Assuming sexuality by how one looks is a common practice, although I don’t necessarily agree that it’s a good thing, we all do it. However, there’s a difference between someone who is LGBTQ+ assuming someone’s sexuality, than someone who identifies as heterosexual or straight. Why? Heterosexuals are not commonly asked if they are straight, their dating lives are theirs and they are allowed the privacy of being common. In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay writes about the phenomenon of celebrities being outed for the greater good, that they’re not afforded a certain privacy when it comes to sexuality that heterosexuals are:
Pushing a coming out or assuming sexuality also has a lot to do with how people view gender roles. In my early years of college, one of my best friends and I were often so in-sync that we called ourselves secret lovers, some of our friends went along with it, others didn’t. To take it the extra step, we decided to make it Facebook official and post our relationship status as “It’s Complicated.” As one of the most absurd relationship status options, we knew that no one would take it seriously. After all, who would want to post relationship issues for all to see? To be clear, we were platonic. But as the saying goes, only the truest of friendships make your family question your sexuality. Friends commented on the status going along with it, congratulating us on our complicated love. We both went to sleep that night laughing at our now obvious naivety. I woke up the next morning from comments and text messages from my family. All were gleaming messages of love and support, which I would have appreciated any other day, if for the right reasons. Though I couldn’t blame them because the status could be confusing, their questioning was about a lot more than a Facebook relationship status. I wondered if these messages were really about my status, my hair transformations throughout my first years of college, my inability to keep my mouth shut to female issues, or something much more, that they weren’t in control of.
Growing up as an independent shy girl came with complications and assumptions, because I regularly chose learning over seeking male attention, like some of my female colleagues and friends. I was a feminist from a young age, even before I knew what the word meant. My most distinct memory is when as a young girl I would run around naked after bathing or showering, and once when my aunt and uncle were visiting, my uncle playfully tapped my butt as I was running and singing. I instinctively turned around and said “my body, no touchie.” I was living my best life, I had no time for males. As I learned later on in life, this choice of not focusing on my ability to attract males is considered unfeminine.
When you’re considered unfeminine, it often goes hand-in-hand with being assumed lesbian. Some examples of situations in which I have been presumed lesbian:
- When first moving in to my Freshman dorm, my roommates explained to me that I couldn’t be straight, that I had to be lesbian because I was too much of a feminist and that I liked feminine looking males.
- When shaving part of my hair off, some of my family members of the older generation reached out to a cousin to ask if this was a sign of lesbianism. [I found this out years later].
- When posting my “It’s Complicated” Facebook relationship status, multiple family members insisted on how supportive I was, not listening to my pleas that their assumptions were wrong.
- When cutting most of my hair off to a very short bob, strangers, friends, and family continued to ask if I really was as straight as I said I was.
- A white cis male who had just met me stated “You know it’s a shame that my sister isn’t single right now, because she’s lesbian and I think you guys would really hit it off,” not only assuming that I was lesbian, that I would get along with any other lesbian.
- A white cis male friend once said to me “I’m just saying that if you were lesbian, you’d be able to get a lot of hot chicks.” As flattering as that was, it was also very confusing.
- While getting my haircut into a pixie-cut my hairdresser asked why I was continuously changing my hair: “there’s got to be some reason that you’re wanting to change your hair.” She didn’t say it, but I knew what she was getting at. To show what she was getting at, see below. I ask you to watch your own thoughts, as you see my hair transformation.
Now in each of these situations, If I wasn’t the typical picture of femininity, looking and acting quiet, polite, pretty, virginal, just the right amount of confident, obsessing over self-image, and weak; I couldn’t be female enough. Because I wasn’t female enough in the eyes of some of the people around me, I couldn’t be interested in men, because women have inherently existed to please men. Whether or not the people involved in the stories above believe this or are consciously aware of how their actions lead to this conclusion, only matters to a certain extent. Because what this all really shows while gender equality has made lots of strides, we have a lot way to go to change society’s views of what female can look like.
Disclosure: to the question of my sexuality, it’s no one’s business but those who I choose to date, marry, and love, and to disclose when and where I please.