A reflection on lesbian visibility in a male-dominated world

by Jessica Freedman


[ABOVE: The double Venus symbol, which symbolizes lesbians. The top of each Venus symbol, where there would usually be a circle, is a heart. Both symbols are pink.]


26 April was Lesbian Day of Visibility. This day is one of many throughout the year that celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, etc. (LGBTQI+) community.


Other dates include Celebrate Bisexuality Day on 23 September and Transgender Day of Visibility on 31 March. Lesbians are women who are exclusively attracted to other women.


26 April is a day for lesbians to be out and proud and to show that we exist in many ways, shapes, and forms. Seeing so many inspirational women share their stories and talk about being lesbians and coming to understand their identity had me thinking about how important lesbian visibility has been in my life.


Throughout my life, I have not had any older lesbians who I could call role models. This has led to me feel desperately lonely and confused because, while my parents love me and I am so grateful for that, they cannot understand being a lesbian and they do not know the nuances of living life as part of the LGBTQI+ community.


Because of the lack of lesbian role models in my life, I have turned to what is available; the Internet, books, and music. While it is unfortunate that a large part of my knowledge about myself and my community has been informed by people I do not personally know, the Internet and other forms of content creation has been vital in increasing LGBTQI+ visibility and making it more accessible.


An example of online gay content creators are YouTubers Rose and Rosie. While Rosie is bisexual, these two married women using the internet to share their experiences have been very important in showing me that I have a future in which I can be married to a woman and live a happy, domestic life.


It is easy to know in your head that same-sex marriage is legal and that you can one day marry the person you love. It is very different to believe that with your heart. We live in a society that pushes the idea that gay people are somehow lesser than heterosexual people, that our love is less authentic and less real. We are very rarely shown happy gay couples, much less gay marriages. Rose and Rosie have given me so much hope for my future just by being married women who are visible.


There are many ways in which a woman can discover she is a lesbian. However, there are a select few coming-out narratives which are shown to the world in mainstream media. Most of these narratives are hypersexualized (take the classic lesbian films Below Her Mouth and Blue Is The Warmest Color, for examples) and primarily involve conventionally attractive, white, adult women. The reality of these narratives is that they are designed to appeal to the male gaze, but lesbian sexuality in real life is not about men. This form of visibility is not always helpful to women and girls who are questioning their sexuality. Children can be lesbians.


Women of colour can be lesbians. Women who are not conventionally attractive can be lesbians. But we are rarely shown this in mainstream media. Lesbians who look like everyday people are not popular characters because they do not appeal to men.


Luckily, I found many beautiful examples of everyday lesbian visibility in works created by lesbians. My strong interest in lesbian history led me to start reading Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (which is available as a free pdf because Feinberg was a communist). This is a fiction book but is very similar to Feinberg's life and it chronicles the main character's life as a butch lesbian during the gay rights movement in the USA.


Masculine women are hardly ever shown in the media, unless they are the punchline of a joke. They are not intended to be identified with; they are intended to be laughed at. Because of this, I had never seen an example of a happy and healthy masculine woman before reading Stone Butch Blues. I felt like my entire world opened. I understood myself so much more from reading about the experiences of masculine lesbians in 1960s USA. The fact that Feinberg was a visible lesbian meant that I could understand and accept myself and begin loving myself.


As a white lesbian, it has been easier for me to consume content created by LGBTQI+ people who are white and from Europe and the USA. This is partly because white American and European LGBTQI+ people are considered more marketable and are, therefore, easier to find. It is also partly through me not having made the effort to look at content that did not relate to my exact experiences.


Last year, I began looking for South African queer creators and I found the amazing Dope Saint Jude. Having her origins as a drag king in Cape Town, Dope Saint Jude’s music discusses her life as a queer woman of colour in South Africa. Meeting her in 2019 and listening to her music was both affirming to me as a South African lesbian and opened my eyes to the impact queer South Africans are having worldwide. Dope Saint Jude is currently living in London and has a steadily growing fanbase across Europe.


Lesbian visibility is important because it means other lesbians, whether questioning or out and proud, can be reminded that we are not alone and that we deserve to be loved. Every time a lesbian is visible, she sends out a very important message that contributes to the normalization, acceptance, and awareness of lesbians. Every time a lesbian is visible, she sends out a reminder that we exist and that we are okay.

Activate Online | Student Media

Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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