But You Don’t Look Gay

First of all, yes I do. I am gay, therefore I am what gay looks like. Now I might not fit every stereotype that you may have been fed. I have long hair, I paint my nails, I wear statement lipsticks when I want to, and I will never be able to pull off a snapback. And yet, I still like girls. Femininity and sexuality? Two different things.

One of my straight friends feels the need to remind me every once in a while that I “don’t seem gay.” I once asked her to clarify, and she said that “gay people are usually so loud and obvious about it.” I didn’t ask her whether it was my personality or my looks that threw her off, but I’m assuming it’s a combination of the two. See I might not be “loud” about it, but early on in our friendship I told her about the dates I was going on with girls. I wasn’t hiding my attractions or my relationships or my identity, so how did that make me quiet on the subject? I wasn’t actively filtering my language to pass as straight, and yet she perceived me as if I was “not like the rest.”

It’s not just her. Other straight people that I’m friends with see me as separate from the LGBT community. I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence that I have with my sexuality. I don’t refrain from talking about girls or my experience as a gay person. So maybe it is my appearance. I’m traditionally read as femme. Both gay and straight communities can misinterpret my sexuality. I don’t necessarily stand out as a lesbian even in queer spaces, and some straight people see me as if I’m just like them. They almost seem to forget that I’m gay, and this slight erasure of my identity makes me feel a bit lost and as if my validity is in question. But if I were to change my appearance to better fit a lesbian stereotype, it could feel inauthentic to me. Sure, I embrace several markers that lesbians use to indicate their identity to other lesbians. See: button down shirts, flannels, beanies, rolled up sleeves, and blazers – all found in my closet. But I also have days where I subscribe to traditionally feminine aesthetics, and my appearance refuses to indicate anything other than heterosexual.

If I were to cut my hair off and throw on a pair of cargo pants, would that make me more valid? It certainly wouldn’t affect my sexuality, so I don’t see the need to change how I present myself to make straight people believe or understand my identity. If anyone needs to change, it is these individuals who need to reevaluate what gay “looks like.”

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Femininity On A Spectrum

If masculinity and femininity are on a spectrum, and where you identify at any point can change, then there shouldn’t be this immense pressure to define yourself as a particular category in the queer community. There are so many separate categories just within the lesbian community that try to nail down “which lesbian you are.” Personally, I feel as though I don’t fit any particular category. Labels have expanded past butch and femme. Look up lesbian terminology and you’ll see terms like lipstick lesbian, chapstick lesbian, stud, stem, androgyne, high femme, and so many more. I have friends that identify along with the androgyne category. This makes total and complete sense to them; they are confident that they are not femmes. They present themselves in ways that defy traditional femininity. They’ve never been “girly.”

Whenever I ask the people around me what they think I am, I hear an overwhelming agreeance that I am a femme. This made me wonder, what is it that classifies you as feminine? Is it your actions? The way you carry yourself? Your extracurricular interests? Or is it simply gender presentation?

Gender presentation can reflect one’s inner self. Or it can completely defy it. My friends have worn dresses and makeup before; doing so didn’t innately change them to make them more femme. If we all dressed up in the same outfit, they would still consider me to be the most femme out of all of them. So is this because of something innate that we exude? If I don’t feel particularly attached to femininity, why is it that I am consistently perceived as such?

Femininity is so much more than clothing, and it is far more complex because it is completely intangible. It is a social construct that is meant to help us understand the world around us. It is a combination of how we see ourselves, how we wish to present ourselves, and how we interact with the world around us. It is absolutely a manmade concept and it is not explicitly defined for each person. It is fluid and malleable. It’s important for me to remind myself that labels don’t have to be definite because we’re all different, and we don’t have to be the same presented version of ourselves today as we were yesterday.

The gay community embraces fluidity and doesn’t abide by rigid roles. We’ve already broken down barriers by defying societal norms in terms of our sexualities. If we can embrace an identity outside of the “norm,” we feel more comfortable experimenting with and breaking down social constructs. I think this allowance for changing preferences and identities and gender presentation is one of the most beautiful aspects of our community. Conforming to a binary has never been part of our path.

I didn’t choose to be gay. None of us did. We didn’t actively pick and choose what our identities were. We discovered our preferences and we shaped our lives around our realities. We deserve time and a lack of rigidity with our experimentation. Your identity is yours, and how you shape it and what you call it is up to you.