Before delving into the specifics of this article, let me make a quick disclaimer. I do not consider myself to fall under the label of a “femme”, although I do often present myself as feminine when I am out in public (especially if under the request of my partner).
For those of us who do not fully identify with the binary definitions of lesbian presentation, the issue of invisibility is no less existent – in fact, our particular stance in between the femme and stud labels offers us exclusive insight into both sides of the coin.
When we choose to present as studs, on a particular day, it can be cast off by others as “just being a tomboy”; that is, someone who has seen us in a dress and heels may feel that this is our “true nature” and when we present ourselves in more masculine-attributed clothing, it seems like dress-up.
This sets an unfair precedence for outsiders to determine our “true” style without input from us, which will generally lead to faulty assumptions.
On the other hand, when we choose to present as more feminine on a given day, this can somehow “confirm” their assumptions about how we dress and what our intentions are.
Truly, judging anyone’s intentions based solely on what they are wearing is often wrong on many levels – but when it leads to us being ignored or marginalized, it is of greater concern to us.
For those of us who fall somewhere in between the “are you sure you’re not straight?” stereotypes and the “obviously gay” stereotypes, we want to believe that we can control someone’s opinions of us and influence our own reputations. To some degree, this is true, but there will always be assumptions made and stereotypes compared in reference to our appearance.
Why is femme invisibility a problem? Much of the concern comes from the fact that we aren’t immediately recognized as lesbians. In some scenarios (such as when you live in a region where discrimination due to orientation is a problem), this can be a good thing.
But, in other scenarios (such as when you’re trying to find like-minded individuals and they don’t see you as being in the same category they are), it can be frustrating, to say the least.
I’d like to say that we are only “invisible” when it comes to those outside of the gay community – but this is definitely not true. The fact is, even many lesbians have this subliminal message about “what a lesbian looks like”, even if they internally know that these stereotypes are not universal.
Of course I have been approached by men who refused to believe that I was a lesbian, and were convinced that I was “just trying it out” (which is certainly not true), but I have also had partners and family members question my intentions in regard to the relationship.
Let me say that questioning your partner’s intentions is a necessary step in the early stages of a relationship, but if your partner tells you that they want to be with you, you should understand that this is usually coming from sincerity and honesty. You shouldn’t question her motives just because she likes to wear dresses.
This type of thinking is archaic, and most likely had no grounds in facts even when it was a more appropriate assumption.
However, that’s not to say that some women can’t “own” their invisibility and use it to their advantage. Before becoming a writer, I worked in many situations where I felt that my job security may be threatened due to my orientation.
This is, of course, an issue all to itself that we must work together to overcome, but being able to “blend in” with the straight girls allowed me to remain “in the closet” while I was at work, and is probably a great deal of the reason I never truly transitioned into a primarily-stud-style. It’s just a theory I have.
What can we do to overcome these stereotypes? Individually, not a whole lot. As femmes or no-labels, we will undoubtedly be asked to justify our sexuality to others at multiple times in our lives.
It’s ultimately up to you whether you decide to address those people or simply leave the mystery there, until such a point that society stops assuming that “straight” is the default.
In the community, we can consciously work on ourselves to help improve the stereotypes associated with lesbians. One of the most straightforward ways to do this is to simply be “out” when we are in public – but understandably this isn’t a viable option for everyone.
A more subtle approach would entail that we stop seeking the “tell-tale signs” that someone is gay or straight – they’re mostly rubbish anyway.
Instead, it may be helpful to implement the theory that everyone is bisexual until proven differently. No, that doesn’t mean we should flirt with everyone and see where it goes – although if that’s your style, more power to you.
I am referring to removing all assumptions completely, and instead focus on getting to know a person before we apply a label to them. Labels, after all, should be personally identified, and not attached by strangers.
If the entire community can work to eliminate the application of a label to a third-party, I anticipate that in just a few short years we could do away with the invisibility and rejection that we all have the possibility of facing.