femme: the invisible lesbian

Imagine you are walking down the street. You pass men and women in business suits, teenage babysitters with toddlers, girls running by in track suits, men taking their dogs for a walk. Each of these people are making assumptions about you, just as you are making assumptions about them, in an attempt to satisfy the human desire to know, understand, and categorize. Based on their appearance, clothes, haircut – anything you can see – you make assumptions about the kinds of jobs these passersby have, where they live, how they spend their free time. And also, perhaps unconsciously, their sexuality.

When I walk down that same street, I know that the majority of people – I would guess almost everyone – is getting that final assumption wrong about me. I can’t help but feel invisible when such an important part of my identity is not only hidden, but, in a way, contradicted and misrepresented.

walking down street

One in ten

I will admit there are times and places where “passing” as straight is beneficial and even a matter of safety. And as the saying goes, “Your privilege is showing, Julie.” I am fully aware that the ability to blend seamlessly into the background when necessary is an advantage afforded to me because of my femme identity; I know that many lesbians are not so fortunate.

However, I can’t help but be frustrated by the fact that everyone I meet and every person I pass on the street assumes that I am straight. I am proud to be gay, and I am proud to be femme, and it seems nearly impossible to present both of these identities at once. The only time I am recognizable as a lesbian is when I am on my partner’s arm. I love the sense of pride I feel when I am beside her, not only from the pride I have in our relationship but also in my lesbian identity. I often wish there were a way to show that side of myself without being dependent on someone else.

This invisibility often leaves me feeling alienated from the LGBT community. It has become a running joke between my partner and I that whenever I spot a lesbian couple or a rainbow sticker on a car, I will shout just below earshot, “Hi me! Hi us! We’re gay! We’re gay too!” It’s funny and we have a good laugh, but at the same time, it is representative of the desperation I feel in trying to be visible to my community.

pride flag

My new outfit?

I’ve tried a few things to combat this invisibility; I put a rainbow pin on my backpack and an HRC (Human Rights Campaign) sticker on my water bottle. But short of wrapping myself in a pride flag like a bath towel, I don’t really know how I could ever prevent people from automatically assuming I’m straight. I guess that’s the main point I am trying to make – I just wish that heterosexuality wasn’t the default setting in the eyes of the world, particularly for a feminine-looking girl like myself.

So I challenge you to fight against this assumption. Starting today, try to break the habit of assuming a person’s sexuality based on their appearance. It’s not easy, but it will be worth the effort the next time you meet a femme lesbian. What a breath of fresh air it will be for her when you ask something like, “Do you have a partner?” instead of “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Just the thought alone is enough to make this femme’s heart smile.

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Categories: Femme Theory, The Archives

8 Comments on “femme: the invisible lesbian”

  1. steph
    April 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    amen to that! i totally know what you mean about the sense of pride you feel when you are walking down the street w/ a. i am the same way. :)
    and i love that you do not feel pressured into presenting yourself in any way that is not true to who you are, even though you might feel more visible as a lesbian.

    • April 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

      Hi Nini!! You found my blog!

      You’re pretty great yourself with regard to being true to who you are, foxy lady ;)

  2. April 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    Oh my goodness I totally agree. Though I’m bi, ever time I see someone who is obviously queer I want to run up to them, hug them, and yell “ME TOO ME TOO ME TOO!!!”

  3. September 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    I’ve always sort of been crazy for action movies and ninjas, so my sweetheart likes to tease me by always saying we’re sort of in “Steath Lesbian” mode.

    I think it’s her way of messing with my head in a playful way when we’re out in public.

    ….and by the way, I’m loving your site!! So girl-friendly for those of us still trying to figure out just how the heck we ended up crazy in love with our best girlfriend but still feel like just plain women.

  4. Lez-Phemme
    April 7, 2012 at 7:18 am #

    I hope this does not meet rejection. I am a straight female who wants to start a clothing line for lesbian femmes for this very reason. I have two friends who are what I call “lady-like” lesbians. They wear the same name brands I do, and they want to represent who they really are in a fahsionable way. I came up with this line and would like to get some feedback on what femmes would think about it. Can anyone give me some information on how you feel about it? Is this something that you would be interested in? I would love to share some of my designs with you, but I want to know first if this is something I should persue.

  5. emmamulligan
    April 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    “I am proud to be gay, and I am proud to be femme, and it seems nearly impossible to present both of these identities at once.”

    So true.

  6. Jessica
    May 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    I love this post and I feel exactly the same invisibility (and sometimes I am thankful for that as you stated, because I can blend) and that same frustration with how to showcase my sexuality and self. I feel so grateful that I’ve found your blog, because I can so completely understand your voice!


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