My relationships are authentic too

Sam Peters is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major. She is a staff writer for the Newswire from Aurora, Ill.

I’m a woman. I’m not the most girly-girl, but no one would ever mistake me for a man. I don’t shave my legs, but I love wearing high heels. I don’t wear dresses, but my jeans are tight with fake pockets. Feminine, but in a casual way. I’m also a gay woman, and my femininity makes people doubt my sexuality. People constantly assume that because I’m not butch I must like men, and I get a lot of “You don’t look gay” or “Wow! I never would have guessed.”

Thanks? I guess? Truthfully, being straight-passing (or a gay person who doesn’t appear to be gay based on visual stereotypes) comes with a lot of privileges. If you don’t know that you’re talking to someone who’s gay, it’s more difficult to be homophobic toward them. I’m not upset that people don’t look at me and immediately see my queerness, but I am fed up with the way people view me after I come out to them. I don’t owe anything to anyone to prove who I am, and I certainly don’t have to act a certain way just because I like women. My femininity does not undermine my sexual orientation. Gay women come in far more varieties than SUVs and flannels.

I’m a feminine gay woman, and I tend to date other feminine women. Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, I think we can all agree there are a lot of differences between a romantic relationship and a friendship. The way you spend your time together, the way you express your love, the way you look at each other and the way you fit into each other’s lives. People too often forget that two feminine women can fall in love. They search for lesbian relationships that fit into gender stereotypes — still two women, but one is clearly “the man.” But that’s not representative of the queer community and presents a close-minded view of lesbian relationships.

Often it’s the subtle ways in which people undervalue my relationships that may go unnoticed, but it never ceases to hurt. I’ve worked hard to be proud and not ashamed of my identity as a gay woman, and I’ve worked even harder to be confident in my identity in public. But a voice remains in the back of my head reminding me that it is one thing for people to know you’re gay, another for them to see it. When my relationship doesn’t get the same level of respect that a heterosexual relationship would get, it feels like me, and my girlfriend, aren’t fully valued as legitimate people.

It goes beyond people trying to figure out “who’s the man” in my relationship that  is literally defined by not having a man in it. It’s when you first mention your relationship, people don’t believe you. It’s saying that you two remind them of their own best friend, their own “girlfriend.” It’s these subtle phrases and mannerisms that chip away at the authenticity of a relationship, and they aren’t coming from strangers.

Often, it’s my friends who are so desperate to put me into a heteronormative box to make sense of the world. It’s admitting that they have no problem with lesbians, but seeing two women who are both in dresses getting married makes them uncomfortable.

Believe people who confide in you about their relationships and crushes. Know that in your short time on this shared earth, you have not seen an exhaustive representation of queer relationships and acknowledge that you might not know anything at all, so embrace a willingness to listen and learn.