There comes a moment in every queer person’s life when they realize that someone around them is a bigot. Sometimes the bigotry is outright, an explicit bias that everyone can notice. Every epiphany is painful, but some are hidden, an implicit bias that only reveals itself at certain times.
For me, it was a teacher- we’ll call her Mrs. F. I live in Idaho, which isn’t exactly LGBTQ+ friendly. I had suspected that my teacher wasn’t fond of my queerness when she asked my mother why my girlfriend was attending extra curricular events with me. She never talked to me about it, just said that she didn’t belong, despite other straight partners tagging along all the time. There was never a problem with significant others attending our events until my girlfriend came along. I laughed it off and assumed that her decision to not discuss this with me was because she couldn’t find me, not because she was uncomfortable around me or because she knew what she was doing was wrong.
My suspicions were confirmed when I discussed it with another teacher. She told me that Mrs. F had no qualms with queer men, but didn’t like women dating other women. Apparently I was not the first, and that there was a pattern. She would speak behind the girls backs to other teachers, condemning their sexualities.
I was especially bothered because she had been accepting of my sexuality before I started dating a woman, as if my queerness was fine only in theory. The entire situation seemed odd to me- I assumed that when you’re homophobic, you hate all of us. But I was wrong to assume that bigotry was inclusive.
So I decided to examine the mechanisms that allow for this unique type of oppression to happen. I had always been an intersectional feminist- championing for the inclusion of queer, POC, disabled, and all other marginalized women when fighting for equality. But I never realized that my experience as a woman changed because I was queer. What I wanted to know was why that made some people dislike me.
Hatred towards queer women is rooted in the patriarchy; the link between misogyny and homophobia is intertwined. Men want to control women, have power over the people they see as levels below them. Patriarchal standards teach us that men should be the focal point of every woman’s life, but being queer is a rejection of this standard. In the eyes of straight patriarchal males, women must serve a purpose to them, or they aren’t important.
The frustration men feel with queer women comes from a need for control. A woman’s sexual attraction excluding men takes away a method for men to control them. The patriarchy teaches women that we only exist for the pleasure of men- to satisfy the male gaze- and never outside of that boundary. Those who support the patriarchy want to make queer woman invisible because they defy the male-centric ideals pushed upon them.
Women can be sexist too. Gender roles and patriarchal ideals are instilled in everyone’s mind, and manifest differently. Many times, it takes active work to dismantle misogyny in your own mind. Everyone is capable of oppression, but everyone is also capable of changing themselves.
The idea that women must serve a purpose to men to have value is affirmed by the fetishization of queer women. Media portrayal of queer women helps perpetuate these ideals. Harriet Williamson, a feminist freelance journalist wrote “The idea that lesbians are a source of sexual entertainment for men is exacerbated by the hugely inaccurate portrayal of lesbian sex in mainstream pornography.” Pornographic portrayals of queer women usually present the idea that queer women are tools for male gratification. Porn is rarely respectful towards women, and degrades them for the pleasure of the viewer. This translates to real-world behaviors. Men may think they are entitled to ‘join in’ on a queer relationship, or may make unwanted comments. They will not treat queer women with respect, because when they do see queer women, they are never respected.
The patriarchal ideal that women exist for the pleasure of men has given straight men a toxic image of queer women. Because of this idea, queer women are oversexualized and fetishized by straight men. Men are allowed to hate queer women, but think it’s hot for two girls to make out. The only context in which they are able to accept queerness is one where they are benefitting.
But that is exactly the problem. Queer people do not exist for the pleasure of other people. Queer people are not required to give you anything in order for you to accept them. We owe you nothing. Mentalities like the ones previously discussed permeate because oppressors are entitled. They think they deserve something in order to not be bigoted. But acceptance is not transactional.
Eliminating the oppression experienced by queer women requires eliminating patriarchal standards that we uphold. Being a queer woman is such a unique experience because of the compounding effects of homophobia and sexism. Dismantling the patriarchal standards we hold within ourselves lends us to less bigotry and hatred. Actively working to change structures that encourage both misogyny and homophobia is how we will stop being oppressed. And realizing that being a queer woman is an entirely different experience exposes how we are uniquely oppressed.
My identities are not separate- I will always be a queer woman, not just queer and not just a woman. That means a lot of different things for me, beyond the words I use to describe myself. While I get to define for myself what it means to be a queer woman, people will always choose their own perceptions. When I walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hands, the onlookers may be straight men making grotesque comments, or they may be unanimously bigoted zealots. The bigotry I face contrasts with what queer men face. If I were a queer man, things would be different. But I’m not, and I don’t wish to be. I’m a queer woman, whether the world wants me to be or not.
Izzy Burgess is a pink-haired librarian currently residing in Boise, ID. She is a queer feminist activist. At the Incandescent Review, she serves as the critical writing manager. She is easily distracted by shiny objects.