Twelve years ago, a 16 year old version of myself stood in front of the mirror. I have come to the realisation that I am attracted to women, and the thought scared me. Up to that point, the thought of being lesbian has never, not even once, occurred to me. And now, in the quiet of my room, I dared ask the question: Am I a lesbian? Looking in the mirror, I knew that I obviously couldn't be a lesbian. Everybody knew that all lesbians look like male truck drivers. And I like dresses, and heels, and floral prints, and pretty earrings, and lipstick. Clearly, I couldn't be a lesbian. Which led me to the question – then why am I attracted to women and not men? I should have intuitively known that who you are attracted to has nothing to do with how you express your gender, yet society has taught me otherwise.
It took me about 5 years to come to terms with the idea of being a lesbian. I slowly learnt that being lesbian wasn't about wearing check shirts, or having short hair, or conforming to any of the standard boxes that society perceives you as. It is simply about the act of loving women. Just that. The moment of that realisation was so liberating that I felt like standing on a rooftop and shouting “I'm a lesbian” to the world from my lipstick-layered lips. I didn't of course, stand on a rooftop shouting. Instead I became an activist. I became the chairperson of Lesbigay - the student LGBT organisation at Stellenbosch University, and proudly wore a rainbow badge on my bag wherever I went. I attended protest marches and pride parades in my lipstick and dresses. And I basked in being a feminine lesbian. Celebrating my femininity didn't reflect conforming to heteronormative expectations – it became the exact opposite – a protest against the pre-conceived ideas that society has of what a lesbian must look like.
Even now, despite the popularisation of the more feminine lesbian through the media (e.g. The L Word), people still tend to question the legitimacy of being a feminine lesbian. In heterosexual spaces, I easily slip under the radar, and people assume that I'm straight – until, of course, I subtly drop the fact that I'm gay. Especially straight men, often argue with me, using arguments like “but you don't look like a lesbian” and “how can you be sure you're a lesbian if you've never been with a man”? I usually have my repertoire of snappy replies, such as “how can you be sure you're straight if you've never been with a guy?”, and “I have thought about dating men, but I really like my partners to wear lacy lingerie, and I just haven't found a guy that could really pull it off – would you be open to wearing lacy g-strings?”. They very seldom take my sexual orientation seriously. And lesbians are no better. I organise a lot of lesbian events in my spare time, and I've had lesbians come up to me, at the events which I organised, telling me that I'm clearly straight, and asking me why I'm there, and arguing with me when I point out that I'm a lesbian. Being very feminine means that people assume that I'm confused, or going through a phase, or somehow less lesbian. Being a feminine lesbian means having to come out every time I meet new people, and then having my sexuality being called into question.
I have also come to realise that the way in which society treats feminine lesbians is much different from how they treat butch lesbians. Apart from having my sexuality called into question, I have never personally experienced homophobia. I'm the type of lesbian that fits the male fantasy, and as a result, I get sexualised to a point that makes me uncomfortable. When guys find out that I'm into women, they aren't less interested – they are more interested - I feel as if this has a lot to do with why my sexuality gets notably more easily accepted.
Accepting somebody's sexual orientation should not be dependent on whether or not it fits your personal sexual fantasies. Two lesbians together are a relationship, not a show. And there is no “wrong” or “right” or “better” way for a lesbian to look.