Lesbophobia is Alive and Kicking

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The first time my girlfriend kissed me in public, I went home and cried. I cried because she had never dated a girl before, had never kissed a girl in public before, and it hadn’t even occurred to her to be afraid of doing so. And I didn’t want to be afraid either, but I also knew that it would only take one time to tear down her naivety that I so desperately wanted to protect.

More than 2/3 of LGBT people in the UK fear holding hands with their partners. More than 40% have experienced verbal harassment or physical violence. And yet almost daily, I will come across people who pretend that homophobia is a barely significant problem in the UK in 2019. Even as a lesbian couple were violently attacked on a London bus last week, many would rather dismiss the problem as a few bad apples than begin to consider the way homophobia permeates our society, coupled with the violent forces of misogyny that leave lesbians and other queer women so at risk.

The sexualisation of queer women has been viewed by many as acceptance. The threat of verbal and physical violence from men is a constant force in the lives of lesbians and bisexual women; what happened to Chris and Melania on that London bus was a result of male entitlement just as much as homophobia. Lesbophobia as a term helps to explain this intersection of the unique experiences of discrimination faced by lesbian women. This is partly due to the entitlement that men feel towards women expressing a sexuality that excludes them.

If you question this, ask the queer women in your life how often they have been asked and expected to perform their sexuality for men. Yet many refuse to see how damaging this can be, see it only as harmless fun. They don’t see that queer women are only seen as valid through the eyes of men. I have had a man jeer at me, a doctor no less, to kiss women in front of him, only for him to turn around and tell me that my sexuality was not real, my sex life inferior, my feelings invalid.

But these aren’t just anecdotes, they have real life consequences. Almost half of eligible lesbian and bisexual women have not had smear tests due to being wrongly informed that they don’t need them. The perception that the sexuality of lesbians is somehow less is not some kind of harmless opinion, it can be life or death.  And as can be seen by the experience of Chris and Melania on that bus last week, it is often impossible for us to know when the so-called ‘harmless’ sexual innuendo of men can put our lives and the lives of the people we love at risk.

The experiences of these two women have shed a global spotlight on the violence still faced by queer women in 21stcentury Britain, but our problems don’t stop there. Lesbophobia continues to be normalised within our culture and that does not exclude the liberal bubble that university students like to see themselves as existing within. I could not count the times that I have been told by men that they could ‘turn me straight,’ overlooking the ways in which lesbians make up the majority of victims of corrective rape, and having experienced this personally, this kind of language has a profound effect on both individuals and cultural norms.

I have sat in numerous rooms as people belittle the act of asking for people’s pronouns, and felt as a non-binary lesbian, that in places I most expected to feel safe, I would never be free to be who I was. Not every act of lesbophobia will be as blatant as that experienced by Chris and Melania, but reminds us this Pride month that being an ally to the LGBT community is not a passive act.

Stand up against the men in your life who objectify and belittle the experiences of queer women. Stand against everything from harmless jokes to threats of violence, because pride still needs to exist as protest. We need allies in our fight, but you don’t get to stand with us at our Pride parties when it feels easiest without standing by us when it feels the most difficult.