Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hug a Lesbian Day

For the past six months or so every Sunday morning I wake up, roll my ragged bones out of bed, kick out my flavour of the week (jokes) and peruse the NY Times Wedding section where I count the number of gay weddings versus the number of lesbian weddings. I then summarize the results like so: Brad and Brian for the win!! gays: 1, chicks who like chicks: zero. I then go to jcrew.com and plan my own wedding. See how fun Sunday's are Casa Nay?

While I know that not that everything in life is a competition, I like to judge other people’s weddings. Especially gay ones.

Anyway the topic of lesbians came up at a dinner party I recently hosted for a couple of my gay friends. At some point in the evening one of my gays excitedly told us that his law firm hired their second lesbian. The gaggle of gays that sat around the table grew excited with this news. “A lesbian! What is she like?”
From the content of the ensuing convo, it was almost as if were talking about some sort of endangered species...

In some ways the lesbian is truly a rarity. Although an equal slice of the LGBTQ community, lesbians are seemingly our inaudible partner in crime.

“Gays Parade,” my friend Caitlin is fond of saying, “Lesbians march.”

This may be a bit of an over-simplification of things. The truth is that I actually don’t know very many lesbians and neither do most of my gay friends. At said dinner party as we went around the table to count the lesbians in our lives it became clear that not one of us could name more than one (if even that) lesbian that they saw on a regular basis. The only exception was my friend Derek; however, in his defence, his boyfriend argued that Derek liked hockey, plaid shirts and playing pool… so of course he would know lesbians. Either that or he’s a hipster with an ironic taste for hockey.

Worrying that this may be a case of gays being gays [gays notoriously don’t like lesbians…] I started polling a bunch of my straight friends to see if I could mine their friend lists for some new lesbian action. No such luck as they were low on lesbian love as well. In fact when I asked my straight friends if they knew a lesbian most of them hemmed and hawed vaguely referring to someone they maybe thought was a lesbian in their constitutional law class. My fiend Karen told me she met a lesbian at a conference she facilitated, but I argued that that didn’t mean they were friends. The Sapphic ace up her sleeve is tht Karens landlady is a lesbian D; she DJ’s at a party called Sticky Fingers, I bedrugingly accepted that. While my friend Maggie let me know that the woman who threaded her eyebrows had once been a lesbian, but then reverted.

I still wasn’t sure if this was just one of those bubble things (like I don’t know anyone who voted for Rob Ford even though 380,000 Torontonians did…) and maybe all the lezzers lived in the suburbs? Or if the lack of lesbians in my life was part of a much larger phenomena.

When I thought about it – you rarely saw lesbians on Church Street or in Toronto’s defacto Queer West Village. In fact in both of Toronto’s queer hoods the largest bars and biggest queer themed nights have been started by and cater to an almost exclusively gay male clientele. The only Toronto exception that I can think of is the fun crew at Yes Yes Y’all, which was indeed started by a bunch of female DJ’s. But for every YYY there are countless gay nights which have been started by gay dudes and cater to a predominantly male crowd. The Village in and of itself, from its place in popular culture to its gay porn shops, gay bathouses, and gay bars, is a defacto male construct.

Wondering why there were so few lesbians – I hit the interweb to do some research. I soon discovered that one of the reasons why it may be hard to find lesbian friends is that there are statistically fewer homosexual women then there are gay men.

Most studies have actually concluded that there are half as many lesbians as there are gays! A recent study by Statistics Canada discovered that while about 1.3% of men polled considered themselves homosexual, only 0.7% of women considered themselves homosexual. Now any questionnaire that attempts to gauge the overall size of the LGBTQ population probably has more holes in it then Swiss cheese [what does gay mean along the spectrum of sexuality etc…], but almost all studies done since and including Kinsey’s work have concluded that gay incidence rates in the general population occur twice as often as lesbian incidence rates. There’s a good, albeit out of date, recap of statistical studies here.

