Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Queer/Story: Stereotypes & Life Lessons
(Names in this blog post may or may not have been changed. Also, for purposes of this blog, “queer” refers to the naming of a person who does not identify as heterosexual. It caters to the belief that sexual orientation is a spectrum, encompassing lesbian and bisexual people.)
I have a system of categorizing women, based on lots of stereotypes and a little life experience.
There are three categories, upon first view of a woman, that I place her into:
1. This woman is definitely straight:
2. This woman is definitely queer:
3. These women may or may not be queer:
(Photos have been used with permission and were taken from subject's own profile pictures.)
The system has proven very effective, but, to be fair, here are a few examples of my failures:
When I moved to Minneapolis last August, I met a whole new group of people. Up until this point, I would have likely said that stereotyping of any kind was WRONG and we SHOULDN'T DO IT. EVER. But I was single and living in one of the gayest cities in the U.S....what's a girl to do?
Then I met a woman, let's call her Emily. Emily worked for an LGBT organization. She spoke queer language (yes, we have our own language). She dressed in flannel and plaid. My gay-dar went off every time we talked.
Come to find out, Emily is straighter than an arrow. The girl likes men. If Emily was a lesbian, she would certainly be taking the title. But seriously folks. She is into dudes. In fact, Emily often has to come out to people as straight, because she fits so well into lesbian stereotypes. After many conversations about this topic, we named her a cultural lesbian.
Next is a story about two good friends of mine. One, Anna, identifies as heterosexual, and the other, Jamie, identifies as a lesbian. I went through a phase last year in which I teased Jamie about all of the categories she fits into that are stereotypical of lesbians. One day, my example was her tie-dye t-shirt. It was my assertion that that tie-dye made her look gay. She argued that her t-shirt in no way identified her orientation. Anna jumped in, asking if she put on the tie-dye t-shirt if she would look gay. So they switched shirts to prove a point.
Jamie was wearing Anna's form fitting green sweater (and looking mighty uncomfortable, I might add). Anna had on Jamie’s t-shirt. And let me be clear - Anna looked as straight as ever.
So it wasn't the tie-dye.
And at some point I began to reconsider the stereotyping I had become accustomed to. Maybe people didn't need to be categorized. Maybe I don't need to make assumptions about other people's orientations.
Enter Sarah, my dear bisexual friend who just started grad school. She told me about a girl in her class who made a comment about the rainbow sticker on Sarah's water bottle. (Indicator number one.) I asked a few questions. Does she have short hair? What kind of clothes does she wear? But the next piece of information I got was even better. THIS GIRL PLAYS RUGBY. Folks, rugby and softball are lesbian gold mines. Game, set, and match. (Ok, I realize that's a tennis expression, but just go with it.)
"Sarah!" I exclaimed. "This girl has got to be queer. She. Plays. Rugby. And loves LGBT stuff!" Sarah was a little more skeptical. But then the girl asked Sarah out to drinks. Done and done. And over the course of the night, this girl shared with Sarah her love of women. And I patted myself on the back for being so wise, without ever meeting this girl, I might add.
Final story. Literally 10 minutes after coming out as queer to my then-self-identified-straight-friend Lisa, she pulled a wallet out of her back pocket. "Lisa!" I exclaimed. "You know that's super stereotypical lesbian of you, right?" Her face reddened and she stammered out something about not knowing that.
We were dating three months later.
If I work to present myself as female, why can’t I work to present myself as lesbian? I don’t believe dresses and heals are embedded in my mind as things I need to wear simply because I have a vagina. There’s a heck of a lot of socialization that goes into the way I was taught to dress – and act – simply because I was born with female parts.
So why would it be problematic to also consider that some people present as queer? That it may not be because I have flannel on, but because I consciously chose to have flannel on, that identifies me. Unless you live in north country, because people, please. It's cold up there and people need to stay warm somehow.
To be fair, I don’t fit a lot of lesbian stereotypes. I like my long hair. I wear dresses, the occasional pair of heals, and I sometimes even shave my legs. But then again, I’m in a softball league, I own a lot of flannel, and my favorite outfit is a t-shirt and jeans. Just as I do with my femininity, I also make some decisions about how queer I do or do not look. (Ok, and a lot of it is based on me being particularly lazy when it comes to my presentation.)
I was in a conversation with a friend of mine last week. The friend, who identifies as heterosexual, was laughing about a time when she was rocking a “lesbian outfit” and someone made a comment about her looking like a lesbian.
“Oh my gosh, right?” I teased. “It’s so frustrating when people assume I’m straight.”
So you tell me. Stereotyping in the queer world: good or bad? Is there such thing as looking straight or looking queer? Am I correct in my categorization of my fellow bloggers?