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How Stereotypes Oppress Lesbians in the Heterosexual and LGBT Communities

Updated on September 24, 2015
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I have been a goth since I was fourteen, and pagan since fifteen.

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Many do not consider women to be lesbian if they are feminine. They are presumed to be straight because they blend in with societal gender expectations: having long hair, wearing makeup, dresses/skirts, etc. If they are believed to be lesbian, it is commonly assumed they are the passive/submissive woman in their relationships. While this can be true it is not always the case.

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Society operates on a heteronormative scale. It is because of it's reinforcement in daily life that most believe sexuality and gender exist only within a male and female binary. It is 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." However, life doesn't always exist within a binary. We just choose to impose our expectations for it, anyway, to make it easier to comprehend.

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. In most cases, this is psychologically harmful for heterosexuals just 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 of 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 to her on a personal level, but also to lesbians in general.

Jenna also has trouble within the lesbian community because they don't believe her, either, even after she confirms that she is 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. Arielle Scarcella is an example of a lesbian YouTuber who prefers to use humor to release her frustration. It seems no matter what she does, men are more likely to come onto her.

A second YouTuber who chose to make a video on advice for how to look more lesbian, in a comedic way, is Stevie. 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" (no, this isn't the negative kind. Queer merely refers to outside of the gender and sexuality boxes). Some of her suggestions are to wear hats—because hats are totally gay, boots, and definitely a sports bra! Like Arielle, 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 sociological categories of people. Not all lesbians look the same just as not all straight women look the same. It isn't until we stop relying on the heteronormative that we can all be free from oppression. Seeing everything in terms of either masculine or feminine holds us back from progression. Future generations need to be permitted to embrace their own rules to live by rather than previously invented viewpoints 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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