Madison Miszewski is Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s LGBTQ+ officer.
I discovered I was bisexual when I was thirteen. After my closest friend had come out to me earlier in the year, it hit me like an apple supposedly hit the head of Issac Newton. Except instead of an apple, it was actress Emmy Rossum in a black lace dress. That moment I realized I wasn’t only interested in dating men happened over five years ago, and I’ve had the privilege of going through all of my awkward teenage growing pains understanding an integral part of my identity. I am thankful every day that I’ve had the space and safety to explore this facet of my identity from an age much earlier than most who identify the way I do. That said, coming out a young age has its challenges. I have heard every reaction under the sun to my identity, from a ridiculously awkward ‘Good on you! Being.. Gay and all that’ to ‘Did you tell me this because you want to date me’ to even the occasional ‘You know, in the Bible it says…’. There have been some who were unaccepting and hateful when I’ve come out to them, but I’m not writing this article for those people. Out of every group of people that feel the need to comment on the identities of queer women, the comments that hurt the most come from straight women. Though many of these comments and actions are not made with the intention to harm us, queer women are often subject to a constant stream of comments invalidating and commodifying their identities. So, to every straight woman who has a queer woman in her life, here are some tips and tricks on how to be better allies.
1. Please stop saying “all women are a little gay”.
This is a comment I have heard all too often directly after I come out to someone. There’s a lot to unpack in this comment, but the first and perhaps most important thing to note about this response is that it’s incredibly invalidating. By saying this to someone who’s just come out to you, what you’re really saying is that whatever they just came out as isn’t really a part of their identity. It’s akin to saying someone’s queerness is a phase, and invalidates the work someone has put into discovering their identity. Another idea that is important to note about this comment, is that factually it isn’t quite true. Most straight women who say this say that it’s scientifically supported, and unknowingly they are referencing the Kinsey Scale. This scale (explained and shown here https://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/publications/kinsey-scale.php) does have scientific backing, but applies evenly to all genders. Men are just less encouraged to explore their sexuality with other men as it doesn’t satisfy the needs of the male gaze, which is presumably why women started saying this in the first place. This comment also encourages women and other feminine presenting people to not actually explore their identities – because ‘every girl is a little gay, right?’. If you find yourself using this comment as an excuse to stare at pictures of Halle Berry or one of your friends on your night out, maybe it’s time to take a look at that Kinsey Scale.
2. Don’t assume I’m hitting on you just because I’ve come out to you, I’m probably not.
This is much more of a problem for queer women than most people think. It’s happened to me about once a year since I started coming out to people at fourteen. While it may seem like a harmless reaction to a female friend coming out to you, it stings much more than straight women intend it to. This sting comes from a stereotype as old as the hills, and one that is ubiquitous in modern media: The Predatory Lesbian Trope. The Predatory Lesbian stereotype (while usually applied to more masculine presenting women) is often applied to all queer women and assumes that all queer women are trying to ‘turn’ straight women gay. In media this is often represented with constant, highly aggressive passes made at straight female characters, and is a trope that needs to be killed. It’s a trope that queer women are berated with on a particularly regular basis, so hearing it from a friend trusted enough to come out to stings in a special way. Please don’t assume your queer lady friends are actively pursuing you if you’re straight, they’re probably way into the cute queer girl who sits at the back of their thursday lecture.
3. Listen, listen, listen!
This one is the most important. I could never speak for the experiences of every queer woman, in the same way that no one person could speak for the experiences of the entire human race. Queer women exist at all different intersections of identity, and therefore are going to need different kinds of support from their allies. When your queer friend asks you to stop using a certain word, or touching them in a certain way, or even making certain jokes – do it! It costs you nothing to take a word, action, or joke out of your behavior and will ensure your friend is comfortable being themselves with you. The best allies are those who never stop listening!
These tips aren’t anywhere near exhaustive, but they could put some on the track to being a good ally. Straight women should be the greatest advocates for the rights of queer women, and as those with privilege have a duty to try to support their queer counterparts in integral ways. While misplaced words from straight women often sting the most, their support can be some of the most meaningful. So, if a queer apple didn’t fall on your head at thirteen, take a second to stop and listen to those who it did. It will make a world of difference.
Photo credit: Baigneuses by Paul Tillier (1890)