For some reason, people who aren’t lesbians love to ask lesbians some pretty personal (and misguided) things. Some of these questions have probably been around for centuries, while others have been perpetuated by modern society and the ways that people come up with to “cure” gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. Instead of asking your friendly local lesbian, try checking this list first.
If it’s answered here, she’s probably answered it a hundred times already.
“When did you become a lesbian?”
This question usually isn’t coming from a bad place, but it is very misguided. I think the people who ask this are dealing with some confusion about their own sexuality, or they simply don’t understand how human sexuality works. It’s not exactly the black-and-white picture that it seems like it would be, and there’s no easy way to pinpoint “when” it happened. Could you tell someone when exactly you became straight? I’m betting probably not.
Let me try putting things a different way. Some people understand who they are at a very young age, and are immediately accepted by their families. Some people know at a very young age, but their family situation makes it impossible to come out. Other people get confused during puberty, or during college, or menopause, or at any other time when hormones are high, and they might reach a different definition of themselves than they previously had. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their previous identity was wrong, nor does it mean that their previous identity was true to who they really were.
It’s different for everyone, but chances are, your lesbian loved one doesn’t feel like putting something as complicated as her sexuality on something as linear as a timeline.
“What made you swear off men?”
This is one of the tactics often used by gay conversion therapy – understanding the “root” of someone’s homosexual tendencies, so that they can be “fixed”. However, this one relies on a fundamental misunderstanding. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation – or, more simply put, just because a lesbian has had negative experiences with men, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s developed some sort of bias against them.
In fact, since (at least) one out of every four women will experience some form of sexual assault in their life, there’s bound to be some overlap. But that overlapping area doesn’t have anything to do with the women who haven’t been sexually abused, and still aren’t attracted to men. It also doesn’t take into consideration the women worldwide who are raped and beaten because they’re lesbians. (Trigger warning – vivid descriptions of conversion rape, although there are no graphic photographs.)
More than just those horrible statistics, there’s also the fact that the women who have “sworn off men” because of some type of trauma can’t consciously choose to turn-off their attractions to them, nor can they choose to turn-on an attraction to women. Framing your question as if all lesbians have simply “sworn off men” implies that this is a choice they’ve made, and as any woman who has consciously tried to change her sexuality can tell you… It doesn’t work.
“So, which one of you is the man?”
Okay, so I could go into the stereotypical response about how there is no man, and how that’s sort of the point… But I think that answering the question that way takes away a powerful teaching experience. Most women who love other women aren’t necessarily doing it to “avoid men”. (Although, some may be – but please see above about “swearing off men”.
The worst thing about this question is that it relies entirely on ingrained sexism, and the idea that there are “manly” things to do and “womanly” things to do. Newsflash: Both men and women can be bread-winners, both men and women can do the housework and cooking, and both men and women are capable of being caring parents. The idea that you have to be “more like” one or the other is entirely unfounded. All relationships work best when there is balance – when the partners are actually partners.
What’s more is that gender roles are largely societal. Sure, the higher testosterone levels in men make them (generally) stronger and more sexual than women, and the higher estrogen levels in women make them (generally) more inclined toward starting a family. Our personality, however, plays a lot larger of a role in deciding that – and our personality is not defined by our biology.
“How do you handle all the crazy mood swings?!”
This is another one rooted in sexist implications. Believe it or not, women are not these psychotic bags of hormones, incapable of controlling their emotions. There may be certain times of the month (ahem) or mental illnesses that make it more difficult to think before we act, but most women have better control over their emotions than what we’d like to think. Men have just as much control over their emotions, on average, but they’ve been conditioned to keep them under wraps more.
What’s important here is that we separate ourselves from the stereotypes about our gender, whether biological or mid-/post-transition. You might not be in control over your emotions themselves, but you are in control of how you react to those emotions. Take responsibility for the way you act, and stop using the easy excuses.
(However, if you honestly have a hard time controlling your emotional responses, it’s important that you speak with your doctor about it. He or she might be able to recommend therapy or medication that works with your specific issues, and in many cases you can regain control.)
“But you don’t look/act like a lesbian.”
Sadly, the media has royally screwed us on this one. We typically get two lesbian images: The super-butch (think Lea Delaria here), or the super-femme (I’m looking at you, Portia de Rossi). We don’t get to see all the women in between, because they blend in. The truth is, most lesbians don’t “look” like lesbians – but that doesn’t mean that they’re lying to you when they say they are.
Just like with any other sexual orientation, lesbians are allowed to have their own individual style. In fact, our styles are just as diverse as everyone else’s, too. This is why so many lesbians don’t “look” like lesbians – the media latches onto the two styles that are most easily recognizable, and kicks the rest to the curb.
