In my career as a lesbian feminist blogger I have come across many stories of lesbians not knowing they are lesbians. Some of these stories are from FtM transitioners who can’t possibly believe they are female and lesbian, and some of them are women who are not trans but who spent many years of their lives not understanding what their feelings for women meant or how they could act on them.
I am starting to realize how lucky I am, and how hard things obviously are for other lesbians. I’m very lucky I was able to realize it in my early 20s and that I was able to meet my partner and be with her for so many years. Some women I’ve met on the Internet had confusing feelings for other women for many years but didn’t quite understand what it meant, or sort of knew they were lesbian but could not come out, and stayed in the closet for years, or believed that they couldn’t really be one due to the belief that all lesbians have a certain culture and not identifying with that culture. But you don’t have to be a certain way to be a lesbian—the only criteria you have to meet is that you are a woman who loves women. A lesbian is a female homosexual, so if you are a female and attracted to females, guess what! You are a lesbian. You don’t have to own a plaid shirt or a cat, you don’t have to shave your head, you don’t have to listen to Ani Difranco, you don’t have to be a radical feminist—if you are a female homosexual then you have a right to the word lesbian. Let’s have a handy flow chart, shall we? Everyone loves a flow chart!
While my personal opinion is that everyone should be a radical feminist, lots of lesbians aren’t. In fact, some lesbians are downright misogynist. Don’t ask me why, I don’t get it! Some lesbians are liberal sex-pozzies, some lesbians are conservatives, some are sporty, some are masculine, some are feminine, some are soccer moms, some are geeks and some are rock stars and none of these lesbians are doing lesbian wrong. We are just people like anybody else, and we are only united by our sexual orientation. In some cases, our sexual orientation is the only thing we have in common.
I don’t know what it is about the last few years, but it seems that tons of lesbians are refusing the label lesbian and calling themselves anything else—genderqueer, non-binary, transmen, the list goes on. When did ‘lesbian’ become such a terrible word anyway? I finally watched a few videos about How I Knew I was FtM tonight, and sure enough, these videos are full of lesbians who are desperately trying not to be lesbians and to be men instead. This just breaks my heart. This is homophobia and they can’t see it.
Here is a FtM video where she realized she was trans at age 23. (This means that she successfully navigated the world as a female for 23 years…it seems to me it would be entirely possible to continue!) She realized she was trans because she was dating a woman who was involved in the queer community and this led her to meet some FtMs. Before this, she claims she only dated straight women. WHAT!?! No, you didn’t. For fuck’s sake, if women wanted to date you BEFORE YOU EVER DECIDED YOU WERE TRANS they certainly weren’t straight women. You were a woman in a woman’s body identifying as a woman when you were dating those “straight women.” It turns out that straight women only date men, and they don’t date lesbians who may someday take testosterone.
Some of the reasons she identifies as trans are (1) she feels she can relate to other FtMs (2) she prefers an androgynous presentation and wears boxers (3) she doesn’t think it’s normal for women to want an androgynous or masculine presentation (4) she watched a lot of transition videos (5) calling herself a lesbian never felt right even though she knew she was a woman attracted to women, and the FtM identity felt better (6) she feels uncomfortable that people identify her as female.
Here is a video where a lesbian couple talks about how the one reacted when the other said she is really a boy. The more feminine one says that she is a lesbian and only dates women, but she will not break up with her girlfriend even if she identifies as a boyfriend. Well, duh—the reason you aren’t breaking up with your girlfriend is because she’s still your girlfriend. She’s not a boy and you both know it.
Here is a video where a lesbian FtM says that she knew she was really a boy because (1) she liked wearing boys’ clothes (2) she hated dresses and long hair (3) she saw a FtM character on Degrassi. That’s it! She talks about wearing boys’ clothes during most of the video. It seems she wants to take testosterone just to gain permission to wear baggy clothes.
I couldn’t even get through more than three videos. These poor girls who grew up with such strict gender roles that they can’t believe they are female! They seem to think it is completely absurd for a female to want to wear comfortable clothes and have a girlfriend. This is not unusual at all! Lots of women prefer baggy clothes, and plenty of us are attracted to other women. The one girl who said that she knew she was trans because she likes wearing boxer shorts—for fuck’s sake, I like wearing boxer shorts and I’m the more feminine one in my relationship.
If you are a girl who always liked playing in the mud, being active, and wearing comfortable clothes, you are a completely normal girl—there is nothing unusual about any of that. If you like your hair short, you are a completely normal girl—take a look at adult women some time, and you’ll notice that lots of them have short hair, even the straight ones! If you are a lesbian who wants to make her presentation increasingly more masculine as she gets older, you are a completely normal lesbian—lots of us are this way. I used to be somewhat feminine as a teenager, and I cut my hair short in my 20s and started wearing more androgynous clothes and sometimes men’s clothes when I can. And like I said, I’m not even as masculine as my partner is. My partner learned how to repair cars from her uncle when she was a kid, and she would feel really uncomfortable in women’s clothes, and her interests besides auto repair are woodworking/DIY, demolition, chain saws, horror films, and power tools. She’s still a woman. You know, I think my partner is more masculine than some of these young dykes who think they must be men.
If the label lesbian feels uncomfortable to you, you have internalized homophobia. I am pretty out and proud these days, but once upon a time I was in a counselling office crying and terrified to say the words “I’m attracted to her” out loud and thinking that it was the end of the world. It certainly doesn’t feel comfortable calling yourself a lesbian right away. This doesn’t mean you’re not a lesbian, it just means that coming out is not easy! It’s not easy for any of us. If you are female and attracted to females and you don’t like the word lesbian, the question you should be asking is “why?” Take a good hard look at the answer to that question.
If you feel uncomfortable that people identify and treat you as female, you are not alone on that one, either. It turns out that it’s hard to be female in a woman-hating culture, and this is hard for all of us, regardless of our gender presentation. None of us likes the sexual harassment, the rape jokes, the actual rape, the being treated like second class citizens or being paid less money. In fact, there is an entire movement going on to improve the lives of females—it’s called feminism.
I just don’t know what to do about all this. I know if I tried reaching out to any of these young women who think they’re men they’d just dismiss me as transphobic. But I don’t hate nor fear them— I care about them. I care about the fact that it’s hard to come out as a lesbian and I wish it wasn’t so hard. Truly, you can get over internalized homophobia, you can wear the clothes you want, you can find a lesbian partner, and you can have a wonderful life. I’ve been an out lesbian for years, I have a loving partner and I’m just living the dream over here. I want the same for all my sisters.