I work in a particularly male dominated arena and as such I encounter casual lesbophobia quite frequently. I am regularly compelled to enter into debate with my male peers about page 3, in which I argue that the redtops producing such images are pedalling an utterly outdated and vulgar view of the worth of women, to which they respond with classic Neanderthal “banter” that I should enjoy the photos because I’m a lesbian.
At this year’s WOW! Festival at the Southbank Centre, I attended a debate entitled “Does Page 3 Make The World A Better Place?” lead by Eleanor Mills, chair of Women in Journalism, with speakers India Knight, Laura Bates (founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, and one of my heroes), Martin Daubney (ex Loaded editor), and Katie Price (infamous Page 3 girl, Jordan). The debate went as one might expect – back and forth over the merits of Page 3 as a beacon of women’s autonomy and/or oppression. Bates and Knight were stunningly engaging and articulate, and Daubney was infuriating, as he clearly set out to be. But for me, it was Katie Price who stole the show with her loud and proud defense of Page 3 when she said: “Don’t forget the lesbians!”
This (well-meaning?) inclusion of my sexuality in the debate reminded me of the laddish expectations that come with my orientation. It is assumed that as a gay woman, I fancy every woman. Just like straight men do, right? Why, as a lesbian, is it assumed that I like Page 3? I don’t, I think the whole thing is a sorry example of a patriarchal throwback, but it would appear that to Katie Price and the boys at work, I can’t be an anti Page 3 feminist as long as I am a lesbian.
Lesbophobia in the workplace is a reality for many women. Image: Eneas De Troya
My manager recently said to me, in reply to my enquiry as to whether I am allowed to wear a skirt at work, that he couldn’t imagine me or my bisexual colleague in a skirt. I identify as a femme lesbian and I love wearing dresses and too-high-heels that make me walk like Tina Turner, but according to this guy who knows very little about my personal life, I am too butch to wear a skirt.
This is the same guy who on Valentine’s day, asked (assuming I was straight) whether I’d be ordering the most expensive cocktail on the menu as, obviously, my boyfriend would be paying. And the same guy who on me revealing my sexuality to him in conversation thought it would be a good idea to verify this with my colleagues and remark (not in my presence) that he “wouldn’t have pegged [me] as a lesbian”.
A nice bit of workplace lesbophobia and misogyny rolled into one delightful man. What a catch.
In 2012, I went to my first Brighton Pride. I had previously attended Pride parades in London, but was extra excited to celebrate in the UK’s gay capital. Overall, it was a great experience, but I had naively assumed that homophobia and lesbophobia wouldn’t be an issue in the diverse and accepting city. Sadly, I was wrong.
Myself and a group of friends spent the weekend camping in a complex near to Brighton. A few of us were sat outside of our tent when the park owner came to chat with us. Firstly, he began by asking if my friend was gay and congratulated him for “looking straight”. He then preceded to argue that the gay guys weren’t that bad, but he didn’t like the lesbians because they “rub it in your face” and “all look like men”.
At this point, my friend informed the gentlemen that I was a lesbian. Rather than apologising, he asked how old I was. I replied that I was 19, to which he said “Oh, you don’t know then”. I said “Excuse me? Were you not sure of your sexuality at 19?” He quickly changed the subject and moved on, but his ignorance really shocked me.
Later that evening, we got a taxi into Brighton for the night’s festivities. The taxi driver assumed that we were visiting an airplane show in Hove. When we told him that we were going out in central Brighton, he suggested that we “Be careful” and added, “there’s loads of gays about this weekend”. I told him that we’d be sure to keep our eyes out…
A reader shared her story of lesbophobia with us. Posted with her permission.
One Saturday, my wife and I were walking to our car holding hands and noticed a man in his car was watching us.
We got in the car and were about to reverse, but he got out of his car and was really menacing. Having wound the window down, he started ranting and being quite nasty before screaming, “Fucking lesbians!”
At this point we told him he was breaking the law and we were going to the police having got his car number plate.
The guy actually followed us to the police station but the police were amazing. We were interviewed and asked whether we wanted to press charges. We said no but we wanted him to be told his behaviour was unacceptable. He was interviewed and admitted his comments but said he wasn’t being “homophobic”.
He was cautioned by the police, who phoned us two hours later to update us. On the Monday, we got a call from the hate crime squad to make sure we were okay and asked if we were happy with the police response. The following day, we received a letter from the police with offers of support.
Since my girlfriend and I got together last summer we have met with an overwhelmingly pleasant reaction. Her mother has taken me into the fold and she now has her own drawer in my parents’ house (not quite a family night in with The L Word, but baby steps). Lesbophobia is something we’ve read about in DIVA and in news reports on the anti-gay law introduced in Uganda, but not personally experienced.
However, what we have had a lot of is the word “friend”. Enough, even. It seems that despite spending most evenings together, holding hands, sleeping in the same bed and generally behaving as you would expect a young loved up couple to act, the wider family has decided that this is the most relevant term for her, usually preceded by a short pause and followed by a surprised look from my side of the table. Each time it comes up I think, “’Friends?’ REALLY?”. Perhaps celebrating Valentine’s Day and cuddling on the sofa is how some people behave with their friends, in which case mazel tov to them on their closeness, but I’m pretty sure the majority of people would have at least a little alarm bulb going off if their “close friend” pecked them on the lips and whisked them away for a mini break in Hertfordshire.
This leads me to my next point, if it is this blindingly obvious, why say friend? You wouldn’t call an apple an orange unless you were severely short sighted or had grown up in a fruitless basement, so why pretend a lesbian couple are meilleures amies? Given that they have otherwise accepted our relationship I can only assume that it is to do with the term itself. By acknowledging my dog walking, lunch, holiday and bed companion as my girlfriend they are would be openly recognising something which perhaps they aren’t comfortable with just yet. Alternatively, could it be a gesture of uncertainty over how to act –“We’ll wait till she uses the word first, then we know what to say”.
Either way, I feel that the lack of the word “girl” in front of friend does constitute a form of lesbophobia because of the lack of recognition that it assumes, and perhaps it’s these subtle slights on our relationships which are most dangerous because they are harder to react against. Had my partner being referred to as a “great dirty lezza” I would have felt it in my right shouting this down. “Friend” however, is harder to slam.