Once upon a time in a state far, far away a young, slightly heavier androgynous boy sat down to coffee and was mistaken for a lesbian. That young boy was me. To tell you the truth, at first it really bothered me that someone, a gay man actually, had perceived me to be a lesbian. In time, however, I got over it and moved on. I didn’t really think much about it after those first couple of days, then not again until years latter.
While taking a trip up to Boston with a female friend of mine, we continued to get stares from people as we walked around Quincy Market. I assumed it was the FU hat I was wearing, but quickly found out otherwise. “People think we’re a lesbian couple!” My friend said to me. I couldn’t believe that. Why would they…and then it happened. As I passed by a mirror in Banana Republic, I saw it. There we were, a larger size girl in sporty attire and a stocky guy wearing androgynous clothing. We were, indeed, a lesbian couple! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I was mortified by the thought and I quickly conceived ways I could change my image. What could I do to make myself not look like a lesbian? However, I soon realized that it wasn’t my job to change, but rather people’s perceptions of what a lesbian looks like had to change.
My gal pal Lizzie and I often joke about what happened to me. Because Lizzie is a bigger girl, when the two of us are together, we concluded that we’re a lesbian couple. We came to this idea not only because of my experience, but because Lizzie has had her own experiences with people equating large women with lesbians.
But it’s not only Lizzie.
“I have to keep trying to convince my parents I’m not a lesbian,” my friend Val told me on several occasions. Val, a larger set girl, and “Plain,” was constantly being mislabeled as a lesbian. Sure she isn’t a super model and she speaks up for women’s issues, but does that have to automatically mark her as a lesbian? Then again, it’s not only girls who may be less than thin. Any woman who shows an interest in women’s lib is labeled a “dyke.”
Is it easier to dismiss women that this society doesn’t consider “ideal” by casting them away to the island of Lesbos? If a girl doesn’t bring a boy home, why do her parents have to “suspect” something? And better yet, why does a heavyset boy with curly hair and soft features have to be mistaken for a lesbian?!! Society has set up this idea of “lesbian”: Big, butch, unattractive, man hater. Anyone who remotely fits that description is automatically written off as a lezzie. This is a sad thing. I envision a world where we embrace uniqueness and give women the right to possess masculine qualities without being labeled as gay. In such a word, maybe, just maybe, Val could stop defending her heterosexuality to her parents, and I could stop being mistaken for a lesbian and start being asked out on more dates. And if that happened, I’d have something more interesting to write about. But I digress.
Before we progress as a society, we need to examine why it is we stereotype. As a culture we identify with visuals. Clothing, gestures, and speech are all things that lead us to stereotype a person. Whether that is learned or inherent will always be debated. But the key to stopping assumptions is understanding the reasons why we are making them.
In a fast paced world, it’s easy to simply go on assumptions rather than taking the time to really get to know a person. But if we all just take a little more time, stereotypes may eventually begin to disappear, and Lizzie and I could walk hand in hand down the street and not be confused with a loving lesbian couple.
If anyone thinks that labeling a woman who has beliefs, convictions, and ideals as a lesbian will diminish her, I say watch out—Lady Liberty is pissed and that’s one big bad dyke you don’t want to mess with.