one of her friends a picture of me. Her friend knew I was gay and when she saw what I look like exclaimed ‘she could be any one of us!’. While I found this equally amusing and disturbing, in a way she really hit the mark. What does gay look like? What does straight look like? What does any sexuality look like?