Let’s start with a story, shall we?
I grew up in a small beach town that had a strange population dichotomy consisting of a large LGBT community coinciding and coexisting with a suburban, conservative mentality. My family, unfortunately for me, belonged to the latter camp. Because of the large gay population, we were used to seeing LGBT folks around, which is why this particular tale sticks out in my mind.
One day when I was in about the sixth grade, my sister came home from the boardwalk with an interesting announcement. “Oh my gosh Julie, you won’t believe what I saw today!”
“What? What is it?”
“There were these two girls holding hands.. and they were both in skirts! One of them had red high heels on and they were carrying purses. They were… together.”
“Together together?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.
“Mmhmm,” she nodded, her eyes wide with some combination of confusion and disgust. I, on the other hand, was fascinated.
I’m sure my sister doesn’t remember this conversation, but I never forgot. This was my first introduction to the “lipstick lesbian.”
In popular jargon, “lipstick lesbian” is often used interchangeably with “femme.” However, the term more specifically refers to feminine women who date other feminine women. A reader asked for my thoughts on the subject, so here goes!
First of all, I think it is wonderful for people to be confident in their identities and to know who they are attracted to. While identifying as a femme lesbian who only dates other femme lesbians could be construed as limiting, I think more power to them for knowing what they want.
The term “lipstick lesbian” is one I have never really been comfortable with. Not that I have anything against the identity; rather, the words just feel strange in my mouth. I think it’s probably due to the fact that I’ve never actually known anyone who identifies with the term, even if they are femmes interested in other femmes.
Additionally, the concept of the “lipstick lesbian” is so often embroiled with ideas of male sexual fantasy. Honestly, I’ve never understood this. Why are men so drawn to two women who have no interest in them? Is it the extra challenge? The boost in masculinity and machismo that they would feel were they successful in”turning” the ladies? (Quotation marks to convey sarcasm; I know turning someone gay or straight is not possible!)
Whatever the reason, two femme lesbians together are a staple of male sexual desire. They appear in porn, on the television, and in movies. Just type “lesbians” into youtube and you will see what I mean. Actually – don’t. That is, unless you want to see clips of likely-straight women kissing for the camera. While the topic of straight girls kissing each other Katy-Perry-style for attention is something I’d like to explore in more detail later, I do think it is relevant to today’s post. The industry that creates and perpetuates male sexual fantasies of feminine women together serves to undermine the legitimate identities and relationships of real femme lesbians – particularly those who date other femmes. Frustrating.
Also, two femmes in a relationship face other challenges in their very blatant rejection of traditional gender roles in the family or couple. Two feminine-presenting women together is enough to cause some homophobes’ heads to explode. When confronted with a lesbian couple, uninformed straight folks will often try to understand the relationship in a heterosexual context, (ignorantly and incorrectly) deciding one member is “the man” while the other is “the woman.” But in the case of two femmes, with no more masculine member of the couple, these people don’t know how to even go about comprehending the relationship.
Personally, I think that part of the reason femme-femme relationships are often not taken seriously is because they so clearly undermine patriarchal family structures. When those who are so deeply invested in the patriarchy see a “lipstick lesbian” couple, it is clear evidence that the structure based on masculine dominance and hierarchy is fallible and not the only way to live, work, succeed, and be happy.
So tell me, dear reader, do you or any of your friends identify as a lipstick lesbian? And why do you think that men are so sexually attracted to the idea of two feminine lesbians together? Let me know in the comments!
- Strength in the Face of Fire
- Troubles with the Dictionary: Defining Femme
- femme: the invisible lesbian