I’m willing to buy the statistical conclusion that gays > lesbians, but it still doesn’t fully explain the lack of lesbians in my life. It also doesn’t explain why the Church-Wellesley Village is predominately male or why in popular culture lesbians (with the exception of the archetypical and probably not so typical “lipstick lesbian”) take a back-seat to the gays. The most successful movies with LGBTQ content (Milk, Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain come to mind almost immediately) are about gay men and gay rights. I can’t think of a mainstream lesbian movie with the exception of Boys Don’t Cry. On TV gays similarly dominate. In GLAAD’s annual report on LGBTQ characters on the major networks there are 23 LGBTQ headlining or supporting characters. Of the 5 main LGBTQ characters 4 are men. Of the 18 supporting characters 11 are gay men, 2 are lesbians and 5 are bisexuals. In fact of all the major “coming out” plot lines I can think of (with the exception of Ellen’s original sitcom way back in the nineties) most of the characters are men. Coming out stories involving women, perhaps best personified by Willow’s lesbianism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, have contrasted with TV coming out stories involving gay men, where the coming out is generally louder and angrier and more dramatic. Remember when Jack read his poem basically announcing his homosexuality on Dawson’s Creek? Retrospectively so awkward….

Gay’s have also used their sequined gay claws to help put their queer stamp on popular culture, less so for lesbians. Where would Madonna and Lady Gaga be without the gays? Why is there no counterpart to gay icons like Gaga, Lauper and their ilk? When I Googled lesbian icons all I came up with was Ellen Degeneres and Samantha Ronson… great people who both rock a pixi haircut, but neither of whom have the same pop-culture heft that their gay counterparts have had.

Again certainly I am willing to buy the statistical argument in the matter, but still, why are lesbians so demure compared to men?

The reality is that gay men have had a more public and cohesive identity then lesbians. Recent queer history has helped form this singular community identity. The HIV/AIDS crisis that galvanized the queer community in the 1980’s and 1990’s was central to constructing a gay civic identity. But the disease was much more a gay crisis then it was a lesbian one. Heck – even the fight to decriminalize homosexuality –was often fought via the fight against sodomy, which as far as I know really only pertains to gay men and perhaps women who peg other people. Interestingly, the final decriminalization of homosexuality in all US States was a Supreme Court challenge against Texas’s sodomy law. Couple sodomy laws, HIV/AIDS crisis and bathhouse raids it is clear that late twentieth century queer rallying cries were seemingly male dominated; it has only been queer marriage and queer adoption which have seemingly spanned both sides of the queer community.

Stereotypes also come into play of why perhaps homosexuality is more "mainstream" then "lesbiansim". Stereotypically gay men are more fun then lesbians. Gay men are sidekicks. Gay men offer fashion advice. Gay men can complain about boys with our girlfriends. Gay men can also give pointers on how best to deal with penis. For straight dudes, once they get over the gay thing [and no I don’t want to bang you…], gays can be awesome wingmen, as we’re not fishing in the same stream. When a male friend of mine started seeing his new girlfriend she suggested that the three of us go shopping together because obviously all gays like to shop. What’s the stereotypical comparison for lesbians: “I’d love to go play curling with you and your lesbian best friend?” Sure these are extremes of course and fairly stereotypical I also realize, but play word association with lesbian and gay – the pop-culture connotations are much more positive to be gays then lesbians.
To go back to my friends’ joke: dykes march, gays parade.

My friend Krista suggested that societal bias towards gays is similar to societal bias towards men. It may also be related to some sort of patriarchal fear of the lesbian. I’m willing to buy this argument. Sure straight men are fascinated by hot chicks making out, but skim the thin icing of faux-lesbianism off the multi-layered cake of sexuality, and Krista argues that straight men may actually feel threatened by the lack of cock in lesbian relationships. To the uninitiated lesbianism may seem emasculating.

Now all of this being said – and I hope this story is cohesive and not offensive to anyone who is a carpet muncher, I mean lesbian (that was a purposefully offensive joke inserted into a sentence about being non offensive), gays, the next time your law firm hires a lesbian, or the next time you find yourself at Slacks, or the next time you’re hanging out with your one lesbian friend, hug them; its high time we gays celebrate our other half. They may not be as flashy as we are, but they’re our people too.

Remember friends that for too long lesbians have been our quiet sister who has supportively stood in our shadows and watched us perform our sequined song and dance routine. Gays it’s time to share that stage.

It’s time for Hug a Lesbian Day.

3 comments:

  1. I know a lesbian! Wheres my prize?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article Jono. I like the 'sexuality cake' metaphor. I will find a lesbian tomorrow and hug her.

    ReplyDelete
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