Lesbian Visibility Day: How to not make lesbians feel invisible

Amy here, your token gay sabb. When every day seems to be somebody’s Day of Visibility, it can be easy to forget what this actually means. A helpful explanation might be to think of the opposite – the experience of being made to feel invisible and invalidated, which can easily happen in everyday conversation. Here is a countdown of my top five favourite remarks (all from personal experience) which I’d politely request to remove from your vocabulary, to help make your lesbian pals feel seen and valid every day.

5. I didn’t know you were gay!

But why would you assume that I’m not? Starting off with a basic one at number five – the simple exclamation of surprise when you find out we don’t play for your team. Can also be abbreviated to ‘are you GAY?!’ which is usually the preferred option for men in nightclubs post-rejection. This comment is the result of growing up in a society where heteronormativity is standard and queer is ‘other’, and I will admit to being guilty of sometimes assuming people are straight until told otherwise. Still, this reaction can only end up with an awkward exchange where we feel like we have to apologise for not having rainbow neon signs on our foreheads. I haven’t quite worked out the ideal reply, any suggestions?

4. You don’t look like a lesbian!

A classic which I’m sure my fellow femme queens can relate to. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, I’ve usually heard this coming out of the mouths of others under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, rather than from straight people. It sometimes feels like life is one big queer competition – is it the day-to-day feeling of our identities being questioned that causes this need to constantly try to out-gay each other? Yes, signifiers like clothes, hair colour, music taste or anything else can be very helpful in recognising another Lez in the wild, but it’s surely more productive to liberate ourselves from rigid connections between outward appearance and fundamental identity. You do you queens!

3. So you’re not even bisexual?

Frankly baffling. Is it actually that hard for you to accept that I exclusively like women? I don’t know how my bisexual siblings feel about this, but I can imagine they wouldn’t be too impressed as it implies that bisexuality is a watered-down version of lesbianism rather than a valid and distinct identity in its own right. Sending love, peace-sign gang!

2. How do you know you don’t like men if you’ve never tried it?

Follows on very neatly from the previous one, but somehow much more aggravating. It’s always fun being asked to act as a defence lawyer for your own sexuality. You may have noticed a theme here – the refusal to acknowledge lesbian identities, and the assumption that we don’t know ourselves, which is exactly why we need a spotlight on visibility. I’d hazard a guess that gay men are far less likely to be interrogated about not being attracted to women, and there is absolutely no universe in which the heteros are asked to provide a justification for being straight. Am I CERTAIN about the identity that’s the result of 22 years of figuring stuff out? It’s probably the one thing in my life that IS black and white!

1. If there’s no penis involved, it doesn’t count.

Coming in at number one, this is definitely the most impressive. By ‘it’ I do of course mean sex (sorry to the squeamish). This delightful phrase is one of the most damaging ideas I’ve come across in my little lesbian life and can do real harm to those who are still exploring and coming to terms with their identity. Can you imagine the same sentence being spoken about vaginas? My top recommendation this Lesbian Visibility Day is to give up analysing the presence or absence of particular genitals in various situations. More generally, recognise when your thinking is being swayed by destructive ideologies, in this case phallocentrism. In any form, love is love!

Thanks for sticking with me with my run down of interesting (read: infuriating) conversations. To all my scissor sisters out there, you are beautiful and valid, and I hope you continue to feel visible today and every day.

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