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Lesbian Myths, Debunked

Gender stereotypes about the lesbian community distort gay women's experience.

For a gay woman, it can often be a struggle to determine where exactly she fits in the spectrum of gender identity in both the lesbian and heterosexual communities. Many lesbians are faced with having their sexuality evaluated purely on the basis of their looks, as if sexuality is something that can be “seen” on the body to warrant approval, while others are not “accepted” for failing to act in a certain way. Such narrow-minded, misguided stereotypes create numerous social problems in advancing gay rights and raise an important question of what gender identity means for lesbians today.

According to mental health counselor Tara Lombardo, of the LGBT psychotherapy center,  Institute for Human Identity (IHI), gender stereotypes about lesbians are merely an extension of “internalized homophobia.” In other words, the LGBT community has adopted society’s standard of what it means to be straight or gay based on the only model it knows—heterosexual relationships. In essence, it has had to borrow from this prototype.

“For lesbians, representation appears to be 'owned' by heterosexual attitudes that personify what lesbians are and are not, and this is related to women’s sexuality being invisible and based on attraction. A lot of femininity is based on the male gaze. If you remove the male perspective, you have to figure out the female gaze and at this point we still don’t know what exactly that is in the gay community.  It has been a long trek for lesbians to come out and work out where they identify within these pre-determined social scripts that exist,” Lombardo explained to AlterNet.

A growing body of social science research suggests that the proliferation of gay marriage is redefining the way we view gender and specifically gender roles within family life. According to Liza Mundy in her recent article,  “The Gay Guided to Wedded Bliss,” research has shown that same-sex unions are happier than heterosexual marriages, with lesbian couples experiencing the most intimate relationships compared with their heterosexual and male gay counterparts. 

“Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on pre-existing gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples,” Mundy said.

While the critics of gay marriage warn of the effects of a “genderless” society, Mundy believes gay marriage can help us to shed ancient, old-fashioned stereotypes by re-evaluating gender norms.

“If a genderless marriage is a marriage in which the wife is not automatically expected to be responsible for school forms and childcare and dinner preparation and birthday parties and midnight feedings and holiday shopping, I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual women would cry, bring it on! Beyond that, gay marriage can function as a controlled experiment, helping us to see which aspects of marital difficulty are truly rooted in gender and which are not,” she said.

We are certainly making some headway, at least in the eyes of the law, with over 14 nations now having legalized gay marriage. Such efforts have generated extensive media coverage of gay weddings and enhanced the visibility of the many different types of gay couples that exist in the LGBT community. Moreover, such transparency has helped to normalize lesbian identity for heterosexuals and thus paint a clearer picture of society’s evolving gender norms.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding such progress, hiccups and push-backs remain in the struggle for equality. As we celebrate  Pride Month this June, we still find ourselves living in a world where gay people are subject to discrimination and anti-gay  hate crimes. While some lesbians are fortunate enough to escape such prejudice by slipping under the radar and not being recognizable as gay, these women face other obstacles such as the effects of “femme invisibility."

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