We had a discussion in one of my classes today about "Lesbian Baiting", a practice that bullies women by suggestion something about them makes them viewed as a lesbian. Such as:
"A flannel shirt? Really? What are you a dyke?"
"You're going to Texas Woman's University? Isn't that school, like, crawling with lesbians?"
"You're taking a Women's Studies class? What, do you hate men?"
"You're on the softball team, so you must be a lesbian, right?"
I've never put much thought to it because, well, I like women. "Lesbian" isn't really an insult to me. I have a lot of great lesbian friends, I've been in my fair share of relationships with women and I've even been known to eat pussy. So I was initially confused at first why this would be such an effective means of policing the behavior of women. Why would straight women be so terrified of being called a lesbian? But then I listened to my classmates (the ones who had been successfully "baited") and was surprised to hear their explanations.
"I don't want people to think I hate men."
"It's not that I have a problem with lesbians, I just don't want people to think I'm unfeminine."
"I just don't want people to think I'm unattractive."
To hear what being a lesbian meant to these girls was kind of insulting and illuminating. It would seem that lesbians hate men, are unattractive and unfeminine. It made me wonder if they had any lesbian friends because I know lesbians who love men (my boyfriend is a total les-bro), who are gorgeous and who can rock lipstick, high heels and dresses like no other. I think if they were to realize that lesbians (and bisexual women) look like everyone else they would realize it's not such a big deal.
But perhaps the real threat of lady-loving ladies is they point out of lot of the false notions in society. Lesbians are proof that you don't need a man, that you can be masculine or feminine and still love being a woman, that what a woman wears or how she looks has nothing to do with men, that there are more types of families than the "nuclear" standard, and that women can enjoy rich sexual lives all on their own. Lesbians and the LGBT community in general threatens sexism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, and misogyny. We are solid, living proof that the institutions set up to promote patriarchy are socially created and the not rock-solid, god-given truths they claim. A boy who is a natural at dancing threatens the notion that only girls are graceful. A woman who enjoys sports threatens the notion that women are weak and don't like to get dirty. A man who stays at home to care for his children threatens the notion that only women are nurturing. This is why society so ruthlessly punishes those who stand out because of their "cross-gender" behavior. Because it points out there is nothing "cross-gender" about it. If everyone were to wake up and realize that we have the power to decide what we do with our lives, who with, and what for, than we could threaten the very foundation of patriarchy. So I say let's celebrate who we are! Nobody falls into the tiny gender boxes perfectly, so why pretend that we do? Let your true colors show and the next time somebody tries to call your behavior "gay", just say thank you. It will really freak them out.