CW: sexual assault
When I first realised that I was queer, my first instinct was to not mention it. Not because I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted, but because I was worried people would think I was only saying so for attention. We live in a culture that idolises girl-on-girl sexuality, but draws the line at those girls having a relationship. Because of this, I had gotten it into my head that if I announced to the world that I, a young woman, was interested in other women, there would suddenly be all these pressures put on me–that I’d have to somehow prove my sexuality by dating equally as many boys and girls, or that there would be more attention on my relationships because they were queer.
Meme by carol-cigarettes-furcoats.tumblr.com
And in fairness, I wasn’t too far off. When I eventually began to come out to different people, I noticed a sudden fascination from a lot of the boys in my life. From boyfriends (who I was in monogamous relationships with) suggesting threesomes with my other queer female friends (which, once shut down, became ‘just a joke’, of course), to straight men at gay clubs insisting that my friends and I make out so they can watch. It felt as if I had suddenly been put up on a stage and there were people in the audience waiting for me to perform my sexuality for their approval. This fetishisation of queer women is something that we as a society need to address.
During a time where I was struggling with expressing my sexuality, I was seeing posts come up on social media of my straight female friends kissing their other straight female friends. I think that was a big part of the problem, that the most consistent representation of gay women I saw was girls engaging in sexual behaviour with each other not because they themselves wanted it – but because they knew that other people wanted to see it, that it would get them likes and encouragement and sexual validation from the men around them.
Often one, or both, of the girls were in relationships, with boyfriends who encouraged their encounter. In fact, I can attest to this myself. I’ve been in relationships where the boy I was dating encouraged me to kiss my female friends. This always really confused me, because if there had even been the suggestion of another boy interested in me romantically that was a big NO, and yet they were completely okay with me kissing and touching other women.
Photo by Norbu Gyachung on Unsplash.
When women loving women (wlw) relationships aren’t perceived as a threat to the heterosexual relationship, their validity is undermined. Men that don’t view their girlfriends being intimate with other women as cheating send out the false message that wlw relationships cannot breach the contract of heterosexual monogamy. Almost as if they ‘don’t count.’ Heteronormativity has conditioned us into thinking that relationships must include a man to be valid and taken seriously, when in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth.
More than that though, these interactions can contribute to the idea that wlw are performing for men’s validation, and by extension that men are entitled to watch and ‘enjoy the show’ because it is for them. Years and years of media, television, music and porn portraying wlw as sex objects has led to actual wlw being viewed through the lens of the male gaze, in which they exist not as people on their own, but rather as objects for men to seek pleasure from. Queer relationships deserve to be celebrated and respected all the time, not just when they seem appealing to others. Wlw relationships are so-called for a reason—they are founded on love, and this love is as genuine as any other kind of relationship. And they certainly don’t exist to please the voyeuristic male gaze.
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), which has been mired in controversy due to its unrealistic and hyper-sexualised depiction of lesbian romance through the lens of the male director Abdellatif Kechiche. https://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/la-et-mn-blue-is-the-warmest-color-the-women-the-scenes-the-director-20131022-photogallery.html.
But of course, straight girls kissing their friends is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fetishisation of queer women. From my own experience, this intrigue that a lot of men have with wlw and the excitement they express over watching them made me incredibly reluctant to be open with my sexuality for a long time. And experiences I had in which men would end up cheering me on if I was with a girl just left me feeling dirty and ashamed.
It may all seem like harmless fun, but it’s these kinds of instances and attitudes that contribute to a cycle of real-world harm. Across multiple studies, it has been found that up to 85% of women identifying as either lesbian or bisexual reported being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives (compared to 17% of women generally). That’s 17 out of 20 queer women. And almost half of those bisexual women experienced this sexual violence before the age of 18. This only goes to show why your feminism MUST be intersectional, and inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Photo by Elena Rabkina on Unsplash.
Of course, these very high statistics can’t be entirely attributed to straight girls kissing their friends, but when we couple that with the entitlement men feel to a woman’s sexuality, and pre-existing stereotypes that queer women are promiscuous and easy—well, it’s certainly not helping.
Queer women do not exist for your entertainment, and the fetishisation of them is contributing to many of us being put in dangerous situations we do not want to be in. Please, please, please stop making us the centre of your sexual fantasies. Also, just some helpful advice: if your boyfriend needs to watch you with another woman to find you attractive, it’s probably time to dump him, babe.
Tierney Khan has always been passionate about using words to express her opinions and to stand up for what she believes in. In 2020 she became the VCAA Plain English Speaking Award Victorian State Champion with a speech titled ‘Not another speech about feminism’, and has since gone on to be a host, producer and panellist for multiple events through The Wheeler Centre. She also has recently begun working with the Anti-Racism Kit, an organisation committed to tackling racism specifically targeting high school students.