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.
Over on Twitter, @jesswynn93 poses the question: “Is it really too much to ask to kiss my girlfriend goodbye at the train station without being wolf whistled?”
What do you think?
Shared by Alice*
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…
Police were helpful to the reader and her wife
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.
Sally* shared her experience of lesbophobia at a friend’s birthday party.
My girlfriend and I were at a male friend’s 30th birthday party a few weeks ago. It was mostly guys, but they all seemed friendly so we didn’t feel uncomfortable about sharing a little kiss later in the evening when we’d both had a couple of drinks. Shortly after, though, one guest stumbled over to our table, draping his arms all over me and my girl and getting far closer than we felt okay about. “Are you lesbians?” he slurred. I looked at my girlfriend, who nodded slowly. “Nice! I love lesbians,” he said. “Hate gays though, that’s sick.” He was clearly drunk, and we didn’t want to challenge him incase he became aggressive, but after he spent the next ten minutes badgering us for a threesome we decided it was time to go. We didn’t say goodbye to our friend.
Gretchen* shared this story of her experience of Everyday Lesbophobia.
My partner and I were having a pint and a cigarette, sitting outside my local pub in South London. A man approaches us and asks if we are lesbians. I question why he is asking this, and why it would matter if we were. He says “Go on, admit it. There’s no need to be embarrassed” to which I reply, that I don’t know him, and that it is a fairly personal question to open with. He launches into an (I am sure, entirely fictitious, and certainly unsolicited) anecdote about some lesbians who he met in Brighton, who had invited him back to their place to watch them have sex. I laugh in his face and marvel sarcastically at what a lucky guy he was on that occasion. At this point, my partner had just finished her pint and suggests we leave. I agree, and as we walk away, he shouts “come on it’s only a bit of fun”. I felt livid, but felt that if I had pointed out his dual sexism and homophobia I wouldn’t be listened to. So I laughed at his lack of touch with reality and opportunism and walked away.
*names were changed.