The Hook Up: Addressing the “lesbians hate men” stereotype


Allow me to preface this by saying, while not gay, I am very gay friendly and lived in West Hollywood for a time. I have a lot of gay friends; so many they called me a “fruit fly” because I was always “buzzing around fruits.” The point is I obviously have no problem with gay people and have campaigned for marriage equality, openly gay military participation, etc.

I’ve noticed that in roughly 80-90 percent of lesbian couples I’ve seen there is typically one who is pretty (lipstick) and one who is butch (diesel). My question is for the latter. Clearly they don’t like men, but why do they want to cut their hair, walk, talk, and act like men? I personally dislike teabaggers, but I don’t go around dressing up like the thing I dislike so I find that strange.

Extra credit question: Wouldn’t a woman who is attracted to another woman whose appearance and mannerisms are like those of a man be slightly less lesbian than a woman who is attracted to a woman that does not? Please don’t take my comments as being rude. I mean them in the nicest possible way and I’m asking out of genuine curiosity.

Anna says: Questions like these are precisely why everyone should be forced to take at least one Gender Studies 101 course in their lives. But, fine, let me dig up my Judith Butler hat.

I’m glad you support the gheys, but I have a hard time believing that 1) you couldn’t just ask them and 2) that despite having lots of gay friends you have these questions at all. But, since you asked and I’m feeling charitable, let’s have a Teachable Moment.

Butch/femme is a common lesbian dynamic. Is it the most common? Who knows? No one’s given us a Pew report on the subject. It probably depends on where you live. A little historical perspective:

During the 1940s-50s, when being a lesbian was deeply stigmatized, the butch/femme dynamic was de rigeur. Butch-butch and femme-femme couples were considered highly taboo, and women who did not fall into either category were deemed “kiki” and often called “confused.” Then the ‘60s and ‘70s came and butch/femme couples were considered oppressive representations of heteronormativity and patriarchy. Androgyny became the THING to strive for, which really is kinda butch anyway, so that’s confusing. The ’80s and ’90s brought more gender fluidity and more butch/femme couplings, but it also brought AIDS and more backlashes against LGBT people. The aughts brought the first mainstream lesbian TV show, The L Word, (hooray!) but had like four butch characters ever (sad trombone). Today, in San Francisco, everyone looks a little like a lesbian (a little andro, a little butch, a little femme), and for that I am grateful (and still confused). The end.

Here’s where your question is flawed, though. Butch women don’t dislike men. It’s a stereotype that’s rooted in misogyny and is largely baseless, much like the one that claims all feminists hate men, or that all feminists are angry lesbians who don’t shave and bathe in silken tofu or whatever. Also a woman who has “male” traits (fauxhawk, bow ties, whatever)  isn’t the same thing as wanting to be a man (unless they are trans, but that’s another topic); it’s a different beast altogether, or as Carol Queen once put it, “something our gender-impoverished language doesn’t offer us words to describe.”

Just as there’s no one “right” way to look like a woman, there’s also no “right” way to look like a lesbian, and if someone wants to adopt a more masculine mode of self-expression then why should that be denied to him/her/them/ze? Why should that automatically raise questions about whether said person is “imitating” a man or whether they dislike men? If I wear overalls, no one accuses me of hating farmers.

You could, theoretically, ask such a question about any gender expression and it would be just as ridiculous. Why do goths hate wearing colors other than black? Why do American Apparel models hate smiling? Why does Lindsay Lohan hate pants? The point is that any gender non-conforming person (men too) who doesn’t abide by the very limited cultural stereotypes dictated by society is bound to take shit for it. Butch women in flannel and combat boots (or whatever) fuck with our conceptions of what a woman should look like, and their refusal to adhere to those conceptions are considered a threat to men, and are therefore policed and harassed, sometimes violently.

To wit, don’t be so clothes-minded, my friend.

As to that last question: Seriously? It’s not like we sit around, playing “Who’s the gayest?” Do you do that with your straight friends? If so, who wins?