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How Stereotypes Oppress Lesbians in the Heterosexual and LGBT Communities

Updated on August 26, 2017
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

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Much of society doesn't consider women to be lesbian if they are feminine. They blend in so easily with social expectations of gender that they're presumed straight: long hair, makeup, and dresses or skirts. On the other side, once society knows that a feminine woman is lesbian, they figure that she must take the passive role in her relationships; although this can be true in some cases, this automatic assumption is nothing more than a stereotype.

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Society operates on a heteronormative scale. Everyday reinforcement causes most to believe that sexuality and gender exist only within a male and female binary. It's ingrained in most of us from a young age. Even if it isn't present in our home life, we are taught in school about binaries such as black vs. white or on vs. off. Life doesn't always exist within a binary. We consciously impost it on ourselves and others to make it easier to comprehend our world, but it limits our perception at the same time.

Gender expression and identity is not an exception. We believe that for someone to be a man or woman, they must possess certain characteristics. We identify women and men based on gendered stereotypes. If the person appears feminine, they must be a woman; if the person appears masculine, they must be a man. This is psychologically harmful for heterosexuals as much as lgbt. How often are men expected to suppress emotion while women are expected to suppress strength?

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YouTuber, Jenna explains her own difficulty as a feminine lesbian in a heteronormative society. In her video titled "The Femme Struggle" (linked to the right), she shares her experience with being presumed straight because of her appearance. It doesn't upset her until she has to prove her sexual orientation. Many tell her, "You're too pretty to be gay." If this is how heterosexuals perceive her, it is not only offensive on a personal level, but for the lesbian community. It tells her that because of her sexual orientation she should not be attractive.

Jenna has similar trouble within the lesbian community, as well. Like the heterosexual community, other lesbians don't believe her either, even after she confirms being gay. Butch lesbians should not be perceived as unattractive in society any more than femme lesbians should be perceived as straight. To overcome this situation, she closes her video with an affirmation that it's better to be herself than to do whatever she has to in order to be accepted. She believes that by staying true to ourselves society will eventually understand us, regardless of how we identify.

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Butch Lesbians

Society stereotypes lesbians to be strictly masculine, both in their appearance and their attitude. Some butch lesbians are more outwardly so than others; however, not all butch lesbians physically express themselves as more butch than femme. Likewise, some butch lesbians are mistaken for being femme based on their personal style. Butch lesbians are oppressed for their form of gender expression which can lead them to stay closeted, either in terms of sexuality or merely through their clothes and hair.

YouTuber, Heather re-posted a video on her experience as a butch woman titled "Butch Acceptance" (linked to the right). She talks about admiring her father's sense of style since she was a little girl. She wanted her father's suites rather than her mother's dresses. Although she lives her life by her own rules, her mother did not always accept her more masculine appearance. Heather does wear makeup, but prefers baggy t-shirts, baggy pants, and a snap-back cap.

Stem Lesbians

YouTuber, Amber invented the term Stem. In her video titled "WTH is a STEM??" she states that she isn't just femme or stud; therefore, she made a word that incorporates both. She gives credit to her 1990s generation in which popular musicians such as TLC and Aaliyah inspired people, like Amber, against the obligation to be strictly feminine. Both TLC's and Aaliyah's style is a mixture of feminine and masculine. They may wear baggy pants, but they wear makeup as well. By creating new terms to describe gender expression we free ourselves from having to decide between only two columns.

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While many outsider lesbian YouTubers vent about the difficulties of fitting in with the lgbt community, some use their energy to poke fun at the stereotypes they feel they need to become in order to acquire enough gay friends who accept them as lesbian.

Stevie is a YouTuber who chose to make a video on how to look more lesbian in a comedic way. In her video, "How To: Look Like a Lesbian," she opens by acknowledging that many of her viewers contact her for help with looking more "queer." (Queer refers to outside the gender and sexuality boxes). Some of her suggestions are to wear hats—because hats are totally gay—boots, and definitely a sports bra! The purpose of the video is to make fun of gay stereotypes, not to actually help people look "gayer" because there is no such thing as a "gay look."

At some point, society needs to stop looking at stereotypes to teach them about people. Not all lesbians look the same. Likewise, not all straight women look the same. Until we stop relying on the heteronormative, we won't be free from this type of oppression. Seeing everything in terms of either masculine or feminine holds us back from progression. Future generations need the freedom to embrace their own rules, rather than live by previously invented limits that prevent them from fully accepting themselves.

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If this is still confusing because of constant reinforcement of the gender binary, three Youtubers (Amber, Hart, and LaRayia) filmed a satirical skit about femme and stud lesbians. The skit below is not meant to be taken seriously or to be used to help a lesbian or bisexual pick up women. It simply plays around with gender expression in the lgbt community, where binaries are no longer necessary.

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