Unfortunately, we see this just about as often within the queer community, too. (Or, at least, I’ve received this an equal number of times from ignorant straight friends as I have from nosy lesbian friends.) The entire idea of “gaydar” is built around exactly this, and as any lesbian who’s been shot down by a straight woman will tell you… It’s really just a numbers game. If she ticks off enough “lesbian” boxes, it’s easier to muster up the courage to talk to her. But people never really fit into a mold, so your average lesbian probably gets shot down by straight women just about as often as the average straight man gets shot down by lesbians.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
This particular question is even harder to address without causing a commotion. For some crazy reason, people think that they are entitled to know way too much about other people’s lives. Sure, some people are open – but that doesn’t mean everyone has to be. Unless you are presently in an intimate relationship someone, who they sleep with (and how they do it) is absolutely none of your business.
Next, it’s important that you understand there are many reasons a person might not be ready to come out, and all of them are perfectly valid. Some people fear discrimination at home or in the workplace. Some people are concerned with their image (such as those who rely on their sex appeal for tips). Some even choose not to come out because they feel it’s nobody else’s business. And you know what? Every single one of those women has “a good enough reason” – no matter what you might think.
(And, besides, you know now, don’t you? What difference does it make how you found out?)
“So, how do you have sex?”
Now, when it comes to depressing questions, this one pretty much takes the cake. First, let’s go back to the “it’s none of your business” point from above. The only people who have the right to know the details of your sex life are, a) your partner, during the periods of time she was involved in your sex life; and b) your doctor, to the extent medically required. That’s literally it. The rest of the time, if it’s not eagerly offered, it’s not up for discussion.
Next, there’s the definition of “sex” itself. What exactly constitutes sex, anyway? The jury’s still out on that one, but the short answer is that everyone has different needs and wants. It doesn’t have much to do with who you’re attracted to, since our sexual lives are usually not our whole lives. Some women like being penetrated, some don’t. Some women like oral sex, and some don’t. Toys, bondage, roleplay, scissoring – all of these things are completely subjective.
(But, most of all, if you only know one definition for having sex… You’re missing out on all that sex can be.)
“At least you don’t have to worry about protection.”
Whoa, NO. Hold up. I don’t know who started the myth that lesbians can’t get STDs, but you better believe that person was not a doctor. Lesbians are not magically immune from getting STDs just because they only have sex with other women. There are a number of STDs that you can get through skin contact, and even more that are passed through bodily fluids. Yes, the vagina contains/produces bodily fluids. So does the mouth. And, well, I’m not a doctor either, but that means you can get STDs from a same-sex partner.
No matter what your sexual orientation, it’s important that you take your sexual health seriously. That means regular testing, honest communication, and barrier methods whenever possible – every time.
When it comes to family planning, though, lesbians don’t really have to worry about accidental pregnancies. It takes so much planning and negotiating to even come to an agreement about having a child in the first place. Then, if we do decide we want to have a child (which isn’t even a given), we’ve got to go through a long, drawn-out process just to have a child recognized as legally having two mothers. There’s adoption, surrogacy, fertility treatments, artificial insemination, and so much more – just because there are two parents of the same sex. There are so many extra hoops that it’s no surprise some lesbians decide it’s just easier not to have kids.
“What about a threesome?” or “Can I watch?”
Yikes. This is another one that never ceases to amaze me. There are so many people out there who really do think it’s appropriate to insert themselves into other people’s personal lives – sometimes trying to literally insert themselves in there. As a general rule of thumb, remember this: No person exists strictly for the sexual pleasure of another.
Even though there’s an ever-growing acceptance of polyamory and open relationships, you shouldn’t simply assume that two people in a relationship are looking to supplement outside the relationship. Polyamory isn’t the default, nor is “secret bisexuality”.
If a lesbian couple you know wants you to watch her and her girlfriend have sex, she’ll ask you. If she wants you to join, she’ll ask you. Otherwise, stay out of it. We’re not trying to steal your straight women, and we’re not trying to sleep with your straight men.
“I wish I was a lesbian.”
When I was a teenager, I used to respond to this one with “I can help you with that!” (wink, wink.) As I grew up, I realized: Being gay isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, it’s great for me, and most lesbians would agree that it’s pretty great. But being someone you’re not is never a great idea. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but I promise you it’s just tricky lighting. You’ve got to learn how to be happy with what you have, and what you are.
However, if what you really mean is “I think I might be interested in women”, I wholeheartedly encourage you to experiment. Experimentation is how you figure out who you are. Just remember – your sexuality isn’t something you can will to change. You aren’t crafting yourself, you’re finding yourself.
Lastly, remember that there are a lot of things about the queer community that you simply can’t see from the outside – just like with any other subculture. It’s not really that we’re hiding things; it’s that you don’t want to see them. You choose to make yourself blind to them, in order to excuse yourself for not helping to stop them. It’s okay – we forgive you. But now it’s time to start being realistic about homophobia and discrimination. That’s what you should be talking to your lesbian loved ones about – not about what happens in their bedroom.