Last week, my girlfriend was labeled a “hard femme” lesbian. Initially, she took offense and told me she felt uncomfortable being left out of both the “femme” and “butch” categories, even though she felt that she didn’t comfortably fit into either. This got me thinking about my wardrobe and my mannerisms and which label under the umbrella of “lesbian” I would most easily fit into. I wear skirts and dresses frequently, so that would make me femme. But I also wear jeans and t-shirts just as frequently, so does that make me a hard femme? I wear makeup, so am I a lipstick lesbian?
This inner turmoil lasted for all of three days until I realized how much I hated having to think about it. Why should I feel the need to identify what type of lesbian I am? It was hard enough to come out as a lesbian in the first place so why should I, after going through all that self-discovery, have to go through a similar process to discover what type of lesbian I am? Identifying one way or the other doesn’t make me any more or less of a lesbian.
However, I can see why people would find comfort in these kinds of identifications. My girlfriend, for example, recently came to embrace her “hard femme” label because she said it's nice to have a sense of community with others who label themselves similarly. I understand that. I have experienced something similar in the overarching label of lesbian. There’s a sense of community there, a special group of people who understands you, which is comforting. But it can also be quite exclusive.
“Butch” and “femme” are polar opposites on a scale, and the labels between these two opposites seem to imply varying degrees of gayness. If you are labeled a “lipstick lesbian,” you are able to “pass as straight” more easily, which seems to suggest that you are somehow less gay than someone who is labeled as a “sporty lesbian” or “butch.” There is a constant pressure to fit into some kind of category in order to feel accepted.
So where does it end? I’ve already identified myself as a woman in society, which comes with its own set of social pressures, and then a lesbian which comes with even more pressures. Now I’m expected to also label myself as a certain type of lesbian and embrace the pressures of living up to that label. This undermines the sense of community I had initially found as a lesbian. If the initial label helps me find a community in today’s heteronormative society, why should I feel the need to break down that label even further? Where do I draw the line?
People who identify as heterosexual don’t necessarily feel the need or any kind of social pressure to label themselves as anything but heterosexual. There aren’t varying degrees of heterosexuality as there are of homosexuality -- no labels exist to categorize someone as more heterosexual than someone else (I’m pointedly ignoring hateful, homophobic, sexuality-related slurs that may be thrown at someone). So why do lesbians feel the need to do this?
I’m comfortable with my sexuality and I’d like to stay that way. I don’t want any other subset label to get in the way of the inclusiveness that I’ve felt up until this point in my life. That’s plenty, don’t you think?
Megan Tripp is a junior WLP major who drinks way too much coffee and watches and re-watches Gilmore Girls way too often. She likes shiny things and looks forward to making a career out of making things up and writing them down.