It’s been a little over a year since I came out as gay. In that time, more men than I can count have decided to inflict their bad humor upon me. “I’m a lesbian too!” they chortle, as if they were funny. As if discovering I was a lesbian was not a thirty year journey, as if it cost me nothing to come out, as if it was easy for me like it is for them. Lesbian isn’t a word that means “someone attracted to women”. It’s a word that means “a woman attracted to women.” The part where I’m a woman is not an erasable part of the concept or the experience of being a lesbian.
Lesbians are a minority. The world isn’t set up for us. We’ve had to carve out queer spaces for ourselves, bars and coffee shops and healthcare centers. We’re told we are dirty and sinners and perverts simply for existing. Some of us are beaten or even killed for being lesbian. Others are subjected to torturous and cruel “cure” therapies that teach us to be ashamed of liking women. Rape is used as a weapon against us, because of our lesbianism.
We don’t grow up seeing lesbian role models in children’s movies and television. We lesbians grow up being told that someday we’ll fall in love with a man, have sex with him, and bear his children. The possibility of our attraction is erased over and over and over again, by strangers and loved ones alike. Women being attracted to women is considered too “adult” or “sexual” to tell children, while men being attracted to women is promoted from every facet of society.
Men who like women don’t share any of these lesbian experiences with us. Such men grow up being told again and again by strangers and loved ones alike that their attraction is normal and natural and healthy and right. They see men who get rewarded with the women they love in practically every movie and television show. They are never coerced to pretend they don’t like girls and do like boys. Men are not raped for being straight and men are almost never forced to marry men.
If the whole world accepts your attraction to women, if liking women doesn’t make your parents reject you, if you feel safe expressing attraction to women in all spaces, if no one pressured you to date, fuck or marry a man because you’re a dude then you are not a lesbian. If you are a man, you are not a lesbian. Lesbians are women attracted to women and not men. Straight men and gay women don’t have much in common. Being attracted to women is the beginning and end of that list for many of us.
Jokingly suggesting that attraction to women is all that lesbianism is, that it has nothing to do with being a woman and moving through a world that favors men as a woman, makes my life the butt of your joke. It makes homophobia immaterial and parental rejection non-existent. It erases everything that makes coming out brave or scary or makes us put it off until our thirties. I wish the world was as kind to lesbians as it is to straight men. I wish our experiences were more equal and more alike. I wish I’d grown up just as supported in my sexuality as straight men were in theirs. But that’s not the world, and I don’t want straight men pretending it is. Certainly not for a laugh.